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Dodgers’ Kiké Hernández shows he can bash with the best in Game 7 win over Braves

Dodgers pinch hitter Kiké Hernandez reacts after hitting a home run during the sixth inning in Game 7 of the NLCS.
Dodgers pinch hitter Kiké Hernandez reacts after hitting a home run against the Atlanta Braves during the sixth inning in Game 7 of the NLCS.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The position is utility man. It is not a player’s first choice.

Kiké Hernández has embraced that position, personalized it and left an indelible stamp on Los Angeles and its baseball team.

He has filled in with distinction at every position but catcher. He has dressed up as a rally banana to fire up his team. He has ridden on a float in the Rose Parade.

And he has this on his resume: hit home runs that deliver the Dodgers to the World Series.

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In 2017, he hit three home runs in the game that clinched the Dodgers’ first World Series appearance in 29 years. On Sunday, he hit a pinch-hit home run that tied the score in the sixth inning in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

That paved the way for Cody Bellinger to hit the winning homer in the seventh inning, propelling the Dodgers into the World Series for the third time in four years.

Justin Turner’s diving tag of Dansby Swanson followed by his immediate gunning out of Austin Riley at third annihilated a prime Atlanta scoring chance.

“This is what you dream of as a little kid,” Hernández said. “You don’t just dream of being a big leaguer. You always dream about Game 7 of the World Series. This isn’t the World Series, but it’s Game 7.”

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This homer gave Hernández his own page in the record book. Never had a player hit a pinch-hit home run for the tying or go-ahead run in a winner-take-all postseason game, according to Stats LLC.

“That was awesome,” said Corey Seager, the NLCS most valuable player. “That’s the most excited I think I’ve ever been in an entire baseball game.”

Hernández was aggressively exuberant. He tossed his bat, charged around the bases and stormed through a high-five line in the dugout, with replays showing that a Dodgers staffer on the receiving end of a high-five winced.

Kiké Hernandez tosses his bat after tying the game with a solo home run in the sixth inning.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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In the following inning, after Bellinger homered, he and Hernández bashed arms, so forcefully that Bellinger said he dislocated his right shoulder. Bellinger remained in the game.

“I’m good,” Bellinger told MLB Network. “I hit Kiké’s shoulder a little too hard, and my shoulder popped out. I had to go back into the trainer’s room and they popped it back in.”

Said Hernández to FS1: “You can take a positive out of everything, and the positive here is that Belli now knows he can’t mess with people who are way stronger than him.”

The Dodgers led the league in homers this season but had not hit one over the first five innings. They had put at least one runner on base in each inning — 11 in all — but they trailed, 3-2, after five.

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The game was not moving briskly. By the time the Dodgers asked Hernández to come off the bench and lead off the bottom of the sixth, the game had included 11 walks and more than 200 pitches. Hernández said he remained alert all evening, projecting when the Braves might use any of their three left-handed relievers.

Photos from Game 7 of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers at Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

“Game 7 of the NLCS, win or go home,” he said. “I was ready from the first pitch.”

The Braves had summoned left-hander A.J. Minter, who silenced the Dodgers in Game 5 in his first career start.

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Hernández took control of the at-bat, and the strike zone. The first pitch, a ball. The second, a foul. The third, a ball. The fourth, a called strike. The tension rose.

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“I was able to stay in the zone and spoil some pitches once I get to two strikes,” he said.

The fifth, a foul. The sixth, another foul. The seventh, another foul. The tension rose some more.

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On the eighth pitch, a swing and a drive, way back into left-center field. As Vin Scully would say, she was gone, a 424-foot blast.

“He made one mistake,” Hernández said, “and I was lucky enough to put a good swing on it.”

Talented Dodgers and Braves battled through a seven-game NLCS, and they could easily meet again in future postseasons.

Bellinger is the defending NL most valuable player. He hit 47 home runs in 2019. Greatness is expected.

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Hernández is depth personified, a walking trademark of the Dodgers teams that have won the NL West every year under Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations. In his first major trade, in 2014, Friedman spun infielder Dee Gordon and pitcher Dan Haren into four players, two of whom remain with the Dodgers six years later: Hernández and backup catcher Austin Barnes.

Hernández is eligible for free agency after the season. This World Series will be his third with the Dodgers, but the championship ring still awaits.

In the moments after he had helped lift the Dodgers to yet another World Series, he could not say exactly why his performance gets better as the stakes get higher.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said, “but I appreciate it.”

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On behalf of a city starved for a World Series title, so do we.

Shaikin reported from Los Angeles.


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