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Brandon Belt is finally healthy, and holy cow is he playing like it



Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Belt feels healthy.

The way he is playing, it wouldn’t be surprising if he feels invincible.

Belt has gone from the dugout against lefties to Barry Bonds territory, about as big a comeback as humanly possible.

Before it was snapped in Tuesday’s 11th inning, Belt pushed his on-base streak to 11 straight plate appearances — the first Giant to do so since the legendary slugger in 2006 — and hit the game-tying home run in an emotional, wild, absurd 10-8 victory over the Dodgers at Oracle Park, the Giants’ seventh straight and most stunning.

According to Stats by Stats, the Giants are the second MLB team in the modern era to trail in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings of a game and still win, the Phillies doing the same against the Marlins on July 24, 1998. Of course the extra-inning rules make that a bit easier this season. Having Belt batting in the ninth made it a bit simpler for the Giants.

With one out in a game Los Angeles was winning 6-5, the polarizing slugger watched a second-pitch cutter from Kenley Jansen get too much of the plate and slugged it 415 feet to right-center, his second dinger of the day that kept the Giants breathing until they could exhale in the 11th, when Donovan Solano walked it off.

Belt struck out before Donnie Barrels came up, snapping his 11-plate-appearance streak in which he has been scalding hot. On Tuesday, he went 4-for-5 with a walk, those two long balls and five RBIs, his slashline suddenly at .313/.395/.612.

At long last, he looks healthy. He said his knee, which required 2018 surgery, was a “huge issue” for him last year, when he said it was not built up yet. So he spent this offseason strengthening it, and the results are now following.

“I’ve been working. I’ve been working hard, man,” Belt said after the Giants improved to 4-4 against the Dodgers this season. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work to make sure that I can get back on the field and be productive.

“I think I have a little bit better idea of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it now as compared to when I was younger. I just think the physical aspect has been missing the past year, year and a half or so. I feel like I’m back to where I want to be both mentally and physically.”

He feels he is in the right space, even if that space has not been the batter’s box for much of this season. Belt entered 0-for-7 against lefties this season, Wilmer Flores typically getting the nod.

But Belt’s bat has not cooled, and so Gabe Kapler wanted to see it against southpaw Julio Urias. Just like Brandon Crawford did, Belt has begun swinging his way into everyday time.

“I know that when I get going, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a righty or lefty — I know I can hit anybody that they throw out there,” said the 32-year-old with perhaps the best eye in baseball. “This is no different from any other season. I’ve had to prove myself a lot. I didn’t mind doing it again, and I don’t mind continuing to do that.”

He said he felt fine with his mental approach last year, he just did not have the knee to match it. It certainly sounds as if he has both checked off this season and has begun picking up the slack Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater left for him.

The Dodgers have beaten up on everyone except the Giants, who are making quite a statement before the trade deadline.

“We make a pretty tough matchup for them. We got a good ball team,” Belt said. “And we know when we play the Dodgers we got to bring our ‘A’ game, and we’ve done that quite a few times this year. And we’re not going to go away quietly. We’ve done a pretty good job this past week, and we’re looking to keep it going.”