Belli hits clutch HR, pops shoulder post-trot

Hernández dingers in 6th; duo shares wild celebration in 7th

October 19th, 2020

was hyped. He had just hit a go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, becoming the ninth player in Major League history to accomplish that feat in the seventh inning or later of a Game 7. Ever.

So when he crossed home plate late Sunday evening and saw Kiké Hernández waiting for him, Bellinger jumped into the air and smashed his teammate’s forearm with his own.

So ferocious was the celebration that Bellinger’s shoulder popped out of its socket, he later confirmed to MLB Network.

“So I had to come back into the training room,” Bellinger said. “They popped it back in, and I was ready to play some defense. It kind of hurt.”

The pain was only temporary for Bellinger, who joined Hernández in hitting one of the most dramatic home runs in the Dodgers’ storied history. In the sixth inning at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Hernández led off by crushing a pinch-hit game-tying homer off A.J. Minter. In the seventh, Bellinger added his go-ahead blast against Chris Martin, leading the Dodgers to a 4-3 win over the Braves and to their third trip to the World Series in the past four years.

“It was one of those where you just know,” Bellinger said. “It felt pretty good.”

The home runs culminated a series of scratching and clawing from the Dodgers in general -- and particularly from Hernández and Bellinger, who both went yard on the eighth pitches of their at-bats. That was a theme of the week for Los Angeles hitters, who consistently drove up pitch counts and forced Braves manager Brian Snitker to empty his bullpen.

By Sunday, all the extra work had added up to something meaningful. Minter was two days removed from a brilliant Game 5 performance, in which the Braves asked him for one inning and he gave them three. But the left-hander was noticeably less sharp from the outset in Game 7, missing above the strike zone with each of his first three pitches.

Hernández had no apparent interest in chasing. Two innings earlier, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had stuck with Joc Pederson at designated hitter in a left-on-left matchup, in part because he wanted to save Hernández for a higher-leverage spot. Roberts knew Minter was likely to appear later in the game, and Hernández was ready for him, fouling off multiple two-strike pitches until the hard-throwing lefty made a mistake by throwing a 97 mph fastball right down the middle.

“After that, I blacked out,” said Hernández, who joined the 2003 Cubs’ Troy O’Leary as one of two players to hit a pinch-hit homer in Game 7 of an NLCS. “Heck, what a game. What a freakin’ game.”

There was, of course, more to come. The Dodgers were still tied with the Braves when Bellinger came to the plate an inning later against Martin, who was pitching for the fifth time in seven days. Like Hernández, Bellinger fouled off pitch after pitch until Martin elevated a 94 mph sinker, allowing Bellinger to crush it 400 feet to right field. When he did, Bellinger dropped his bat in front of him and began walking toward first base, watching the ball’s entire flight before he broke into a jog.

Once Bellinger touched home, he officially became the second player in Dodgers history with a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later of a winner-take-all game, matching Rick Monday’s shot in the 1981 NLCS. Bellinger, who also hit a go-ahead homer in 2018 NLCS Game 7 against the Brewers, joined Boston’s David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia as one of three players with multiple career home runs in winner-take-all LCS games.

Afterward, Bellinger stood on a temporary stage at Globe Life Field wearing a cap flipped backwards over his head. Slumping for much of the NLCS, with a 4-for-23 line and nine strikeouts entering Game 7, Bellinger was now celebrating. His T-shirt was emblazoned with a Dodgers logo and the words “REPRESENTING THE NATIONAL LEAGUE.”

Bellinger’s shoulder felt sore but functional, and it should be fine for Game 1 on Tuesday. Bellinger, who has sustained multiple dislocations in big league games, certainly won’t sweat it. In 2018, he dislocated his shoulder on the field and popped it back in himself before play resumed.

Don’t expect his nonchalance toward the situation to change, even if his celebration technique might.

“I’m going to maybe use my left arm,” Bellinger said, grinning. “I’ve never dislocated that one.”