Culberson’s home runs big on quality, if not quantity

February 22, 2018

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) In two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Charlie Culberson hit only two home runs. But one clinched a playoff berth and the other came in the 11th inning of a World Series game.

''I don't have a whole lot of major league at-bats,'' he said. ''But yeah, those were two fun swings.''

The 28-year-old infielder was traded in December to the Atlanta Braves, who are scheduled to open their exhibition season Friday against the New York Mets at Port St. Lucie.

In five seasons with the Giants, Rockies and Dodgers, Culberson got only 411 at-bats and hit six home runs. He didn't play in the majors last season until September. His only major league homer of the year came off Houston's Chris Devenski in Game 2 of the World Series.

But his other home run as a Dodger was even more memorable. It was a walk-off homer against Colorado's Boone Logan on Sept. 25, 2016, that clinched the NL West for the Dodgers in their final home game of the season. It became the final call in the career of Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully.

''It was perfect timing and everything kind of slowed down,'' Culberson said. ''Sixty-seven years of him calling baseball and other sports, big games, I squeaked myself in for one little moment in his history book. Along with celebrating the clinching of the division and everything, it was Vin's last call. So that was a pretty cool moment.''

The World Series homer could have been just as significant if the Dodgers had won.

''There were two outs in the 11th and we were down by two,'' Culberson said. ''(Yasiel) Puig had just hit a home run in his at-bat before, and then he was hitting behind me. So one swing of the bat could have tied it up.''

Devenski struck out Puig, and the Astros won 7-6 and went on to win the World Series in seven games.

''I knew we were still down a run when I hit it, but it was a World Series homer. So I was pretty excited,'' he said.

Then the Dodgers threw him into a five-player trade for outfielder Matt Kemp. The trade meant Culberson, who was raised in Rome, Georgia, would be coming home. At 28, he'll be competing for a utility spot on a team with considerably lower expectations.

''He's out of options, and he's a guy with the versatility we want. We don't want to lose him,'' said manager Brian Snitker. ''I've got to put my eyes on him a little more, but people say he can play second really well, third really well. The only times I've really seen him is in the playoffs.''

That's when Culberson has been most visible. He had eight postseason hits last fall, six more than in the regular season.

''It's funny how things work,'' he said. ''That's why you've got to keep at it, you've got to keep playing.''

NOTES: Matt Wisler, Sean Newcomb and Scott Kazmir will pitch one inning each in their weekend starts against the Mets and Washington Nationals. ... The 34-year-old Kazmir missed the entire 2017 season with a hip injury. ''We're kind of easing him into it, trying to see where he's at physically,'' Snitker said. ''We'll see as we get him back out there in regular turns.'' ... Shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Ozzie Albies will start Friday. The Braves plan to slowly work in most of their regulars.

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