‘It feels pretty good’: Cody Bellinger is Dodgers’ grand-slam hero vs. Giants
There was an eruption from the crowd. Air horns over the public address system. And, in a dramatic scene in the bottom of the eighth inning at Dodger Stadium on Friday night, a cathartic relief from the Dodgers hitter who perhaps needed it the most.
With the bases loaded and the score tied, shades of the old Cody Bellinger finally reappeared at Chavez Ravine.
In an 0-and-2 count with two outs, the former most valuable player and once-feared left-handed slugger unloaded on a curveball over the plate, blasting a monumental — and, the Dodgers hope, momentous — grand slam that sent the team to a 5-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.
“Not gonna lie,” Bellinger said with a wide smile postgame, “it feels pretty good.”
Six weeks removed from sustaining a flexor tendon strain in his right elbow, Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler is set to play a light game of catch next week.
Up to that point, Bellinger was in the midst of another bad night, in what has become another bad season.
He was hitless in three previous trips to the plate. His batting average had dropped to .206. And he was continuing to look like a far different player than the one who burst onto the big-league scene half a decade ago, winning Rookie of the Year in 2017 and MVP during a 47-home run campaign in 2019.
Even though Bellinger was facing a left-on-left matchup against Giants reliever Sam Long, Roberts left him in almost by default, unable to turn to injured right-handed hitter Justin Turner and unwilling to risk the Giants summoning a right-handed reliever if he pinch-hit Hanser Alberto.
So, the critical moment belonged to the 27-year-old center fielder.
The at-bat did not start pretty.
Bellinger swung through a fastball for strike one. He unsuccessfully called for time on the next pitch, showing frustration with the plate umpire when an outer-edge curveball was called for strike two.
“He quick-pitched him,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Tried to mess with his timing.”
Bellinger, however, then buckled down. He fouled off an inside curveball, an outside fastball and a down-the-middle changeup.
He didn’t particularly like any of the swings — “I was rolling some balls over,” he said — but he had at least kept the battle alive.
“To go down 0-2 in the count and not give that at-bat away says a lot about Cody,” Roberts said.
On the next pitch, Bellinger delivered one of the loudest moments of his otherwise quiet season.
Long threw another off-speed pitch over the heart of the plate. Bellinger took a mighty hack that didn’t miss. The ball jumped off his bat at over 103 mph. It hooked inside the right-field foul pole for his seventh career grand slam.
“It feels good to put the right swing on the ball and see the results,” Bellinger said.
“He’s been grinding all year,” Roberts added. “So when you have those moments, you’ve got to enjoy them.”
He flung his bat as he skipped up the first-base line. After returning to the dugout, he was coaxed by Turner and bench coach Bob Geren to oblige a roaring crowd of 51,316 with a top-step curtain call.
When Bellinger jogged out to center field in the ninth, his teammates hung back for a moment to again give him the stage, chants of “Bell-eee! Bell-eee!” continuing to echo through the night.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Bellinger said, laughing. “I looked back and it was only Freddie [Freeman] out there at first. But that was a cool moment.”
Fans chant for slugger Juan Soto, but the Dodgers need to target starting pitcher Luis Castillo at the trade deadline.
For Bellinger this season, or even last year when he battled injuries and batted just .165, there have been few occasions he’s looked so close to his old best.
“This is a guy that’s a former MVP,” Roberts said. “He knows the moments and he’s come out on top in those moments. So you’ve just got to keep running guys like that out there and believe that it’s going to turn.”
Before Bellinger’s blast, the most notable moment of Friday’s game came after just four pitches.
During the opening at-bat, play was halted when Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior came to the mound for a meeting with starter Tyler Anderson.
The Dodgers dugout believed that Giants first base coach Antoan Richardson was trying to relay pitch signs, alleging to the umpires that Richardson had been walking out of the coach’s box near the base and several steps up the foul line in a supposed effort to peek into Anderson’s glove.
“Just a little gamesmanship,” Roberts said. “We wanted to get that coach in the box and let Tyler do his thing.”
After Prior returned to the dugout, all four umpires huddled before one went to chat with Giants manager Gabe Kapler.
Several moments later, the game finally resumed.
“I think that’s part of the game,” Anderson said. “They just thought maybe he was doing something there, so just tried to tighten up a little bit.”
The rest of Anderson’s start went off without a hitch. In six innings, he gave up just one unearned run. He struck out six while walking only two. He lowered his season ERA to 2.79.
Unlike Thursday night’s nearly calamitous series opener, the Dodgers bullpen held it together, as well, with Alex Vesia extinguishing the Giants’ biggest threat by stranding a couple of runners in the top of the eighth.
Moments later, the Dodgers loaded the bases for Bellinger.
In a heroic moment that harkened back to brighter days earlier in his career, he delivered a thunderous, decisive swing.
“I’m sure I’d be satisfied, regardless,” Bellinger added. “But [facing an opponent] in division, big game, that was pretty good.”
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