The Dodgers have been in a nostalgic mood of late, as the 30th anniversary of the franchise’s last title approaches. (Well, the organization at large; not the players. Clayton Kershaw told reporters on Tuesday, “No disrespect to 1988, we hear about that a lot, but we are sick of it. … We need to create some of our own history.”) Before Monday’s Game 3 at Chavez Ravine, the stadium remembered Kirk Gibson’s famous World Series home run, and before Tuesday’s Game 4, the video screens played a contextually appropriate video remembering Gibson’s other home run from the 1988 playoff run.
It was Game 4 of the NLCS, and the Dodgers trailed 2–1 in the series. Nine tense innings gave way to anxious extras, and in the 12th, Gibson clobbered a two-out homer to give the Dodgers a crucial win en route to their World Series stunner. That end result might not be where the 2018 Dodgers are headed, but for at least one night, the poetry of the 30-year cycle was on full display.
At 11:25 p.m. PT on Tuesday, five hours and 15 minutes after Rich Hill rushed a first-pitch fastball by Lorenzo Cain to open Game 4 of this year’s NLCS, Cody Bellinger grounded a full-count single to right field and Manny Machado raced home to score the winning run. The Dodgers won, 2–1, in a game that included a near brawl in extra innings, a violent candy cooler maiming, and a walk-off celebration that chased Bellinger all the way to center field, where the entire Dodgers roster huddled in delight.
It was absolute delirium, and a fitting capper to a night that few of the 53,764 fans in Dodger Stadium, nearly all of whom stayed to the thrilling end, will ever forget.
At some point in this game, Brewers starter Gio González injured his ankle fielding a grounder and had to depart after recording just three outs. At some point, Dodgers counterpart Rich Hill looked unhittable, before he made one mistake and pinch-hitter Domingo Santana crushed a run-scoring double to tie the game at one in the fifth. At some point, the bullpens entered and did their 2018 bullpen thing — both teams’ relievers on Tuesday combined for 19 2/3 innings with just the one final run allowed, and even that score, permitted by Brewers long man Junior Guerra, came after Guerra had thrown three perfect frames to survive nine potential walk-off opportunities.
But the Dodgers’ two heroes made the most consistent news all night — some good, some bad, some just plain bizarre. After being determined to have interfered with shortstop Orlando Arcia on a double-play opportunity the previous night, giving the Brewers an extra out via replay, Machado was the center of controversy on the base paths again on Tuesday. In the 10th inning, as he was retired on an unremarkable grounder to Arcia, Machado kicked first baseman Jesús Aguilar’s leg as he ran through the bag, which led to benches and bullpens clearing, if not an actual brawl.
Bellinger, meanwhile, continued his dismal postseason struggles at the plate after entering as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. He flied out, chopped a half-swing through the shifted infield for a single, and struck out against Guerra, bringing his ledger this postseason to two hits in 24 at-bats.
On defense, though, he excelled, as the sometimes first baseman, sometimes outfielder made a spectacular diving catch to rob Cain of a leadoff hit in the 10th. This play was particularly notable given that Bellinger had played just 11 1/3 innings in right field this season and was so flummoxed about being asked to move there on a double switch that he, Chris Taylor, and Joc Pederson all stood around with their arms raised in giant shrugs until manager Dave Roberts had properly explained who was to go where.
And then the 13th inning came, and little-used, cherubic pitcher Julio Urías entered as the last remaining Dodgers reliever. He worked around a one-out Ryan Braun single and a frighteningly deep Aguilar fly ball to retire the side, and in the bottom of the inning, Machado reached base for the first time all night on a broken-bat single and scampered to second on a wild pitch.
There were two outs at that point, with first base open for Bellinger, but Brewers manager Craig Counsell didn’t give the talented lefty a free pass. Yasmani Grandal was on deck, having hit 3-for-23 with 11 strikeouts in the playoffs thus far, and Urías himself was in the hole, with no pinch-hitters left on L.A.’s bench. Counsell could have intentionally walked Bellinger to get to Grandal, or walked both Bellinger and Grandal to get to Urías, but he left Guerra in to pitch to Bellinger, and the game ended minutes later with the Dodgers dogpile in the outfield.
The series is now tied 2–2, and the first pitch of Game 5 is scheduled for less than 14 hours after the last pitch of Game 4. Clayton Kershaw pitches in perhaps — perhaps — his final start in Dodger blue, and a suddenly untouchable Wade Miley goes on short rest for Milwaukee. This series might grow weirder yet.