You probably know Cody Bellinger already, or at least you know him by his dingers.
That one, plus 38 others from the rookie, led a 104-win team, MLB’s first in 13 years. When a 22-year-old does that, particularly in Los Angeles, and particularly while displacing a 14-year veteran like Adrián González along the way, he’s easy to notice.
But Bellinger struggled to adapt to the postseason right away: In his first two career playoff games, he was 1-for-10 with six strikeouts, and that one hit was (holds nose, looks away, suppresses gag reflex) a single.
Come Game 3, a 3-1 win over division rival Arizona to complete an NLDS sweep, it looked like Bellinger had figured out this October thing.
Well, that brief respite for National League pitching was fun while it lasted. The velociraptors can open doors now. The outer-half Zack Greinke changeup Bellinger belted wasn’t even particularly meaty—Bellinger had to kind of lean over and poke it out, but he’s so strong, it wound up six rows deep in the left-center-field seats anyway. What do you think happens when this guy opens a jar of pickles?
Bellinger went 2-for-4 with that homer, a walk, and two RBI in Game 3, which is a nice night, but ordinarily not enough to make headlines on its own. Just as important as his offensive production, though, was Bellinger’s standout defensive performance at first base.
I know “standout defensive performance at first base” sounds weird, but Bellinger was on his toes all night, exhibiting range, good hands, and a strong throwing arm. Though take “range” for what it’s worth, because Bellinger is about 11 feet tall, so he can just fall over and get to balls some first basemen couldn’t snare on the dead run—such as the hard Ketel Marté grounder that turned into an easy out.
But the most spectacular highlight came the inning before, as Bellinger chased a Jeff Mathis pop-up into the Dodger dugout, and I do mean “into.”
Tracking a foul ball while running and simultaneously feeling out for a railing is tough enough, but Bellinger held onto the baseball while tumbling ass-over-tea-kettle into the gaping maw of the Chase Field first-base dugout. Particularly so for Bellinger, who’s so tall and blocky he can’t really be the son of a Yankees utilityman—he must’ve been designed by Mies van der Rohe.
Watching Bellinger fall over the railing reminded me of watching Rik Smits take a charge during some mid-’90s Pacers game. When Smits fell, he had so far to go it took him forever to reach the ground. But sure enough, that’s where Bellinger ended up, as his manager, the 5-foot-10 Dave Roberts, tried to catch him. Or at least Roberts tried to make it look like he was trying to catch Bellinger—imagine a child trying to catch a sack of melons dropped from a helicopter.
It was a spectacular play that generated spectacular images, depending on which angle you viewed it from.
From one angle, Bellinger’s legs extended up into the air out of nowhere, as if he were trying to put the moves on Dustin Hoffman. From another, he lay collapsed in the arms of third-base coach Chris Woodward, like Jesus and Mary in a Pietà.
Bellinger’s standout performance, and this play in particular, provide many lessons for baseball fans, from the potency of the Dodgers on both sides of the ball, to the underrated value of exceptional first-base defense, to the spectacular athleticism of high-level ballplayers.
But most of all, it’s a reminder that when big guys fall over, it’s hilarious.