I don't know...how...to talk about that game.
Let's start here: The Cardinals won.
Wait. Here are some newspaper headlines:
CARDS BEAT DODGERS DESPITE POOR START BY WAINO
CARDS RALLY PAST KERSHAW
GLEEFUL ABANDON IN VEB GAME THREAD
LILSCOOT HEXES KERSHAW BUT GOOD
All of it. My good lord what a game. Thank you, baseball.
Here's what happened:
The NLDS kicked off with a dream matchup between two phenomenal pitchers:
A tough row to hoe for both offenses, then, but particularly for the Cardinals. Let's not mince words: Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher alive, and this season is the best he's ever pitched. How, then, will the Cardinals confront so dominant a pitcher? What weapons do you bring to that fight?
Randal Grichuk and Pete Kozma, as it turns out. And what do you have to say about that, Harold Reynolds?
"I think the Cardinals have a pretty good recipe against Kershaw."
You beautiful wrongheaded bastard. I will buy you a shot.
Yep, rookie Randal Grichuk got the start in this, the biggest game of the Cardinals' season. And what did the young'un do?
He hit a home run in his first at-bat. Off Clayton Kershaw. 1-0 Cards. You gotta figure there's a good chance that score will hold up. Especially with Waino having his curve and cutter working so wonderfully early on. Here's how he struck out Dee Gordon to end the second inning:
A great battle that ended with Gordon swinging through Uncle Charlie. Not a pitch in the strike zone! With Kershaw settling in after giving up the home run to Grichuk, all signs point to a pitchers duel.
And here it is, the thing that casual fans and national sportscasters salivate over: Bad Blood. It followed the usual model:
- A hit batsman (Puig)
- A disgruntled team leader (Adrian Gonzalez)
- Players barking at each other (Molina at Gonzalez)
- Players getting the dander up (though not Wainwright or Puig)
- Righteous indignation
- Both benches warned
Bad blood. No punches were thrown, but the jawing was sincere. Both teams returned to their dugouts. The announcers said, Hoo boy. The crowd was into it, primed for the Dodgers to score. Larry King willed it to happen, perhaps. With two outs, Hanley Ramirez hit a grounder to right that scored Puig; Carl Crawford then turned on a Wainwright cutter, scoring Ramirez on a ground-rule double.
At about this point in the game Wainwright's command of his fastball had completely disappeared; he began to rely on his curveball, which was biting as well as ever (9 whiffs on it, 17 overall), but the Dodgers' hitters were making lots of contact . Things got worse:
- In the fourth inning, A.J. Ellis (4 hits on the night) singled, Yasiel Puig singled him home, and Matt Kemp singled Puig home. 4-1 Dodgers. Bleak.
- Fifth inning: after a Carl Crawford single, pesky pest A.J. Ellis turned an inside fastball around for a two-run homer. 6-1 Dodgers. Hopeless.
- In the meantime, Kershaw retired 16 hitters in a row after Grichuk's first-inning home run. He finished the night with ten strikeouts....but.
NLDS Game 1 Analysis
NLDS Game 1 Analysis
If Randal Grichuk's home run off Kershaw was surprising, Matt Carpenter's sixth-inning solo homer was astonishing: Carp hit only eight home runs this season, and Clayton Kershaw gave up only ONE home run to a lefty all year. He allowed an ISO of .062 to lefties. Great job, MCarp. 6-2 Dodgers. Still hopeless.
Marco Gonzales relieved Seth Maness, who had relieved Sam Freeman; Gonzales retired the side in the bottom of the sixth. Not two thirds of this game were done. The Cardinals were down by four runs. Before Carp went yard the Dodgers' win expectancy was 98%, and as the seventh began it was at 95.9%. That's historical data that didn't take into account that it was Clayton Kershaw on the mound.
Folks, did you watch this game? Did you see the seventh inning? How did you handle it? I stomped around the living room, determined not to care at first, then desperate to help each hit find its patch of green. I talked to Harold Reynolds, I talked to my dog. I put my StL hat on the dog. I contorted my body into lucky poses. I dug down deep; I rooted like hell.
Here's what happened:
- Holliday singled to center;
- Peralta singled to center;
- Molina singled to center, loading the bases;
- Matt Adams singled to center, scoring Holliday, 6-3 Dodgers;
- Kozma struck out swinging, one out;
- Jon Jay singled to left, scoring Peralta, 6-4 Dodgers;
- Oscar Taveras pinch hit, striking out, two down;
- Matt Carpenter, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, doubled to deep right-center, emptying the bases and giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead;
- Pedro Baez replaced Kershaw and walked Randal Grichuk;
- Matt Holliday, after having already notched a hit in this inning, notched another: Three-run home run to left field. 10-6 Cardinals. (Harold Reynolds: "That was right in his wheel zone.")
- Peralta grounded out to third to end the inning.
For your appreciation, here is the graph of Carpenter's at-bat:
He fought and fought till Kershaw proved fallible. That's your game, right there. Hats off to you, Matt Carpenter.
Eighth and Ninth Innings
So how did a 10-6 lead end up a 10-9 win?
Carlos Martinez pitched a perfect seventh inning, got one out in the eighth, and walked Puig. With Adrian Gonzalez up, Mike Matheny wisely brought in Randy Choate to neutralize Gonzalez's bat. On a 1-1 count, Choate left a ball up and Gonzalez went and got it, hitting a two-run homer that re-energized Dodger Stadium. After Hanley Ramirez singled on Pat Neshek with two outs, Justin Turner came in as a pinch hitter representing the tying run. Neshek induced a grounder to third, and Carpenter tossed to second for the force out to end the inning.
The bottom of the ninth. Two-run lead. Trevor Rosenthal in, well rested and throwing triple digits. He strikes out Juan Uribe on high heat to start the inning. A.J. Ellis hits a rinky-dink single to right, and once again the tying run comes to the plate.
Andre Ethier enters as a pinch hitter. He slaps a double to left, moving Ellis to third. There is no hard contact now, but such is the gods' sense of humor. Fear blooms in my heart. Dee Gordon grounds out to second, Daniel Descalso nearly boots the ball, Ellis scores. 10-9 Cardinals.
Puig lumbers to the plate. I grab my StL hat and put it on. Rosenthal rears back, and I think he must have felt the easy electricity in his arm. He throws seven pitches to Yasiel Puig with the tying run on third, no pitch slower than 98mph. The stadium quaked; my dog went quiet; Puig fouled off pitch after pitch...
...until he missed one. Three outs.
1-0 Cardinals in the series.
Game 2 takes place Saturday night at 8:37 central, Lance Lynn versus Zack Greinke.
WPA OF GLEEFUL ABANDON, PLUS COMMENTARY:
Commentary: This crazy graph looks to me like a map of some Super Mario Bros. level with mountain peaks so impossibly difficult to scale, and so unrelenting in their 8-bit difficulty, that few players ever reach the uttermost peak, while fewer still crawl across the peaks to the other side to see the glory beyond. (And also the flagpole at the end of the level.)