Cody Bellinger’s 3-run homer in 8th fuels Dodgers’ rally to beat Braves in NLCS Game 3

It’s October, the time of year when the undead rise from their graves and walk again.

Cody Bellinger plodded through the 2021 season playing like a zombified shell of his former self. But when the Dodgers needed him most he brought them all back to life.

Bellinger’s three-run home run in the eighth inning was a defibrillator paddle straight to the chest, tying the game, bringing a moribund Dodger Stadium to full roar and saving a Dodgers team in danger of flat-lining.

Three batters later, Mookie Betts drove in the go-ahead run with a double and the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-5, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday afternoon

Five outs away from facing another elimination game and potential sweep in this NLCS, the Dodgers have bounced back from two walk-off losses in Atlanta and have a chance to even the best-of-seven series in Game 4 on Wednesday night.

“It’s just hard to imagine a bigger hit that I can remember really, just with what was at stake,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a member of the only team in MLB history to erase a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series (the 2004 Boston Red Sox in the ALCS against the New York Yankees).

“This is a (Braves) team that obviously has a lot of momentum coming into this game, first game here on the road, and for us to go down 3-0 and hope for a 2004 miracle run is a tall ask. We were dead in the water. … It just flipped everything. We’ve got a very good ball club, but we just needed that kind of shot in the arm.

“This was a freaking big hit. Big hit.”

The Braves have now lost 21 of their last 25 games at Dodger Stadium, including regular season and postseason – but not last year’s bubble games. That includes 11 of their past 12 and the last eight in a row.

It looked like they might whistle past their graveyard Tuesday.

The Braves arrived in Los Angeles this time having won the first two games of the NLCS against the Dodgers for the second year in a row. Last year, the Dodgers’ comeback started with a 15-run explosion in Game 3 (including 11 runs in the first inning).

They were counting on a similar rebirth in this Game 3 with a rested Walker Buehler starting and the energy boost of home-field advantage.

Deja vu took an early lead on Corey Seager’s two-run home run in the first inning – his 13th career postseason home run (tying Justin Turner for the Dodgers’ franchise record) and his seventh against the Braves.

But the Dodgers stopped well short of last year’s 11-run jump start. Despite four walks, sending eight batters to the plate and making Braves starter Charlie Morton throw 34 pitches, the Dodgers didn’t score again after Seager’s home run.

Buehler wasn’t particularly sharp either through the first three innings and gave up a leadoff single to Freddie Freeman in the fourth. After Ozzie Albies flew out, Austin Riley drove a deep fly ball to center field. Novice outfielder Gavin Lux went back to the wall, fighting the sun, reached up and had the ball clank off his glove for what was scored a double.

“I know that it’s a play that Gavin expects to make,” Roberts said. “There’s the wall. There’s some sun. … Gavin won’t make any excuses. It’s a play that I know, like I said, he knows he should make.”

With runners on second and third, Buehler had Joc Pederson down 0-and-2 when he threw a cutter that appeared to tuck itself inside the strike zone, down and in to Pederson. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals did not call it a strike, much to Buehler’s consternation.

Two pitches later, Pederson ripped a single through the shift and into right field to drive in the Braves’ first run. Adam Duvall followed with a broken-bat single to drive in the tying run. Buehler walked Travis d’Arnaud to load the bases then Dansby Swanson’s hard-hit ground ball (107 mph off the bat) went off Seager’s glove and into left field for another RBI single.

Buehler walked in another run, gesturing at Meals after the fourth ball (not particularly close) and then exiting the stage.

“That inning is on me – not on him, not on the umpire, not on anything like that,” Buehler said.

Morton came off the ropes in the first inning to allow just two more hits through five innings. The Braves’ bullpen picked it up from there. After stranding the bases loaded in the first inning, the Dodgers left Betts at second base in the second inning. They didn’t get another runner safely to second base until singles by Will Smith and AJ Pollock in the eighth inning.

That brought up Bellinger against the Braves’ best reliever, Luke Jackson. He fell behind 1-and-2 then got the kind of pitch he has struggled with all season – a high-heat, high fastball. Bellinger hammered it into the right field pavilion to tie the score.

“Not a hitter’s pitch right there,” Bellinger said of the 96-mph fastball above the strike zone. “But in the moment, whatever happened, I saw it and I just tried to put the barrel on it and continue to pass the baton.”

After a dreadful regular season, Bellinger has hit the reset button in the postseason, going 7 for 24 with six RBIs and coming up clutch for the Dodgers.

“I mean, in a way it’s a whole different season,” said Bellinger, who drove in the winning run in the ninth inning of NLDS Game 5. “Luckily for me, I got a clean slate going into the postseason. I was feeling good toward the end of the regular season and I just tried to continue that.”

Chris Taylor followed Bellinger’s home run with a single, stole second and went to third on a ground out. With two outs, Betts ripped a double into the right-center field gap to score the go-ahead run.

“That’s the way it’s been all year long – you can’t count us out,” Taylor said after Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the top of the ninth to close it out.

“That’s pretty much a must-win game. You can’t go down 0-3. Now we’re right back in it.”

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