If the Dodgers win the World Series, if they deliver this city a championship, the play will forever be known in these parts as “The Catch.”
The moment Cody Bellinger reached over the center-field wall at Globe Life Park on Wednesday night will be played over and over for generations. The image of reliever Brusdar Graterol throwing his glove in celebration will become part of Dodgers folklore.
That was the kind of play that saves a game. That was the kind of play that wins championships.
Game 2 of this National League Division Series was recorded as a 6-5 victory for the Dodgers, which extended their lead in the best-of-five series to two games to none.
What the box score won’t show is how close the Dodgers were to disaster.
The Dodgers were holding on to a 4-3 lead when Graterol replaced Blake Treinen with two outs in the seventh inning.
Standing on first base was Trent Grisham, who was plunked by Treinen. Stepping into the batter’s box was Fernando Tatis Jr.
Graterol was promptly called for a balk that advanced the runner to second base.
His first pitch was his signature sinker, one traveling at 99 mph to the outer half of the plate. Tatis connected.
The baseball soared into the Texas night.
Bellinger retreated quickly to the warning track in center field and leaped. With the left side of his torso brushing up against the wall, Bellinger raised his right arm. Instead of clearing the padded divider, the baseball dropped into Bellinger’s opened glove.
“I knew he hit it, so in this ballpark it was just get to the fence,” Bellinger said on a postgame interview on FS1. “I thought it was off the black screen or I was going to have a chance. I tried to time up the jump. It went in the glove.”
Bellinger pointed skyward with his index finger.
Back on the mound, Graterol raised his arms in triumph and violently hurled his glove in the direction of the Dodgers bench.
Graterol wasn’t finished. He pointed to the sky, pounded his chest and tossed his cap.
Ironically, the one-man party in the infield enraged a Padres team known for its extravagant celebration.
Manny Machado, who was on deck, pointed at Graterol and screamed. In response, Graterol blew him a kiss.
Max Muncy came to Graterol’s defense, gesturing for Machado to return to the Padres dugout. Mookie Betts sarcastically waved Machado away.
In retrospect, the play decided the game. Most likely, it determined the series too.
Still buzzing from the Bellinger’s catch, the Dodgers scored twice in the bottom of the inning, adding insurance runs that proved to be valuable when soon-to-be-demoted closer Kenley Jansen melted down in the ninth.
Talk about a MVP — except in this case, the acronym stood for most valuable play.
Bellinger called the catch the best of his career.
“I think I’ve only robbed one homer in my career and that’s the first in the postseason,” Bellinger said.
The defensive effort embodied what these Dodgers are about. If something’s not working, they can find another way to win.
The NL MVP last season, Bellinger has looked out of sorts offensively for the majority for this year. An effort to alter his swing backfire, resulting in him batting under .200 into the final couple of weeks of the pandemic-shortened regular season.
He still didn’t look right in the wild-card series.
There were some modest improvements in Game 1 against the Padres. He drew a walk. He reached base on what turned out to be a critical throwing error. He drove in a run on an infield single.
On Wednesday, there was finally liftoff. In the fourth inning, Bellinger reached down and golfed an ankle-high changeup by Padres starter Zach Davies over the center-field wall.
The contribution was welcomed, but Bellinger owed his regular place in the lineup to his defense. Three innings later, he delivered on that front as well.
Bellinger became the first player to hit and steal a home run in the same game since ESPN started tracking home-run robberies in 2012, the network reported. Bellinger’s catch was the most spectacular in a key moment since 2018, when Chris Taylor made a diving overhead catch on the warning track in left-center field to preserve a Dodgers’ lead over the Brewers in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.
The Dodgers went on to win the game. They failed to beat the Boston Red Sox the World Series, however, which is why Taylor’s heroics have gradually faded from Los Angeles’ collective memory.
Now, Bellinger has made his case for immortality. How the season ends will determine whether “the catch” earns the distinction of being called “The Catch.”