Under clear skies last night at Busch Stadium, the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers (62-39) and the St. Louis Cardinals (56-48) started as a pitcher's duel. Both Los Angeles' 21-year-old southpaw phenom Clayton Kershaw, and the tragically underrated Joel Pineiro, gave compelling, lights out performances.
These two pitchers set the stage for a compelling, suspenseful, tight-knit, extra innings extravaganza that had as many surprising twists and turns as the average Alfred Hitchcock movie. It even had a twist ending, as the surprisingly effective Cardinals won 3-2 in a very dramatic fashion.
Kershaw pitched a beauty, shutting down every opportunity the Redbirds had during his eight innings of work. He allowed no runs and four hits and struck out seven St. Louis batters. Thanks largely to his efforts, St. Louis seemed doomed going into the ninth inning down 1-0.
Pineiro, on the other hand, only screwed up once, allowing James Loney to score on a single by Casey Blake. Otherwise, he pitched a fine eight innings, also earning seven strikeouts, while only allowing six hits.
Obviously, with such fine pitching on display, the St. Louis offense wasn't too impressive during the first eight innings of the game. The Cardinals had several opportunities to score and tie the game, most dramatically when the much hated Manny Ramirez robbed Brendan Ryan of a home run when he leaped over the left field wall in the 7th inning with two men on base.
In the top of the ninth inning, the Cardinals' worst relief pitcher, Dennys Reyes came into the game and did what he usually does: make a small mess that had to be cleaned up by other, better St. Louis relievers.
Reyes promptly put two Dodgers on base. Luckily, Kyle McClellan came into the game, and stopped Los Angeles from putting the game further out of reach.
When it was their turn to bat, the Cards had to face the Dodgers' much feared closer, Jonathan Broxton. He got Albert Pujols to ground out to the shortstop, and then he struck out Matt Holliday. Ryan Ludwck stepped up to the plate, walked, and then advanced to second on a wild pitch to the pinch hitting Colby Rasmus.
Rasmus then singled to center, scoring Ludwick and tying the game. Unfortunately, any hopes for a further rally were squashed when Rasmus was thrown out tryin to steal second base. Still, the Cardinals did what they had to do to keep themselves in the game.
The score remained tied at one until the top of the 11th inning, when Casey Blake scored off a Matt Kemp sacrifice fly, putting the Dodgers ahead 2-1.
Thanks to a RBI single by Ryan Ludwick in the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals again kept themselves alive by tying the score.
The game chugged through four more innings, which featured some dazzling shutout pitching by the surprisingly effective Blake Hawksworth. Finally, in the bottom of the 15th inning, the Cardinals offense revived.
Brendan Ryan hit a triple. Julio Lugo walked. Mark DeRosa hit into a fielders' choice, forcing Ryan out at home. Still, Julio Lugo advanced to second, putting him in scoring position as Pujols stepped up to the plate.
The St. Louis superstar slugger reacted accordingly, hitting a single to deep centerfield that allowed Lugo to run home and the Cardinals to beat the team with the best record in baseball for the third night in a row.
One-sided blowouts are impresive and fun, but the true measure of a great team is how well they play in a close game. Last night, the Cardinals were issued such a test, matched the Dodgers step for step, and passed with flying colors. They made some missteps. For instance, a Joe Thurston double was made invalid, because the generally terrible third baseman stupidly failed to step on first base. However, for the most part, in this series against Los Angeles, the Redbirds have looked unstoppable.
Clearly, this is now a team that has demonstrated a commitment to winning. It seems that these efforts are paying off.
Currently, the Cards are in first place in the Central Division by half a game. Tonight, they will attempt to sweep the Dodgers.
I am so enthralled by this possibility that I am making the trek to downtown St. Louis to witness it personally. Here's hoping that this streak and this amazing level of play by the Cardinals continues.