The Dodgers and Cardinals have played two pretty exciting games in the Divisional Series to this point. The first game, while hardly an artistic triumph, was exciting just because so many men from both teams were on base at any point in the game (30 men left on base between the two teams), so that either team could have broken the game wide open with a well-timed hit. But the kaboom never came, and the Dodgers managed to push across two more runs than the Cards.
In contrast, last night's game was a true white knuckler, as Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw mowed down the opposing batters. Each team had singleton homers, and the Cards managed to push across a second run against Kershaw in the seventh to take a thin lead that held up into the bottom of the ninth with the heart of the Dodger batting order due up. But both Andre Ethier and Manny flied out, leaving things looking mighty dismal for the LA nine. James Loney stepped to the plate and rocketed a line drive to left field, but it was right at Matt Holliday who charged in to make what should have been a game-ending catch. But somehow he misjudged the ball, missing it with his glove completely. He got caught in the transition between holding the glove palm up or palm forward. Instead, the ball hit him in the groin* and caromed away while Loney chugged into second base.
* As Vin Scully noted on the radio broadcast, it was a painful error in more ways than one.
Still, no harm done, except to Holliday's pride, and perhaps his plans for future progeny. The Cards still lead by one with two out. Speedy Juan Pierre was sent out to second to pinch run for the lumbering Loney, and Casey Blake stepped up to the plate.
Has there ever been a better baseball name than Casey Blake? It could only be better if his middle name was Flynn. He's not a great player, but he's a good one, one who never seems to have a bad at bat. After nine pitches and several foul balls, he managed to work a walk to keep the inning going. Men on first and second, still two outs.
Rafael Belliard stepped to the plate. Belliard is sometimes called Mini-Manny because he is short, pudgy, and grew up idolizing Manny Ramirez. Unlike Manny and Blake, he often has bad looking at bats, but he'd been hot since joining the Dodgers in August. He smacked the first pitch into center field, bring home Pierre to tie the game.
Russell Martin was up next. Martin, an all-star in 2007 and 2008 had a terrible year this year. That said, he is adept at drawing walks, and did so, loading the bases for pinch hitter Mark Loretta. There was some trepidation when Loretta was named to the post-season roster. He started the year hot in his role as a bench player/pinch hitter, but as the season wore on the 37 year-old seemed to wear out. He didn't hit at all well down the stretch. It didn't matter, though. Loretta hit a soft flair into short center field, scoring Blake and ending the game in a totally unlikely Dodger victory.
I watch the game on TBS, but I had the sound muted so I could listen to Vin Scully's radio call of the action instead of TBS's lesser announcers. Some smart person at MLB mashed up the TBS video with Scully's call of the final five at bats, which is a terrific idea. There is also the shorter, good parts version, with all three announcer feeds contributing.