LA Takes 2-0 Lead: Big Surprise? Not if You Followed This Team All Year

Chris StaafCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2009

Are you a believer yet (or again)?

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead against the St. Louis Cardinals when pinch hitter Mark Loretta drove in Casey Blake for the 3-2 win in the bottom of the ninth inning.

This was the first walk-off win for the Boys in Blue since some dude named Kirk Gibson drove a Dennis Eckersley slider into the right-field pavilion in Game One of the 1988 World Series.

The Dodgers persevered against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who looked like the Cy Young candidate he is. Wainwright went eight innings and gave up just an Andre Ethier home run in the fourth.

However, no one should be surprised by the Dodgers' win. The Dodgers have been winning games late all season. I am sure many Dodger fans were just hoping that the score would remain 2-1 or better going into the ninth. Sure enough, it was.

For the Cardinals, this obviously is a huge blow. Their two best pitchers, the pitchers that most "experts" believed would shut down the Dodgers and take control of the series did not do so. Wainwright pitched a gem only to have Ryan Franklin blow the game. Now the Cardinals head back to St. Louis in a must-win situation.

While Carpenter did not look sharp in his start, Wainwright pitched as well as expected. However, his offense did not give him more than two runs and Tony La Russa will probably question whether or not he should have pulled Wainwright when he did.

Wainwright had 109 pitches through eight innings. I speak for all Dodger fans when I say, thank you for Ryan Franklin.

Some observations:

1. Cardinal fans, do not put too much blame on Matt Holliday.

Anyone who has been to Dodger Stadium around sundown will tell you that many fly balls get lost in the sky. On top of that, Holliday was playing deep, the "no-doubles" defense, and had to make a long run to even attempt a play.

Holliday did give the Cards their first run with a homer off Clayton Kershaw and they would not have had a lead without him. The shadows affected everyone and no doubt it played a role in the game winning rally.

2. Clayton Kershaw has become the ace of this staff.

Kershaw looked sharp for much of the game and persevered when he got himself in trouble. The best thing I saw from Joe Torre? He let Kershaw hit for himself in the bottom of the sixth of a 1-1 game after Kershaw threw 97 pitches.

Any other point during the season, we would have seen Mark Loretta or Juan Pierre pinch hitting for Kershaw but today, Torre took off the kid gloves.

Though Kershaw did not get the win, he kept the Dodgers in the game, going six-and-two-thirds innings and giving up just two earned runs. Kershaw did not look rattled and he had very good control tonight, giving up just one walk, an intentional pass to Albert Pujols. Kershaw might be 21 years old but he showed he is more than just potential. He is the real deal.

3. James Loney's cut off play to Casey Blake to get Colby Rasmus out? Best play of the playoffs thus far.

For me, Loney's play to third to get Rasmus out will stand out in my mind like Derek Jeter's flip to get the Oakland A's Jeremy Giambi out in the 2001 ALDS.

If Loney did not cut off that throw, which had no chance of getting a sliding Mark DeRosa, that would have meant a man on third with no outs right after the Cardinals took a 2-1 lead. By getting Rasmus out, the Dodgers curbed the damage and the Cardinals killed their own rally.

4. The Dodger bench is the best among all teams in the playoffs.

Most people already knew this, but it really came to show today. Jim Thome took one for the team when he was hit by a pitch. Juan Pierre scored from second base to tie the game on a short single to the outfield. And of course, Mark Loretta got the game winning hit.

But that is not all. You have got to love a bench that also boasts Orlando Hudson and veteran Brad Ausmus. While the Cardinals have two power bats off their bench (Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus), their depth does not compare to the Dodgers'.

5. The Cardinals have closer issues.

Ryan Franklin has had an amazing season. However, he began to show some signs of slowing down in September. Franklin does not have lights out stuff like Jonathan Broxton, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, or Minnesota's Joe Nathan do.

If Franklin does not hit his spots like he did today, he gets into trouble. If I am Tony La Russa, I would seriously consider using John Smoltz in the ninth inning, especially if the Dodgers have Manny Ramirez and Matt Kemp in the order. Smoltz still has good stuff, is unafraid, has more postseason experience than anyone, and can get right-handed hitters out.

6. The Dodger bullpen is still as good as advertised.

Unlike Franklin, most of the Dodger relievers do have swing and miss stuff. Ronald Belisario made another strong appearance as did Broxton. As long as the game is close or if the Dodgers have a lead, the bullpen has shown that they will come through.

Now here is hoping that the next game at Chavez Ravine will be Game One of the National League Championship Series.

Next game: at St. Louis on Saturday, 6 p.m. EDT

Vicente Padilla (LA) vs. Joel Pineiro (StL)


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