Two down, one to go.
My fellow Dodgers Featured Columnist, P.J. Ross, and I have been saying the same thing for the past few days:
Not only was it imperative for the Boys in Blue to ding up Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright during the first two games at home, but they would indeed do just that and head to St. Louis with a 2-0 lead in their National League Division Series playoff matchup.
Maybe the Dodgers didn’t follow our blueprint to the last detail, but they got the job done, roughing up NL Cy Young candidate Chris Carpenter to the tune of four earned runs in five innings on the way to a 5-3 Game-One triumph.
Wainwright then silenced the Dodgers for eight innings, giving up only a fourth-inning solo homer to Andre Ethier. The Boys in Blue scratched out two unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth off Cardinals' closer Ryan Franklin to escape Game Two with a 3-2 win.
The Dodgers followed no blueprint at all in the second outing, except for “hold on until the Cardinal bullpen appears in the game.”
Here’s the basic formula that PJ and I agreed the Dodgers needed to follow:
1) Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw needed to pitch deep into the games
2) Carpenter and Wainwright had to be made to leave early, with a deficit
3) The superior Dodger ‘pen had to hold the lead
4) The Dodgers needed to keep Albert Pujols in check
To paraphrase Meatloaf, “Two-and-a-half-outta-four ain’t bad.”
In Game One, Wolf hit the showers early; but then again, so did Carpenter. The Dodgers won the battle of the bullpens and Albert Pujols was 0-for-3 with two intentional passes in five plate appearances.
Each team had ample opportunities to score more runs—stranding 30 base runners, a major league postseason record, including 16 by the Dodgers—but clutch pitching with runners in scoring position depressed scoring in the 3-hour, 52-minute tilt, the longest in division series history.
L.A.’s bullpen—widely lauded as the best in the majors—saved the day.
With Wolf clearly not at his best, giving up six hits and two earned runs in just 3.2 innings (while laboring to throw 82 pitches), the ‘pen hurled 5.1 solid innings to keep the Dodgers in the game.
Jeff Weaver came in with the bases juiced and got the home team out of the fourth with just a single run across and allowed a single hit in an inning and a third.
He was followed by Ronald Belisario (perfect inning); Hong-Chih Kuo, who labored a bit (two hits) but struck out two in his shut-out seventh; George Sherrill, who retired both batters he faced; and Jonathon Broxton.
Broxton got the Machine, Albert Pujols, to ground out meekly to end the eighth, and then went on his all-too-familiar high wire act in the ninth, giving up two hits and the ‘pen’s only run before finally shutting the door and picking up the save.
Game Two was nerve-wracking for Dodger fans, but it underscored that this team refuses to go down without a determined effort.
Kershaw, meanwhile, pulled a Carpenter, clearly laboring and not putting in his sharpest performance.
The difference, though, was the 21-year-old lefty managed to keep the Cards contained, and though he left with his team trailing, 2-1, it could have been far worse.
The young fireballer toiled through 6.2 innings, scattering nine hits and giving up single runs in the second and seventh innings. The Cards exhibited the same patience against Chinstrap (the affectionate nickname for Kershaw, coined by Bleacher Report’s own J. C. Ayvazi) that the Dodgers had shown against Carpenter; Clayton tossed 106 pitches.
Down 2-1, Joe Torre pulled out all the stops in his effort to give the team a chance to pull the game out.
He brought on Belisario to get the last out in the seventh, after Kershaw was chased by a Cardinal rally that scratched across a run.
Next up was the Dodger closer, Broxton, to pitch the top of the eighth inning. With the right-handed Pujols leading off the inning, Torre went with the righty Broxton to deal with the Machine. The burly closer once again got the best of Pujols, and pitched a clean, efficient inning, handling all three batters that he faced.
The Dodgers failed to complete a rally against Wainwright in the bottom of the eighth. The flagging hurler loaded the bases with two outs, and the dangerous Matt Kemp at the plate.
Wainwright blasted out of the jam by shattering Kemp’s bat on a fastball that tailed in on Matt’s hands, leading to a meek grounder that was converted into the third out.
Sherrill, who is normally the eighth-inning set-up man, came on to pitch the top of the ninth, his team trailing by a tally. He got knicked for a hit but kept the deficit at one.
Wainwright was done, and had carried out his duties to near-perfection, having totally dominated the Dodger hitters. Lefty Trever Miller took the hill for the bottom of the ninth.
Miller’s job was simple: retire the dangerous Ethier—who hit six walk-off home runs to win Dodger contests in 2009—who had batted a mere .194 against southpaws during the regular season. Miller accomplished his goal.
One out in the bottom of the ninth.
Cardinals’ closer Ryan Franklin, who converted 38-of-43 chances this season, came on to face down the ever-menacing Manny Ramirez.
Though Manny had his best at-bat of the day, battling and fouling off numerous pitches with two strikes on him, Franklin got him in the end.
There were now two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Franklin got the left-handed James Loney to line a soft chance to Matt Holliday in left. Game over, right?
Not so fast.
Holliday let the drive hit him in the rib cage, as he whiffed at the ball and never even made contact with his glove. He blamed the setting sun at Chavez Ravine in postgame interviews.
“I had it,” he said candidly. “I was coming in to get it, then all of a sudden it hits the lights. You can’t see. Obviously, I can catch a ball hit right at me. It wasn’t a lack of effort. I just couldn’t see it.”
With new life, Casey Blake coaxed a walk (after fouling off two 3-2 pitches) to advance pinch-runner Juan Pierre to second base and set the stage for Ronnie Belliard.
Belliard, who had struck out twice in three trips against Wainwright, promptly bounced a single up the middle on the first pitch to tie the score at two apiece.
A passed ball put the winning run (Blake) on third, Belliard on second.
Catcher Russell Martin, batting .200 for the series, drew the second walk in the inning off Franklin, loading the bases and bringing up the pitchers’ spot in the order.
Torre sent in veteran Mark Loretta to pinch hit, even though he was 0-14 against Franklin in his career. He cashed in this time with a single to left center, just beyond the drawn-in infield, but not deep enough to be caught by the shallow outfielders.
The Dodgers celebrated in a heap on the infield, giddy to have won such a tense battle.
The home team won despite being out-hit, 10 to five.
“Absolutely, we stole one,” said Ethier afterward. “I thought it was over. Show me one person out there who didn’t think it was over. We needed a little magic.”
They might not have followed the “formula,” but the Dodgers found a way to pull out an improbable victory. The reward is a 2-0 stranglehold on the division series, with Joel Pineiro charged with saving the Cardinals’ season as he faces off with Vicente Padilla this Saturday at Busch Stadium.
All quotes courtesy of nytimes.com; you may read their take here
Leroy Watson, Jr. is a Los Angeles Dodgers Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report