Cody Bellinger was taking grounders at first base two hours before Game 2 of the National League Division series when he heard a Giants' fan shout at him.
"Hey Bellinger! Easy out!"
Bellinger looked at the fan, and then looked at me. We both shrugged. The 2019 NL Most Valuable Player had heard a lot worse from San Francisco fans over the years. But nonetheless, he was tired of hearing about his struggles at the plate.
Entering the game, Bellinger was hitting .038 (2 for 53) with 25 strikeouts against the rival Giants this season. So when he stepped into the batter's box in the top of the 6th inning, with the bases loaded, after two previous strikeouts in the game, most of the 42,275 in attendance weren't expecting much.
Bellinger shocked them all by stroking a two-run double off the wall in left-center that broke the game open, giving the Los Angeles Dodgers a 9-2 statement win over the San Francisco Giants that evened their best-of-five NLDS series at one game apiece on Saturday night at Oracle Park.
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"That's the game. It's cat-and-mouse," said Bellinger of his struggles and successes against the Giants this season. "So sometimes your plan works, sometimes it doesn't. But in my situation, bases loaded, one out, you try to simplify and get the job done right there."
"Cody Bellinger has not been at his best, I think I'm sure he's acknowledged that" said Giants' manager Gabe Kapler. "At the same time he's incredibly talented and gifted as an athlete and you know that he's always dangerous."
The back of the Dodgers lineup—six through nine hitters—were a combined 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts in Game 1, but they busted out of their slump in a big way in Game 2.
The same spot in the order was a combined 7-for-15 with one walk, two doubles, and six RBI on Saturday.
"I think we tipped our cap to Webb on that one," said A.J. Pollock of the back of the lineups struggles in Game 1. "He had good stuff. He was really good. And Gausman's been great all year. You get to the playoffs and you got guys with really good stuff. I think it was a battle and I think we just did a good job of scratching runs across. The whole team up and down the lineup was doing it. So it was big."
Pollock, who like Bellinger was also 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Game 1, also knocked in two runs with a double in the top of the 6th inning.
"We were ready to hit and if it was where you wanted it, especially guys on base, you don't wait around," said Pollock of his two-run double.
The formula against Giants' ace Kevin Gausman was a formidable one. Put pressure on him early, and try to scratch a couple runs across in order to take back momentum. The idea was optimistic in theory, but more difficult in reality. Nonetheless, it worked when the Dodgers strung together a couple singles in the top of the second.
Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game hero, Chris Taylor, started things off with a one-out double to the gap in left-center. Three batters later, Julio Urias helped his own cause with an RBI single, and Mookie Betts followed with one of his own. Before fans could finish taking selfies with Top Gun 2 star Tom Cruise, the Dodgers had a 2-0 lead.
"That was huge," Betts said of the two-run second inning. "It was kind of like Steph Curry just seeing one go in, we just needed to see one cross the plate. From that point we were able to know we can do it and just I think it builds momentum and now I got a hit after that and we just kind of stayed consistent throughout the game, scoring runs the whole game instead of just in one or two innings."
Urias allowed a run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom half of the second, but he settled in and tossed three scoreless innings after that.
"I felt good. I thought the pitches were working really well," said Urias of his outing. "It's the fifth, sixth time I've seen them so it's a little bit trickier to get through that lineup, but I felt good. Offensively the team put up some runs and all in all it was a good game."
All the pressure was on the Dodgers in Game 2. They did not want to go back to Dodger Stadium down 0-2 in the series with their backs against the wall. So with the stakes skyrocketed, they treated Saturday night like another do-or-die, and it worked.
Following a 4-0 shutout loss in Game 1, the Dodgers offense awoke from its slumber. Bellinger and Pollock's back-to-back two run doubles in the 6th scored four runs on just two pitches and gave the Dodgers a 6-1 lead.
Two innings later, Will Smith provided the Dodgers with an extra insurance run when he sent a first-pitch slider into the left field seats for a 7-2 lead.
Matt Beaty delivered a pinch-hit RBI single four batters later, and Corey Seager followed with one of his own to put the proverbial cherry on top of the Dodgers' nine-run sundae.
"We made adjustments," Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts said of his team's offensive explosion. "We were not afraid to get into counts and grind Gausman. We used the whole field. Chris Taylor, Trea Turner, AJ Pollock, Will Smith, everyone had a big night. So just up and down the lineup it was a well played baseball game."
For those that thought the Dodgers would wilt away from the moment after being held scoreless a night earlier, than you haven't been watching this team closely.
All season long, the Dodgers have faced adversity and turmoil and responded resiliently. Whether it was early season injuries that saw an MLB record 32 different players miss time, or an off-the-field distraction that took the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner out of their starting rotation.
As the Dodgers began the postseason, things didn't get much better. Three-time NL Cy Young Award winner and former MVP Clayton Kershaw would miss the entirety of the MLB playoffs with a lingering left elbow issue. In the final game of the regular season, Dodgers' home run leader Max Muncy injured his left elbow in a collision at first base and was ruled out for both the Wild Card Game and Division Series. It's still considered a long shot he plays at all this postseason.
So now the series shifts to the bright lights of Tinseltown as the Dodgers return home to Dodger Stadium where they are in midst of a franchise record 16-game home winning streak. Current Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer is scheduled to get the ball in Game 3, even as I write those words I can feel the pendulum of momentum swinging.
Of course the pendulum swung towards the Dodgers repeatedly during Saturday night's blowout victory, but there was one particular moment that stood out from them all.
After Smith's eighth inning homer put the Dodgers on top 7-2, a hush fell over the crowd. Slowly but assuredly, San Francisco fans began to head for the exits, an unsightly tradition that's usually designated for Dodgers' fans.
It was at that moment, as the orange and black that had earlier dominated the ballpark began to dissipate, that the Dodgers knew their Game 2 plan was complete.
Their offense had erupted, the crowd had gone silent, their swagger had returned, and most of all, the series was tied.
The Dodgers gave themselves a chance.