LOS ANGELES -- Game 4 of the National League Championship Series needed a hero, even if it took all night. And it nearly did.
Cody Bellinger snapped out of a dreadful postseason slump with a 13th-inning RBI single, lifting the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium. The much-needed victory for the Dodgers knotted the NLCS at two games apiece.
Bellinger was 1-for-22 for the postseason after flying out as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. Despite entering the contest at that late juncture, it turns out the night was just beginning for him, and everyone else who lasted through the five-hour, 15-minute marathon.
Hints of Bellinger's end-of-game heroics were dropped earlier in the night. In the eighth against Milwaukee's Josh Hader, the left-hander who is impermeable to same-side hitters, Bellinger laced an opposite-field single to left against a shifted Brewers defense. It didn't lead to a run, but it sowed the seeds for what came later.
"It's nice seeing results," Bellinger said. "I'm sticking with the process, but feeling good for most of the series. If I stick to the process they're going to fall in, and that kind of showed today."
Bellinger also chipped in defensively with a diving catch in the 10th. Lorenzo Cain appeared to have dropped a ball into the right-center field gap, but Bellinger laid out and grabbed it, sliding along the outfield grass as if he were on a water slide.
"I saw it hanging up there, ran as fast as I could, and dove for it," Bellinger said.
All of that set the stage for the winning hit. Manny Machado looped a broken-bat single to left, leading to a reunion at first base with Milwaukee's Jesus Aguilar. Machado had contacted Aguilar's foot at the bag on a 10th-inning groundout. That led to words between the players, which led to both dugouts emptying.
This time, Machado and Aguilar exchanged pleasantries while concealing their words behind their hands. It was short conversation though, because Machado soon made it to second base on Junior Guerra's wild pitch.
"What stays on the field, stays on the field," Machado said. "Between the lines."
Bellinger then grounded Guerra's 3-2 off-speed pitch into right, while Machado roared around third base and just beat Christian Yelich's throw to the plate, giving the Dodgers their first extra-inning postseason win in more than 30 years. The Dodgers were out of the dugout before Machado ever reached home.
"Honestly, I didn't even see them," Machado said. "I was trying to score."
Meanwhile, Bellinger never stopped running, turning into a backpedal and heading for left field with a mob of his teammates in pursuit. Leading the charge was none other than Bellinger's 46-year-old manager, Dave Roberts.
"That was the first person that I realized was in front of me, other than the guys," Bellinger said. "I think we gave each other a big hug. I think it was the first time I ever got mobbed in the outfield."
The celebration was understandable. After more than five hours, 16 pitchers and 32 strikeouts, both teams were about spent. The Dodgers' bench and bullpen had emptied; if the game would have continued much longer, Roberts would have had to insert starter Hyun-Jin Ryu -- strictly an emergency option.
With Bellinger's hit, the emergency was averted. Now both teams know the series will be returning to Milwaukee after Wednesday's Game 5, which will begin just hours after Tuesday's long game finally ended. The contest finished two minutes "quicker" than L.A.'s epic Game 5 loss to Houston in last year's World Series, the longest game in Dodgers postseason history.
"Understanding and seeing what Cody has been going through," Roberts said. "Really just wearing it and the weight of the world on him. For him to come through in that big spot, I just felt for him and all of our guys. I wanted to make sure I went out there and greeted him. [My] hamstring is good now, but it will be sore tomorrow."
The question is: Will either team have enough pitching to navigate a crucial Game 5 in a tied series?
As mentioned, Roberts used his entire bullpen, though only Jansen (34 pitches) racked up a high pitch count. Clayton Kershaw will get the start on normal rest, and Ryu also will be rested for Game 6.
Things are a little trickier for the Brewers, who used their relief ace Hader for 20 pitches, the second straight night he has been used. He has never pitched in three straight games. Corey Knebel threw an inning and has pitched in all seven of Milwaukee's postseason games. Only Wade Davis and Greg Holland, both for the 2014 Royals, had done that before.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell had three other relievers go two innings or more -- Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Guerra. Entering the 13th, the Brewers' pen had thrown 11 scoreless innings, giving up only three hits and four walks and striking out 17. That's the stuff of folklore if you win -- the strikeouts were the most by a bullpen in the postseason. But now that the Brewers lost, it has become tomorrow's headache. When asked about heading into Wednesday's game with Hader's availability uncertain, Counsell seemed irked, though maybe it was a product of such a long night.
"It's not about Josh," Counsell said. "We had to cover 13 innings of baseball. I think any time you've got to cover 13 innings and there is a game the next day, you're always worried about that."
Milwaukee did not use long reliever Brandon Woodruff, lefty Xavier Cedeno or short reliever Jeremy Jeffress. And the bullpen could get an unexpected boost. Starter Gio Gonzalez had to leave in the second inning when he sprained his ankle trying to field a comebacker. After the game, Gonzalez told ESPN's Pedro Gomez that he expected to be replaced on the club's NLCS roster before Game 5. By rule, his replacement has to be a pitcher.
"We were able to stay away from a couple of guys tonight," Counsell said. "But we're in a little bit of a tough spot, for sure."
For the Dodgers, this ability to avert disaster is becoming a kind of defining trait. They nearly sunk out of the playoff race until a late-season surge. They didn't secure their sixth straight NL West title until beating the Colorado Rockies in a tiebreaker. And with a loss Tuesday they would have had to win three straight against a tough Brewers team, including two in Milwaukee.
Instead, the clubs battled deep into the California night and ended up with a clean slate. This series has only just begun, even if both teams might be more than a little weary when they report to the ballpark on Wednesday morning.
"Once I was out of the game," Jansen said, "I just felt nerve-wracking. Good pitching, just keep battling and battling. It's huge. We don't want to go down 3-1 and have to win all those games, especially two in Milwaukee. This one's huge."