HOUSTON -- For the better part of two games, the Dodgers' hitters were not themselves. They looked off-balance, and this is a team that prides itself on being in balance. They lunged at bad pitches and watched helplessly as perfectly good ones bisected the plate. Every guess was wrong. Every count seemed to be 0-2. Every good swing merely fouled a ball back.
This is baseball; again and again you see even the best teams go through these sorts of stretches during the long season. But when the World Series comes along, and every pitch is magnified and every hitless game is a full-on slump and every called third strike has the chance to be remembered for decades ... it's different.
"Like I said," Dodgers co-hero Cody Bellinger said happily, "it's a beautiful game."
Los Angeles came into Saturday night's Game 4 trailing Houston two games to one. For six innings, the Dodgers flailed against Astros starter Charlie Morton. Morton was terrific, no doubt. He has proven a master of reinventing himself, and now, just a couple of weeks away from his 34th birthday, he has somehow remade himself into a fierce power pitcher. Morton's fastball clocked between 95 and 97 mph all night.
"Early on versus Morton," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "we didn't really have great at-bats."
No. Los Angeles didn't. The National League champions took 17 called strikes, which suggests the club wasn't being nearly aggressive enough. But it wasn't that simple. The Dodgers also swung at numerous pitches out of the zone. In golf, they call that a two-way miss.
Justin Turner's at-bat in the fourth inning was illustrative. Turner has been L.A.'s rock; people who watch him every day are in awe of how consistently he has good at-bats.
"I've never been around a player who knows himself so well," Dodgers special advisor Raul Ibanez said. "He knows every inch of his swing, so that he knows exactly what he can do with every pitch. It's really amazing."
Yes, it has been amazing, but Turner -- like the rest of the Dodgers' lineup -- seemed in a fog for two days. In the fourth inning, he took Morton's first pitch, a 94-mph fastball, for a strike.
Turner then fouled off a pitch that was probably a couple of inches off the plate inside. He then struck out on a cutter that was probably a foot outside.
That's how it was, not just for Turner, but the whole team. Los Angeles was held scoreless for six innings, and when Houston third baseman Alex Bregman made another dazzling defensive play to throw out Austin Barnes at the plate, it felt like the Dodgers might never score again.
Fortunately for the Dodgers, their young starter, Alex Wood, was baffling Astros hitters at the same time. Wood threw 5 2/3 no-hit innings before giving up a long home run to George Springer. Los Angeles' bullpen -- all but invincible except for three unlikely innings in Game 2 -- took over and was brilliant.
Still, it seemed one run might be enough for Houston. Then, in the seventh, Astros manager A.J. Hinch left Morton in to face Bellinger a third time. It was a gut call. It didn't work. Bellinger ripped a long fly ball to a perfect spot in left, just where the left-field wall juts out. That ended up being a double. Morton was pulled, and Logan Forsythe's single with two outs off reliever Will Harris tied the game.
Then came the ninth inning. The score was still tied. Hinch called for his struggling closer, Ken Giles, and the Dodgers sent the struggling heart of their lineup -- Corey Seager, Turner and Bellinger -- to the plate. And before it even began, this felt like one of those big World Series moments. If the Astros could get through the inning scoreless, they would have a great chance to win this thing in dramatic fashion and, perhaps, put a chokehold on this World Series.
But if the Dodgers could finally break through ...
Seager, who had looked beat up, punched a ground ball through Houston's shift defense for a single.
Turner, who had seemed all out of sorts, had a Justin Turner at-bat, laying off Giles' fastballs and sliders and earning a walk.
Bellinger, who started the World Series 0-for-13 and had struck out four times in Game 3, had a brilliant at-bat. He took the first pitch, an inside slider in the dirt, exactly the sort of pitch he had been flailing at. Bellinger then saw a 96-mph fastball on the outside half of the plate, and he crushed a line drive the other way for a double that scored the go-ahead run.
At that point, Hinch took out Giles, and in came Joe Musgrove, who eventually gave up a sacrifice fly to Austin Barnes and a long home run to Joc Pederson. Hinch has a real puzzle to figure out. It's funny, the night before, someone asked Hinch about Roberts' excessive use of the bullpen and whether or not that would cost Los Angeles this Series.
"I don't know his bullpen the way he knows his bullpen," Hinch said. "How it hurts him is going to be on his side."
This was a nice way of saying: "The Dodgers' bullpen overuse is not my problem."
The reverse is true as well, though. The Astros' bullpen has been beat up so much this postseason that Hinch is finding that he has to do some pretty advanced calculus just to get 27 outs.
But this is not the Dodgers' problem. They are now tied in the World Series, they have their future Hall of Fame ace, Clayton Kershaw, for Game 5, and they have guaranteed that this Series is going back to Los Angeles.
Perhaps most of all, the Dodgers found their balance again late Saturday night in Houston. They found it just in time.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.