Incredible facts about Bellinger's big homer

October 20th, 2021

When stepped to the plate for the Dodgers in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, their season seemed to be hanging by a thread. Trailing the Braves, 5-2, Los Angeles was five outs away from another gut-punch loss and a 3-0 series deficit.

With one shocking swing, Bellinger turned the tables and authored another memorable October moment.

His game-tying three-run homer off the Braves’ Luke Jackson set up a 6-5 Dodgers victory, getting his club back in the series heading into Wednesday’s Game 4. It was a turn of events few could have seen coming.

Here are five reasons Bellinger’s big fly was such a stunner:

Things were looking dire

• The Dodgers had trailed for four-plus innings and were down 2-0 in the series, and plenty of fans had streamed out to the parking lot. There was some historical reason for the exodus: In 81 previous postseason games in which the Dodgers trailed by at least three runs in the eighth inning or later, the franchise had lost every time. Per Baseball Savant’s win probability metric, Los Angeles only had a 6 percent chance to win after the seventh inning.

But the Dodgers clearly had some magic up their sleeve at home, having won 17 of their past 18 games in Chavez Ravine (and 21 of their past 25 there against the Braves) entering Tuesday. They summoned that magic once more. Will Smith and AJ Pollock snuck singles through the infield, and Bellinger muscled the third pitch he saw out to right-center field to knot the game at 5-5. In a matter of roughly five seconds, Bellinger’s blast swung L.A.’s win probability by 42 percentage points, from 14 at the start of the at-bat to 56 when he crossed home plate.

• This was just the third home run in Dodgers history that tied a postseason game in the eighth inning or later, joining Mike Scioscia’s in the ninth inning of 1988 NLCS Game 4 and Carl Furillo’s in Game 6 of the 1953 World Series. Remember, these are the Dodgers -- a team making its 34th postseason appearance and owner of seven World Series championships -- we’re talking about.

• The last time the baseball world saw someone belt a homer of at least three runs that tied a postseason game in the eighth inning or later? That would be David Ortiz’s grand slam off Joaquin Benoit in Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series. You might remember it ... and a police officer in the Fenway Park bullpen definitely still remembers it.

Ruben Sierra (2004 ALDS Game 4), J.T. Snow (2000 NLDS Game 2) and Jim Leyritz (1996 World Series Game 4) are the only other hitters in the Wild Card Era to club a game-tying three-run homer or grand slam in the eighth inning or later of a postseason game. Bellinger is the first Dodger to do it.

• Sure, Bellinger has been a bit extreme when it comes to his ups and downs, but it’s hard to deny that he knows how to deliver in the clutch (as the Braves know all too well). Tuesday’s moment already marked Bellinger’s fourth career hit that either tied the score or gave the Dodgers the lead in the eighth inning or later of a postseason game, putting him in some heady company at age 26.

• Bellinger has now clubbed nine career postseason home runs. Five of them have either tied a game or put the Dodgers ahead.

He had to climb the ladder for it

• Just watch where Bellinger has to reach to get to the pitch, which sizzled in above the strike zone. According to Statcast, Jackson’s fastball was 4.12 feet high. The only time Bellinger had homered off a higher pitch was in his 11th MLB game, on May 6, 2017, at San Diego (4.17 feet). Since then, Bellinger has clubbed 136 home runs, including the postseason, and none came off a pitch that was within five inches of this one in terms of height.

• It wasn't only a rare homer for Bellinger, however. This was the second-highest pitch hit out of the park in any postseason game since Statcast began tracking in 2015, behind only a Kevin Pillar shot off Yu Darvish in the 2016 ALDS (4.15 feet). In addition, no other Dodger has homered against a higher offering in that span, during the regular season or postseason.

He hasn’t been handling heat

• What makes Bellinger’s clutch big fly all the more notable is that it came against a 95.6 mph four-seamer from Jackson. Bellinger had a tough regular season in a lot of ways, but one of his biggest issues was dealing with high velocity. Among 252 hitters who had at least 50 plate appearances end on 95-plus mph heat, Bellinger was tied for the ninth-lowest batting average at .143 (8-for-56), and he slugged just .250 with one homer and 27 strikeouts.

• Tuesday’s dinger made Bellinger 3-for-5 with two extra-base hits against pitches 95 mph in the postseason. Compare that to the regular season, when he started 3-for-42 with two extra-base hits against those pitches, through Aug. 28.

High, hard … and history?

• Pitches above the strike zone are difficult to hit. Pitches with high velocity are difficult to hit. Put them together and you’ve got an enormous challenge -- but one which Bellinger rose to in Game 3. Again, Jackson’s pitch was 4.12 feet high and 95.6 mph. Given that, consider this: Entering the day, only one homer in 2021 -- regular season or postseason -- had been launched off a pitch that was both that high and that hard. (It came from an unlikely source: Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka on Sept. 11 against the Mets’ Taijuan Walker.) If you go back to the start of the Statcast Era in 2015, only one other hitter joins the club (Baltimore’s Trey Mancini in 2019).

• To frame it another way: Since 2015, entering Tuesday, MLB pitchers had thrown more than 31,000 fastballs that were at least 95 mph and at least 4 feet high. Only 61 of those became a hit and only nine became a home run, while producing an .031 average and an .053 slugging percentage.

It turned his 2021 narrative upside down

• Can postseason heroics wipe away an entire regular season’s worth of frustration? Maybe not, but Bellinger is doing his best to make it happen. The 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP is coming off a brutal 2021 campaign in which he was dogged by injuries. Among all hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, Bellinger had the second-lowest average (.165), third-lowest OBP (.240), sixth-lowest slugging (.302) and third-lowest wRC+ (48).

• In the postseason, though? Bellinger is a respectable 7-for-24 (.292) with four walks, a double, a homer and six RBIs in nine games (seven starts). More than that, he’s had some big plate appearances: a ninth-inning walk in the Wild Card Game against the Cardinals that set up Chris Taylor’s walk-off homer, a go-ahead ninth-inning RBI single in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants and now this homer.