Matthew Mesa/Los Angeles Dodgers
By Jon Weisman
He stood at the plate as Charlie Culberson. Twenty-four seconds later, his helmet flung in the air, his feet barely touching the ground, he returned … as Charlie Culberson.
Never before in Los Angeles Dodger history had a player stood in the batters’ box with no one on base, taken a swing — and won a division title. But that’s exactly what Culberson did today, sending the Dodgers to the playoffs with a 10th-inning, walkoff home run to beat Colorado.
“I’m floating right now,” Culberson said. “It’s awesome. I couldn’t have written it up any better.”
Culberson’s happy drive to left field was an intoxicating blend of Steve Finley, who delivered the 2004 National League West title with a grand slam, and Dick Nen.
Nen was the Dodger who, in his first Major League game on September 18, 1963, homered in the ninth inning to keep the Dodgers alive for a critical extra-inning victory in their World Series championship season.
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The 27-year-old Culberson is considerably more experienced — today’s was his 178th game in the big leagues — but still much closer on the fame-obscurity spectrum to Nen than Finley.
“It (speaks) to how he goes about what he does,” Andrew Friedman said. “Great role player. Knows his role, fits in really well with the clubhouse — how much he cares. There are so many different aspects that make him very fitting to be the one to hit the walkoff.”
This was hardly Culberson’s first big game for the Dodgers. It wasn’t even his first big 10th inning. On April 9, he saved Los Angeles in a game at San Francisco, making dazzling plays at both shortstop and left field, and going 2 for 5 with the game-winning double in a 3-2 victory.
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But it was the biggest, putting him in the ring of regular-season Dodger heroes that includes Nen, R.J. Reynolds, Finley and a select number of others.
“He was a non-roster invitee (to Spring Training), he was up and down all year long and he did whatever you asked,” Dave Roberts said. “I embraced him earlier, and he said outside of his baby, that’s the biggest moment of his life.”
Culberson finished the game 3 for 5, to raise his on-base percentage in 58 plate appearances with the Dodgers to .310 and his OPS to .696. For a defense-first player, that’ll do.
Still, he had gone 25 months since hitting a Major League home run. He had missed all but five games of the 2015 season recovering from a bulging disk and back surgery. He spent most of 2016 in Triple-A.
And now, he’s Charlie Culberson.
“The Dodgers gave me an opportunity to play,” he said. “Honestly, I’m just happy to be here and be part of this awesome team. … I’m just fortunate to put on a uniform and be able to play baseball.”