The Dodgers battered the Astros’ bullpen in the ninth inning on Saturday night, with Bellinger delivering a double off closer Ken Giles to put Los Angeles ahead, 2-1. And after a sacrifice fly by Austin Barnes made it 3-1, Joc Pederson blasted a three-run homer off Joe Musgrove to end any suspense. The Astros managed only two hits all night — solo homers by George Springer with two outs in the sixth and by Alex Bregman with two outs in the ninth.
The late Dodgers outburst came after an unlikely pitcher’s duel between the teams’ No. 4 starters, Alex Wood of the Dodgers and Charlie Morton of the Astros. Wood carried a no-hitter into the sixth on Saturday, when Springer produced the game’s first run with his homer. Morton was only slightly less flawless, facing the minimum number of batters through five innings.
Thus far, each game has delivered an unexpected element. Game 1 came with extreme 103-degree heat. Game 2 brought a rare blown save by Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and late, no-quit, home run-fueled comebacks by both teams. And Game 3 was marred by a racist gesture by Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel.
Gurriel’s act, in which he stretched the side of his eyes after hitting a home run off the Dodgers’ Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, provided the backdrop for Game 4.
On Saturday afternoon, Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Gurriel for five games at the start of the 2018 season, but chose not to discipline him for this Series, in part because he did not want to penalize the rest of the Astros. His decision drew support from Roberts, whose mother is Japanese.
“I think that it gives us all some closure in the sense that it was something that happened,” Roberts said. “The way that it was dealt with, I support.”
Gurriel, who received modest cheers from Astros fans when he came to the plate for his first at-bat on Saturday, was not a factor as Game 4 proceeded. But Bellinger was.
Bellinger, who made his Dodgers debut when veteran Adrian Gonzalez was injured this season, generally carries himself well beyond his years, owing to a reserved personality and the preparation provided by his father, Clay, who won two World Series rings with the Yankees.
“He’s got no pulse; he really doesn’t have a memory, either,” said Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, who is 23 and in his third postseason. “He forgets things. Things go away. That’s what you have to do in baseball — you have to forget the past, forget your last AB and move onto the next one. That’s what he did tonight.”
But Bellinger’s breakout night did come with a thought process on his part.
He was hitless in 13 at-bats, including eight strikeouts — four in Game 3 — as he came to the plate with one out in the seventh inning against Morton, who was nursing a 1-0 lead. Earlier, an insight had came to Bellinger when he went out to take batting practice: His teammates Andre Ethier and Logan Forsythe regularly hit the ball the opposite way when taking their pregame swings. So why not do the same?
“I was always told these really good hitters hit the ball the other way in B.P., and I had never done it and I wanted to try it,” said the left-handed hitting Bellinger, who proceeded to hit every ball to left field during the practice session.
The struggles Bellinger endured in the Series were not unlike those of another ballyhooed rookie — the Yankees’ Aaron Judge — who emerged from a postseason slump midway through the American League Championship Series against the same Astros team Bellinger was now facing.
“I watched and we were identical, striking out a lot, swinging at a lot of off-speed pitches that we don’t normally swing at,” Bellinger said of Judge. “I think that’s the pressure of the postseason sometimes.”
The Astros had put Bellinger in a funk by throwing him back-foot breaking balls and fastballs away — pitches that are difficult to pull. But when Morton threw a 3-2 curveball to him in the seventh, he left it over the plate and Bellinger drove it the opposite way. Left fielder Marwin Gonzalez gave chase, but could not track it down.
As Bellinger coasted into second with a double, he raised his hands and gazed upward as if to give thanks for his first hit of the series.
It was also enough to chase Morton. He had survived the top of the sixth after Astros third baseman Alex Bregman threw Barnes out at home to keep the game scoreless. It was almost identical to a pivotal play Bregman made in Game 7 of the A.L.C.S., when he gunned down the Yankees’ Greg Bird at home to preserve a 1-0 lead.
But after Bellinger’s double an inning later, Astros Manager A. J. Hinch had a brief conversation with Morton on the mound and then called on his rested bullpen. Will Harris came on to retire Yasiel Puig on a deep fly to right field, but Forsythe followed by lining a 2-0 fastball for a single that easily scored Bellinger.
The Dodgers weren’t done. In the ninth, Giles — who surrendered a two-run lead in Game 2 — gave up a single to Seager and a walk to Justin Turner. Bellinger followed by driving a 1-0 fastball into the left-center gap for a double that scored Seager and sent Turner to third.
“The double he hit to left-center, he stayed on that curveball pretty good,” Astros catcher Brian McCann said of the first double. “And the one in the ninth, he cheated on the heater.”
They were not the swings of an overmatched youngster, or of someone weighed down by the moment. Instead, they were taken by someone who understood what to remember and what to forget, and the result was a World Series that might end up going the distance.