ARLINGTON, Texas - The at-bat that propelled the Los Angeles Dodgers to their third National League pennant in four years Sunday night appropriately embodies a club that is four wins away from finally reaching the finish line.
It happened in the seventh inning in the Dodgers' 4-3 win in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field. Cody Bellinger was at the plate with the bases empty. Chris Martin stood 60 feet, 6 inches away. Martin was one out from keeping the game tied. Bellinger wouldn't let him slip away.
The count was 2-2 when Bellinger fouled off three straight pitches - two sinkers and a cutter. The next pitch, the eighth of the battle, was a 94-mph sinker that Martin wishes he could have back. It was up and over the plate. Bellinger feasted, launching it over the right-field wall to give the Dodgers the lead they needed.
Bellinger walked down the first-base line, holding a smile until he started his trot. The celebration was aggressive, too much so. Bellinger jammed his shoulder after banging arms with Kike Hernandez. He winced and ran straight into the dugout. But the center fielder stayed in the game.
The at-bat was what the Dodgers pride themselves on; grinding opponents away until they capitalize on a mistake. It was a microcosm of the series. The Dodgers boasted the deeper team. They had more talent. When they fell in an 0-2 hole, they remained confident that their superiority would prevail in seven-game series played over the seven days.
Their comeback concluded with Julio Urias, their Game 3 starter, throwing three perfect innings to extend their residency in Texas.
The Dodgers are the second team since 1969 to win the National League pennant three times in four years. They won three straight elimination games to win a playoff series for the second time in franchise history, joining the 1981 club that went on to win the World Series in a strike-shortened season.
They'll play Game 1 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.
Dustin May was notified he was starting Game 7 via text message at 1 p.m. local time. With Ian Anderson on the bump for Atlanta, the choice created the first ever starting pitching matchup between rookies in a winner-take-all Game 7.
He was informed so late because the Dodgers meticulously examined every possible option. They landed on May, but not as a conventional starter. May had thrown 50 pitches in an abbreviated Game 5 start. The plan instead was for May to face no more than four or five batters before Tony Gonsolin was inserted.