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Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers in awe of Cody Bellinger

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LOS ANGELES — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts summed up the gravity of the moment best: “It just flipped everything.”

That was just one way Roberts described a three-run home run by Cody Bellinger that did more than tie a game in the bottom of the eighth inning. It just might have rescued the bid of the defending champions to win it all again.

Bellinger electrified a to-that-point tense Dodger Stadium crowd with that blast, erasing a 5-2 Atlanta lead and setting up Mookie Betts‘ go-ahead double a few batters later. Facing the abyss of an 0-3 series deficit, the Dodgers instead defeated Atlanta 6-5 on Tuesday and now can even the National League Championship Series in Game 4 Wednesday.

“Man, pure elation, joy,” Roberts said. “I mean, it’s just hard to imagine a bigger hit.”

The sudden turnabout, when the Dodgers appeared to be on the cusp of a virtually insurmountable series deficit, was swift and stunning.

“It’s impossible not to be aware of (the deficit),” Betts said. “But I think that’s a weak way to think of things. I think our mindset has been, why are we going to focus on that when we are here now, we can win the game now.”

Still, Bellinger’s home run was, in context, abrupt. The 2019 MVP had been swinging better after some late-season mechanical tweaks. Nevertheless, this was a player who hit .165 over 350 plate appearances during the regular season.

Even more stunning? The tying blast came off a 96-miles-per-hour fastball from Braves reliever Luke Jackson that was well above the strike zone. It was, in a nutshell, an impossible pitch for Bellinger to hit out of the park. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the pitch crossed the plate 4.12 feet off the ground. No one since at least 2008 has homered on such a pitch at that speed during the postseason.

What’s more, Bellinger had not homered on a pitch out of the strike zone the entire season.

“Yeah, it’s not a hitter’s pitch right there,” Bellinger said “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.”

In effect, that’s what happened. Right after Bellinger’s homer ignited the crowd, Chris Taylor singled, knocking Jackson out of the game. He stole second base, which was key because pinch-hitter Matt Beaty grounded out on what might have been a double play ball. And Betts hammered a drive to the fence for a double, scoring Taylor.

The sequence unfolded at lightning speed. And when it was over, it was hard to square up the energy in the stadium with the feeling of impending doom that hung over Chavez Ravine just moments earlier.

“We were dead in the water,” Roberts said. “You could see it.”

The Dodgers were five outs away from going down 0-3, a deficit only the 2004 Red Sox have overcome in a series. (A team on which Roberts played.) Los Angeles became the first team down 0-2 in a series to come back from at least three runs down after the fifth inning.

All of this brings up some bad and relatively fresh memories for the Braves. It was just last year that Atlanta seized a two-game lead on the Dodgers. Game 3 that time around went very different – a 15-3 L.A. romp – but Atlanta took Game 5 to go up 3-1. Then the Dodgers recovered to take three straight and advance to the World Series, a place Atlanta has not reached since 1999.

Still, Braves manager Brian Snitker seemed unconcerned about his club’s mindset even after last year’s collapse was brought up.

“Hell, I don’t even remember how I felt last year,” Snitker said, laughing. “Our guys are, every year, getting more and more battle-tested. We played a really good game out there today. A lot of really good things happened, and we didn’t get one pitch back.”

The Dodgers will turn to 20-game winner Julio Urias in Game 4, while Snitker’s club will go with a parade of relievers, the order of which has yet to be determined. After last season, even a Braves win might not fully restore the momentum they built up with two late-inning victories in Atlanta.

And all of that is because of one Cody Bellinger blast that resuscitated the flagging hopes of the defending champs, a blow so unlikely that that even the player who hit was still trying to make sense of it during the postgame press conference. That is, until Betts clarified it for him, and everyone else.

“Honestly, for as weird as it was, I saw it,” Bellinger said. “I saw it and I just tried to put a good swing on it. It’s just one of those things.”

At that point, Betts, a fellow former MVP, interrupted to remind his teammate that the likely explanation is that he is simply very good.

“Tell them, Belli,” Betts said. “They’re good, but you drive a (Mercedes) Benz too.”

