Friday, October 18, 2013
NLCS Game 5: Fun, Fun, Fun
There's a little bit of Bob Prince in these Los Angeles Dodgers. Prince, the longtime voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, loved to wrap up a broadcast of games in which the Pirates came back from certain, even overwhelming defeats, by crowing, "We had 'em all the way!"
Now that they've overthrown a 2-0 National League Championship Series deficit the sort-of hard way, you'd hear some Dodgers and think they were saying the same thing.
"All we have to do," said reserve Jerry Hairston, Jr. when they were pinned in the first two in St. Louis, "is get the ball back in the hands of our aces." These fun-fun-fun Dodgers don't forget not to let Daddy take the T-Bird away. Not without a fight, anyway.
"So little did those unsuspecting St. Louis Cardinals know," wrote ESPN's Jayson Stark, "as they were taking that three-games-to-one lead and reaching the precipice of a trip back to the World Series, that the Dodgers had them right where they wanted them."
What's next? Are we going to hear the rock-bottom-in-June Dodgers had the National League West right where they wanted them, too? Having fallen so low manager Don Mattingly's job was in mortal danger, then picked up, dusted off, and all but steamrolled their way to the division title with more than enough room to spare?
Still, Hairston had a point. The series was strange enough already with the Cardinals hitting .232 as a team against Los Angeles pitching in the first three games but holding a 2-1 lead regardless.
Then Hyun-jin Ryu and two relievers shut them out Monday, beating an Adam Wainwright who almost pitched even-up with Ryu, something almost forgotten in the hoopla over Yasiel Puig's effervescent slump-busting triple. The second liners dueled it out Tuesday, Lance Lynn prevailing over Ricky Nolasco, but then Zack Greinke pitched the game of his postseason life Wednesday and, at long enough last, as Stark phrased it, somebody's Cy Young Award winner — pending or past — actually won a game.
Not that he did it the easy way himself. He put himself into the bases-loaded/nobody out hole in the top of the first. Almost the way the Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer (you're pretty safe calling him a Cy Young winner in waiting, too) did in a second relief inning before the Tigers finally rid themselves of the Oakland Athletics in their division series. This time, it was a sandwich of two flare singles (Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday) wrapped around a four-pitch walk to Carlos Beltran.
Greinke looked to all the world like a fellow who awoke with the sun pouring through his bedroom window, went to his front door to collect his newspaper, and saw a tornado approaching the moment he opened his door. Would that all tornados could be dissipated the way Greinke dissipated that threat. He struck out Matt Adams on a 2-2 curve ball more voluptuous than Jayne Mansfield, and fed Yadier Molina a very similar breaker that could end up only one way, a step-and-throw double play ball to third.
But did he have to give back the two runs the Dodgers gave him to work with in the second right off the proverbial bat? Juan Uribe had singled home Adrian Gonzalez and Greinke himself singled home Puig for the 2-0 lead, but with one out in the top of the third Carpenter singled to right, Beltran tripled to the rear end of Dodger Stadium, and Holliday doubled to about the same zip code.
Lucky for Greinke that Gonzalez was in a particularly frisky mood in the bottom of the third, driving a two-out launch so far over the right field fence they're not sure it didn't end up in the back yard of Casey Stengel's former home in nearby Glendale. Gonzalez couldn't resist taking a poke at Wainwright's commentary on his Mickey Mouse stuff following a Game 3 double, making a mouse-ears sign when he returned to the dugout.
Gonzalez swears he's going to retire the gesture. An informal polling of assorted Dodgers seems to hope he keeps it in the act. One vote in favor is Carl Crawford, who joined in the long ball fun Wednesday with a one-out shot of his own in the fifth for the fourth Dodger run. "Me, too!" said A.J. Ellis's bat in the bottom of the seventh, as it sent a one-out, two-strike service from reliever Edward Mujica into the left field bleachers. "I got one more!" hollered Gonzalez's bat in the bottom of the eighth, when he hit a second blast, though far short and wide of the zone into which he launched the first.
This was getting all too simple for Greinke and the bulk of the Dodger bullpen. So naturally closer Kenley Jansen had to make the top of the ninth a hair raiser — and it wasn't even a save situation in the first place. He didn't get his first out, striking out Molina swinging, until Holliday (leadoff double) and Adams (single to shallow center field) hung up the third Cardinal run. Puig loped to his left for what looked like Jon Jay's very routine fly to right until the hard late-day sun nailed him and he lost the ball's path shortly before it hit the grass. Somehow he managed to flip a U-turn and get the ball before it got Jay more than a single.
Then you could hear St. Louis's heart beating ten miles a minute with one of their patented Mr. Octobers, David Freese, coming up with two on, one out, and the Cardinal deficit down to 6-3. This time, though, Freese looked at ball one before striking out on three straight pitches. Pete Kozma's RBI single seemed almost like an excuse-us run, but Jensen flattened pinch-hitter Adron Chambers for the game with a nasty fastball that snuck to the upper outside corner and froze Chambers like a fish.
Quite a turnabout from Game 4, when Holliday and pinch-hitter Shane Robinson, the latter swinging clearly over the heads of the Cardinals' generally weak bench, cleared the fences en route the 4-2 win that put the Dodgers in the 3-1 hole in the first place. And the Cardinals still have some recent history working against them: they were up 3-1 in last year's LCS until the eventual World Series-winning San Francisco Giants upended them dramatically enough. (Among other things, the Giants out-scored the Cardinals 20-1 in those last three games.)
They'd like to avoid history repeating itself. They like their chances with a rematch between Michael Wacha and Clayton Kershaw. There's just one problem with that. The Dodgers seem to like their chances just a little bit more. Even with Hanley Ramirez remaining a question mark thanks to the hairline rib fracture he's handled since getting plunked in Game 1.
And how about let's have enough of that chazerei regarding how much of a party the Dodgers seem to be having while playing this NLCS? (How about someone explain why the Dodgers didn't answer in kind after Lynn buzzed that upstart, dare-to-have-a-ball Puig in Game 4?)
"If you're not having fun in the playoffs," Gonzalez said after the Dodgers banked Game 5, "then you don't deserve to be here."
Funny thing, that. The Giants sure looked like they were having fun, fun, fun last October, too. And Daddy couldn't quite take the T-Bird away.