Cody Bellinger dropped his bat by his feet, stared up into the sky and began a slow, purposeful strut down the first base line, admiring the towering home run that he had just hit.
“It was one of those where you hit it and you know right away,” Bellinger said on the field afterward.
He knew it was going to land in the seats. He knew it would give his Los Angeles Dodgers the lead. And he knew it could be the deciding blow in an unlikely comeback.
It was the bottom of the seventh inning, and there was still some work to be done, but Bellinger’s emphatic blast ultimately tipped the scales, and now he and the rest of the Dodgers are strutting into the World Series for the third time in four years.
In a compelling game that went back and forth with dramatic plays in the field and on the basepaths, the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
They will play the Tampa Bay Rays, who had the American League’s best record, in the World Series, beginning Tuesday at the same stadium. The Dodgers will be looking to rid themselves of the growing stigma over failing to win a World Series despite having won their division eight years in a row.
But after coming back from a three-games-to-one deficit in the N.L.C.S., these Dodgers are a confident group.
“We are going to be tough to beat, for sure,” Mookie Betts, the right fielder whom many Dodger fans are hoping will be the difference that enables the Dodgers to win their first World Series since 1988.
They won their 21st N.L. pennant dating to the Brooklyn Dodgers club that first went to the World Series in 1916. It is the 12th pennant the team has won since it moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
The Dodgers, who won 43 of 60 games in the regular season — the most games in Major League Baseball — became the 14th team, out of 88 that have tried, to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game playoff series.
“It was the first time we had our backs against the wall,” said Betts, who literally had his back pressed against the outfield wall in the fifth inning when he pulled back a potential home run from the bat of Freddie Freeman with the Braves leading, 3-2.
It was the second consecutive game that Betts rose up to make a highlight catch against the wall in a critical moment: He did the same in Game 6 when Marcell Ozuna hit a long fly ball that could have been an extra-base hit.
The Dodgers had to come from behind twice on Sunday. They trailed, 2-0, after the second inning but evened the score in the third on a two-out single by Will Smith, who also hit a key home run in Game 5.
They also trailed, 3-2, in the sixth, but drew even again on a pinch-hit home run by Enrique Hernandez. An inning later, they went ahead for good when Bellinger a fastball from Chris Martin into the right field stands. Both home runs punctuated eight-pitch at-bats.
The game began with the first matchup of rookie starting pitchers in a Game 7, as Ian Anderson of the Braves took on Dustin May of the Dodgers. But neither made it past the third inning in a game where the managers combined to use 11 pitchers. Julio Urias tossed three perfect innings at the end for the Dodgers, and was awarded the win.
Although Los Angeles has enjoyed enviable success over the past decade — eight consecutive N.L. West titles, and now three World Series berths since 2017 — they were bounced out of the postseason each of those years: They lost the 2017 Fall Classic to the Houston Astros, and then lost again in 2018 to the Boston Red Sox, with Betts playing for Boston.
Betts, who was traded to the Dodgers before the season, hit 16 home runs and added a dynamic element to the team both offensively and defensively, making the Dodgers the favorites to win the title — as long as baseball happened, which was in doubt for much of the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“From the moment that we were able to put a season together once they were able to figure out the Covid thing, everyone was expecting us to go to the World Series,” Hernandez said. “We were expecting to go to the World Series.”
The Braves, who have not won a World Series in 25 years, were hoping to get back to their first since 1999, when they were swept by the Yankees. But despite missing out this year, their future looks solid.
“A lot of young guys stepped up in this series,” Braves Manager Brian Snitker said. “Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted. But it was an unbelievable experience for a really young team.”
But the celebrations on Sunday belonged to the Dodgers, who celebrated on the field as their fans in (roughly half of the 10,920 in the stands at the neutral-site ballpark), cheered them on.
Their manager, Dave Roberts, who has faced criticism over the past few years for decisions he has made in postseason failures, was particularly happy and emotional during his postgame speech. He cited the unique difficulties of the unusual season, including the coronavirus pandemic and the social unrest that roiled the country beginning in the summer.
Instead of a 162-game season, teams played 60 games and M.L.B. added a playoff round for all teams and then sent the winners to neutral sites with no days off to avoid extensive travel that might increase the chance of spreading the virus.
There were no fans during the regular season, and many games were postponed when players tested positive for the virus.
But after all of it, a World Series is set to be staged between the two best teams in baseball.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Roberts said, and then added, “This year is our year. This is our year.”