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Daisuke Matsuzaka ends 23-year career, surprised by Ichiro Suzuki in ceremony

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Daisuke Matsuzaka brought his 23-year professional baseball career to a close Saturday in a ceremony that included a surprise appearance by Ichiro Suzuki.

Matsuzaka, who faced only one batter this season for the Saitama Seibu Lions — issuing a walk in an October appearance — told fans at Seibu’s MetLife Dome that he was happy to leave the sport on his terms.

“I’m content that I was able to keep playing baseball until I could no longer throw normally in the end,” Matsuzaka said, according to Kyodo News.

A video from Suzuki was played, ending with the longtime Seattle Mariners outfielder surprising Matsuzaka on the field and giving him a flower bouquet.

“I hadn’t imagined this. It was crazy,” Matsuzaka said, according to Kyodo News. “At first I was able to hold up, and then the tears came and I was done for.

“I was surprised and just overjoyed that, at the end, Ichiro-san came to see me. I’m happy I was able to come so far.”

Suzuki and Matsuzaka faced each other both in Japan and Major League Baseball over their careers. They were also teammates for Japan’s World Baseball Classic titles in 2006 and 2009.

Matsuzaka, 41, was 56-43 with a 4.45 ERA in 132 career MLB starts with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets from 2007 to 2014. He won a World Series title in his rookie season with the Red Sox in 2017.

He started and ended his career with the Lions, pitching for them from 1999 to 2006 and the past two seasons. He also played for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Chunichi Dragons after returning to Japan in 2015.

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Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and USWNT soccer player Mallory Pugh announce their engagement

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Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson earned a ring last month. U.S. women’s national team forward Mallory Pugh got one this month.

The World Series champion and the World Cup winner announced their engagement on Instagram Thursday night. The two have dated since 2017.

The couple met through Swanson’s former teammate Jace Peterson, now with the Milwaukee Brewers, who is married to Pugh’s sister.

Pugh plays with the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL and has been with the U.S. national team since 2016. She played in the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2019 World Cup, scoring a goal against Thailand.

Swanson made his major league debut with the Braves in 2016. This season, he hit .248 with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs.

The couple is just the latest power couple with connections to the U.S. team. They join Megan Rapinoe and her partner, WNBA star Sue Bird, and Julie Ertz, who is married to Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz.



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Time to put Minnie Minoso in Cooperstown (finally) and more on this weekend’s Baseball Hall of Fame vote

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As much as it might feel like it, the baseball world has not completely shut down. While the thrilling rush of free-agent signings and trades from the past few days will cease for now because of the lockout, there is a lot of baseball business still to be conducted.

One of the more important items comes this Sunday, when the biggest void in the membership of the Baseball of Hall Fame can be filled: The omission of White Sox legend Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso, remembered by history as Minnie.

Minnie Minoso is one of 20 greats who will be under consideration at the winter meetings this weekend for induction to the Hall of Fame. And, yes, the winter meetings will go on even without the presence of Major League Baseball. The minor league portion of the meetings will still take place, and those appointed to consider the Hall’s two era-committee ballots will convene, as scheduled.

The ballots are as follows:

• The Early Baseball committee (covers the beginning of time to 1950) will consider Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Vic Harris, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil, Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Allie Reynolds and George “Tubby” Scales.

• The Golden Days committee (covers 1950 to 1969) will consider Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills.

This is a big weekend for the Hall, which is hoping that 2022 will bring with it the full Hall of Fame induction experience, including the annual Parade of Legends, the induction ceremony itself and the scores of fans who make their way to Cooperstown, New York, each July. After the festivities were canceled because of the pandemic in 2020, 2021 saw a scaled-down version in September in which Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller were inducted without parades and with smaller crowds than otherwise would have flocked to upstate New York, particularly for Jeter.

The thing is, Induction Weekend is a heck of a lot more fun — and a bigger draw — when there are actual inductees. And there is no guarantee that this year’s BBWAA ballot will produce any new Hall of Famers.

Sadly, of this group of 20, the only candidates still living are Kaat, Oliva and Wills, so obviously it would be great for one or all of that trio to get in. We’ll get to that, but for now I want to really focus on Minoso, the most egregious omission in the Hall’s plaque room, at least among those not still on the BBWAA ballot.

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