The worst I was ever fooled was in Game 2 of last year’s World Series. Before all the madness in extra innings — before all the madness in the following five games — there was Cody Bellinger, batting against Ken Giles with two out and none on in the bottom of the ninth of a 3-3 contest. Giles fell behind 1-and-0, and then he wanted to go away with a fastball. What he did instead was throw a fastball over the middle of the plate, just above the knees. Bellinger took one of his mighty rips, and he made what looked to be perfect contact. As the ball rocketed off the barrel, the fans in the background all rose to their feet. The camera showed much of the black night sky. At one point, the screen cut off part of the right fielder’s lower body, cementing the expectation that the ball would land several rows deep. Bellinger had hit a walk-off home run. Except that he hadn’t — Josh Reddick caught the ball on the track. The inning was over, and some time after that, the Dodgers would lose.
Bellinger is not the only guy to ever trick a viewer. Anyone who’s followed even a handful of games on TV or radio knows that even the professionals get fooled. It can be hard to read a fly ball, after all, so for the first few split seconds, you’re trying to read the swing. Sometimes a good-looking swing just gets under the ball. Sometimes a good-looking swing hits the ball off the end of the bat. Batted balls can be deceptive. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know.
What seems to be true about Bellinger is that he’s deceptive unusually often. I don’t even watch the Dodgers on a regular basis until the playoffs get started, and I can recall multiple times that Bellinger has tricked me. He got me again yesterday, if only for a moment. Cody Bellinger seems to have a knack for hitting apparent home runs that aren’t home runs. Mostly, they’re outs. The opposite of a home run. Each one is an emotional roller-coaster, concentrated within a matter of seconds.
In honor of this weird Cody Bellinger quirk, then, I will present to you a whole bunch of videos. This isn’t even exhaustive or complete. A man has only so much time in the day. But, below, you’ll find 13 video clips of Bellinger not hitting a home run. They’re not all equally deceptive, but they’re all some degree of deceptive, each and every one. Let’s watch Cody Bellinger almost get all of it, together.
Might as well start with the biggie. Here’s the non-homer I’ll never forget.
Here’s the non-homer from Tuesday.
And now here are all of the rest, arranged in no particular order.
As I mentioned, they’re not all the same. Sometimes, Bellinger fools himself. Other times, you can see from his reaction that he realizes he just missed his pitch. In one of the clips above, you can see that Bellinger is mad at himself, even though he hit the ball to the track. I didn’t even realize a track-ball felt different off the bat than a bleacher-ball. Seems like even the worse contact is still pretty good. But in all of those clips — and also in other clips, surely — there’s just this brief instant where it seems like the ball is a goner. Pulled fly balls are the most dangerous fly balls, for almost anyone. Bellinger is a better-than-average power hitter, and when he swings, it’s seldom a compromise. I think Bellinger’s mechanics are the biggest part of it. It’s how he gets around on the ball, and it’s how his swing follows through. Bellinger isn’t the most dangerous pull-side hitter in the league, but he’s got the visuals down pat. In certain cases up there the camera makes it all the more misleading, but the camera is just following Bellinger’s lead. Bellinger can trick even the experts. If you’ve been fooled, don’t be too hard on yourself. Bellinger has a swing that tells lies. It’s not honest often enough to trust, and yet many of us can’t help ourselves.
I’d be interested to know whether, for Dodgers fans, this makes Bellinger more or less likeable. On the one hand, a promising fly ball that comes up short is supremely deflating. It’s such a steeper drop-off, relative to a boring can of corn. Bellinger keeps getting one’s hopes up. But on the other hand, he keeps getting one’s hopes up. That way you feel when the ball comes off the bat — that’s real. That’s a chemical reaction. That’s a feeling that gets associated with the player, and it’s the feeling of a partial home run. Of a potential home run in development. The crash is real, too, and that’s another chemical reaction, but I don’t know which of them is stronger. I don’t know which of them wins out in the long run.
All I know is that Bellinger fools me like no other player. I guess at this point, I’m looking for it, so it’s easier to notice, but Bellinger’s developed a habit of this. Cody Bellinger hits a lot of home runs. Cody Bellinger has also hit a lot of non-home runs, non-home runs that looked like home runs off the bat. In a lot of ways, a win-expectancy graph reads like a plot of fan emotion. As the odds of winning shift around, so does one’s mood. Yet a win-expectancy graph is based on the outcomes of every at-bat. Sometimes — oftentimes — Bellinger’s outcomes tell only part of the story.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.