LOS ANGELES — The heat lingered over Dodger Stadium Friday night much like the lingering Dodgers slump. On an unseasonably warm night, Los Angeles wanted to know only one thing: Are the Dodgers still in the postseason race or are they out?
Entering Friday night, the Dodgers were just 6-12 since what is now simply known as The Trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and their $260 million salary obligations to the L.A. Call them rumors, call them grumblings, call them theories, but it appeared as if manager Don Mattingly was on the hot seat after a lackluster stretch through the summer and a disastrous one as of late.
But for at least one more night, the Dodgers remained in the race, as they came back to defeat the Cardinals 8-5 and move within just one game of the Cardinals and Braves in the National League Wild Card race.
And for one more season, Mattingly will man the dugout, as general manager Ned Coletti announced that he plans on keeping the skipper around for next season.
It was a win that was badly needed both in the standings and in the clubhouse.
“I think tonight was one of those uplifting things to know that, hey, we’re playing the team in front of us, we were down 4-1 at one point and yet, we battled back,” said outfielder Shane Victorino. “We weren’t getting the results, we weren’t coming back. Well, tonight we did.”
Early in the game, it looked as though it would be another game lacking the aforementioned results. Chris Capuano gave up two home runs in the second and Matt Holliday mashed a two-run bomb in the third to put St. Louis up 4-1 and draw a collective groan across the Southland.
“It was one pitch,” Matheny said. “We got him into trouble by putting a couple of guys on base, and that usually adds some tough outs. But he’s been terrific for us. Joe was struggling, and it was one of those days for the bullpen to come in and pick up the starter in those middle innings. We all know very well that it’s hurt us, and it continued to do so tonight.”
Capuano lasted just 4.1 innings against the Cardinals, tying his shortest outing of the season. He threw just 82 pitches before he was lifted in favor of Matt Guerrier.
But with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the third, the Dodgers were right back in things. Andre Ethier matched Holliday’s effort with a two-run shot of his own to cut the lead to 4-3.
The question then became, would they remain in the game?
“You know the kind of talent that you have in the lineup,” Capuano said. “And you know that you can’t keep those guys down for very long.”
The Dodgers would not stay down, as Luis Cruz answered the question in the bottom of the sixth.
With two out and two on, Matheny lifted Trevor Rosenthal for Edward Mujica. Cruz took the first pitch he saw, a splitter over the plate, and launched it high and over the fences for a game-changing 3-run shot.
“I was struggling yesterday and today, swinging at bad pitches,” Cruz said. “I told myself, ‘Go ahead and relax, take a pitch and let it find me.’ But I just see that hanging splitty and I hit it.”
The ball hit off the sweet spot of the bat, causing the Dodger dugout to erupt almost on contact. The Dodger Stadium crowd of 40,167 soon followed suit, calling Cruz out for a curtain call.
“Dre’s home run on a 3-0 green light was huge,” Mattingly said. “He’s dangerous and especially aggressive when you let him go on 3-0. This was a good time for those home runs. It’s a two-game swing. I’m just glad I don’t have to talk about another loss.”
Clearly, Mattingly and his club have been under pressure.
St. Louis is facing similar pressures. The defending World Series champs are behind Cincinnati by 11 games and came into this week’s series after being swept by a suddenly surging San Diego team. This two games remaining in this series could potentially determine a wild card playoff spot. A breakthrough win isn’t what the team is searching for; it’s a breakthrough series that is still needed to solidify the Dodgers status in the postseason race.
“I think that tonight showed that we were relaxed, we had fun,” Victorino said. “This is what we’re capable of doing every game.”