Blue Monday (Snap Judgments: Dodgers at Diamondbacks, NLDS Game 3)

Stefanie Rodríguez/ALOST
Like he did 39 times in his stellar regular season, Cody Bellinger trotted around the bases after smacking an opposite-field solo home run to double the Dodgers’ lead in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the NLDS vs. Arizona. (Stefanie Rodríguez/ALOST)


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


PHOENIX — More than at any other point in his remarkable rookie season, Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger was mired in an extended slump at the plate, and it could not have come at a worse time with the Dodgers preparing for what they hope is a lengthy postseason run. But he just picked the absolute best time to snap out of that rut, helping Los Angeles get one step closer to appearing in its first World Series in three decades.

Bellinger drove in his team’s first run with an RBI groundout in the first inning and was responsible for producing the game-winning run with a solo home run off of Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke in the fifth inning as the Dodgers defeated Arizona 3-1 to complete a three-game sweep in the National League Division Series. Los Angeles advances to its third National League Championship Series in the past five seasons and now has made the NLCS five times in the past 10 campaigns.

The Dodgers’ remarkable run to 104 wins this season was fueled by the powerful swings of the surefire NL Rookie of the Year in Bellinger, who set a league rookie record with 39 home runs while spurring the Dodgers to a run of 43 wins in a span of 50 games earlier in the season. In the postseason, however, he started out with only one hit in his first 10 at-bats in the two wins for the Dodgers against Arizona to start the series, continuing a slump that had seen him go 9-for-48 with just one home run to end the regular season. He broke out of his funk tonight, starting with his RBI groundout to first in the first inning to score Chris Taylor from third for a 1-0 lead.

To lead off the fifth inning, Bellinger, who had not hit a home run in 10 games before tonight, drove a 3-1 off-speed pitch the other way and into the left-field bleachers for his first postseason homer to double the Dodgers’ advantage. The 22-year-old Bellinger became the youngest player to ever hit a postseason home run for the Dodgers, surpassing Corey Seager’s old mark at 22 years 163 days from last October. Bellinger is 22 years 88 days old.

Bellinger’s home run was all the Dodgers would need for the rest of the game, with a large part of the reason due to his defense at first base afterward. To end the bottom of the fifth and with the Dodgers leading 2-1, Bellinger chased after a foul pop up by Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis towards the Dodgers dugout and made a sprawling catch while tumbling head over heels into the dugout.

To start the next half inning, Los Angeles catcher Austin Barnes hit a solo home run to restore the Dodgers’ two-run advantage. In the bottom half, Bellinger made two great plays in the field to help stifle any attempt at a Diamondback rally. After pinch hitter Christian Walker was hit by a pitch to start the half inning, David Peralta grounded the ball to first, where Bellinger fielded and made a pinpoint throw around Walker to shortstop Corey Seager to start a 3-6-3 double play. The next batter, Ketel Marte, grounded a ball into the hole on the right side, where Bellinger ranged far to his right and made a sprawling dive to stop the ball before flipping over to reliever Brandon Morrow covering the bag at first to end the inning.

Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish, acquired from the Texas Rangers in a last-second deadline deal from the Texas Rangers in July, put his mediocre postseason past behind him and threw very effectively tonight, going five innings and allowing just one run – a Daniel Descalso home run in the fifth – on two hits while striking out seven. He also did not walk a batter, though he was removed from the game in the sixth after he hit Walker with a pitch. Four relievers closed the game for Los Angeles by combining to go four innings while just allowing one hit, with closer Kenley Jansen striking out Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt with the tying run at first for Arizona to end the game.

Coincidentally, Los Angeles defeated a former Dodger, Greinke, who was brought to the team in the hopes he would be a key piece to help end their barren World Series run. Greinke, who signed the largest contract ever for a right-handed pitcher at the time when he inked a six-year, $147 million contract with the Dodgers after the 2012 season, had a better start tonight than in the NL Wild Card game against the Colorado Rockies last Wednesday but still picked up the loss. He only allowed four hits in five innings, but two of those hits were solo home runs as he also walked five batters.

Arizona completed a complete 180 this season, going 93-69 in the regular season after going 69-93 in 2016, and it heads into the offseason knowing that it has the foundation in place to be a factor in the National League West and in the league overall for years to come. Unfortunately for them, so do the Dodgers, and Los Angeles hopes that tonight is part one on their way to fulfilling its dream of finally bringing a championship back to Chavez Ravine by the time this October ends.

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from tonight’s game, with all photos taken by photographer Stefanie Rodríguez. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 40 pictures in total.

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