HOUSTON — The top rookies in their respective leagues went through massive struggles this postseason. And each one’s manager never wavered in his support.
The Yankees’ Aaron Judge, a shoo-in to win the American League Rookie of the Year award and a strong candidate for MVP, went through some brutal stretches in the run to Game 7 of the ALCS.
Judge struggled in Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series in Cleveland before getting on a roll at home. Same for the ALCS, in which he was 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, then went 4-for-9 with two homers and six RBIs in Games 3, 4 and 5 at the Stadium.
Faced with questions about possibly dropping the rightfielder in the order, Joe Girardi said it wasn’t a consideration.
The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, a sure thing to be National League Rookie of the Year, had it even worse at the start of this World Series. In the first three games, he went 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts, four of them in a Game 3 loss that put the Dodgers behind two games to one.
After that performance, a reporter suggested to Dave Roberts that he might want to sit the 22-year-old Bellinger, who hit 39 homers and drove in 97 runs in 132 games during the regular season. He also had done perfectly fine before the World Series, slashing .278/.316/.500 with two homers, two doubles and four RBIs against the Diamondbacks and Cubs in the first eight games of the postseason.
“I don’t see giving him a day off,” said Roberts, who added that dropping Bellinger significantly in the lineup also wasn’t a thought. “I think that he’s trying his hardest. He’s trying his tail off. I think we’ve got to get him to slow down and stay in the strike zone.”
Roberts’ unyielding belief in Bellinger paid off during a 6-2 victory in Game 4 that tied the series heading into Sunday night’s Game 5 at Minute Maid Park. After flying out and striking out in his first two at-bats Saturday, Bellinger doubled and scored in the seventh inning to tie the score at 1. His RBI double in the ninth gave the Dodgers the lead for good at 2-1.
In Game 5, Bellinger’s three-run homer in the top of the fifth gave the Dodgers a 7-4 lead before Jose Altuve’s three-run shot in the bottom of the inning tied it at 7-7. Bellinger’s RBI triple in the seventh put the Dodgers ahead 8-7 before George Springer homered, Altuve doubled home a run and Carlos Correa added a two-run homer to give the Astros an 11-8 lead in the seventh. Brian McCann’s homer in the eighth made it 12-9, but the Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the ninth on Yasiel Puig’s two-run homer and Chris Taylor’s two-out RBI single to tie it at 12-12.
Judge thought that when he slumped, it was a matter of “missing” a good pitch when he saw one. Nothing more, nothing less.
Bellinger, who looked overmatched at the plate, thought he needed to make an adjustment, so during batting practice for Game 4, the lefthanded batter made a point of trying to hit everything to the opposite field.
“I just thought of it right when I went out to hit,” Bellinger said. “Didn’t think about it in the cage before. I see Andre [Ethier] take BP every day and every ball is getting shot to leftfield, and I see Logan Forsythe take BP and every ball is getting hit in the gap. I was always told these real ly good hitters hit the ball the other way in BP and I had never done it, and I wanted to try it.”
It worked, because both of his well-hit doubles in Game 4 went to the opposite field.
Bellinger acknowledged that something more than mechanics might have played into his World Series skid, saying it could have been as much mental as physical. “That can make a world of difference,” he said. “Sometimes you see in the postseason you want to try to do too much, and that’s what I was doing. I tried to make an effort [Saturday night] of not doing too much, and when you do that, you get two hits sometimes. It’s a crazy game.”
Like Girardi with Judge, Roberts thought it was only a matter of time for Bellinger. “For him to really keep that calmness about him says a lot about the makeup of the player,” Roberts said. “And there’s certain players that just have that innate ability to be in that spot, to want to be in that big spot. And Cody, you can see the heartbeat is really good.”