SAN DIEGO -- By any extent of the imagination, this has been a dream season for left-handed power-hitting Cody Bellinger, who tied a 24-year-old Dodgers rookie record held by Hall of Famer Mike Piazza on Saturday with his 35th home run.
"Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't imagine doing this at all," Bellinger said between games of Saturday's makeup day-night doubleheader. "I just feel like things keep coming. For me, I'm just trying to keep going with it, enjoy it as much as I can, and at the end of the day, do what I can to help us win as well."
The fourth-inning leadoff blast into the right-field seats at Petco Park came off left-hander Clayton Richard in a 6-5 loss to the Padres.
Bellinger, 22 and the son of former big league utility player Clay Bellinger, wasn't even born in 1993, the year Piazza set the record for the Dodgers. Piazza was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016.
"Obviously, to be considered in the same sentence as [Piazza] is pretty cool," Bellinger said. "I'd be lying if I didn't say it was in the back of my mind."
Bellinger and Yankees slugger Aaron Judge are the only pair of rookies to have ever hit at least 35 home runs in the same season. Judge has amassed 37 blasts for the Bombers.
"I didn't know that," Bellinger said. "That's pretty cool, too. There's another one. That's crazy, huh?"
Bellinger had been sitting on 34 homers since Aug. 12. A week later, he sprained his right ankle playing the outfield when Adrian Gonzalez returned from a back injury and displaced him at first base. Bellinger went on the disabled list for 10 days, and he was activated in his hometown of Phoenix on Wednesday night, with his father in attendance at Chase Field.
Clay played parts of four seasons with the Yankees and Angels from 1999-2002, batting .193 in 183 games, and Cody calls his dad his greatest influence. The younger Bellinger grew up in Gilbert, Ariz., just south of downtown Phoenix, and he was selected by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the '14 Draft out of Hamilton High School.
His father is a fireman in the Gilbert, Ariz., fire department -- a far cry from his MLB days.
"He says it's a much smaller clubhouse," Bellinger said. "There's only six or seven guys, and they really have to be tight and have each other's backs. Every day could be a matter of life and death."
For Cody, his biggest problem has been shaking off the dust from his injury layoff. He was 2-for-13 with six strikeouts when he came up to open the fourth against Richard, who hadn't allowed a homer to a lefty since 2013. That streak ended on the first pitch of the at-bat.
Had Bellinger felt uncomfortable in his first three games after being activated?
"Oh, a little bit," Bellinger said. "You take a couple of days off, and your swing is going to be off. I think it takes 15, 20 at-bats to really feel comfortable again."
Bellinger has emerged as the biggest surprise on a Dodgers team that has won 92 games and is strolling away with its fifth consecutive National League West title. Los Angeles hasn't won or even been to the World Series since defeating the A's in five games in the 1988 Fall Classic.
When Spring Training ended, Bellinger didn't seem to be a factor in changing that. He hit .207 (12-for-58) with two homers and 10 RBIs as he retooled his swing. When camp broke, Bellinger was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City for 18 games, where he exploded with a slash line of .343/.429/.627, five homers, 15 RBIs and a 1.055 OPS before the Dodgers called him up for good on April 25.
The Dodgers opened the season 10-12, and an argument can be made that Bellinger has been the prime catalyst for the club turning the season into an epic one.
Bellinger is fair-faced, unflappable and humble -- despite the fact that he made the NL All-Star team, participated in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby and is unquestionably the frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
The Yankees' brass have said that Judge's performance came as a complete surprise, considering his injuries and his .179 batting average in the 27 games he played after being called up in August 2016.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he isn't surprised about the way Bellinger has played.
"We knew there was a big upside in the power," Roberts said. "It's just more of him now being able to take a walk when he needs to take a walk, using the opposite gap when he needs to when pitchers are pitching him away. And he's done that. You knew he was going to slug, but you didn't know he was going to turn into this good a hitter."
The numbers don't lie. In 105 games for the Dodgers, Bellinger is slashing at .270/.351/.603. He has 81 RBIs, 48 walks -- and those 35 homers, of course.
Bellinger is now 8th on the all-time rookie home run list, breaking a tie with Ryan Braun, who hit 34 in 2007 for the Brewers, and Walt Dropo, who did the same in 1950 for the Red Sox.
One more, and Bellinger will no longer be like Mike. He'll be all alone at the top of the Dodgers' single-season rookie list.