LOS ANGELES — Having covered thousands of regular season baseball games and hundreds in the playoffs and World Series, I’ve seen, heard and felt everything I thought I possibly could.
Until Monday night, that is.
With the Dodgers trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Yasiel Puig smoked a double down the right field line. Then, up stepped Juan Uribe, who was unable to get down the bunt Manager Don Mattingly called for and promptly fell behind Atlanta Braves’ reliever David Carpenter, 0-2.
Working the count to 2-2, the often-maligned Dodgers’ third baseman crushed Carpenter’s fifth pitch of the sequence into the left field stands for a two-run golden ticket directly into the National League Championship Series as the Dodgers put away the Braves for a 4-3 win.
What happened next may have been the most remarkable moment I’ve seen — actually felt — in my decades of covering baseball. Dodger Stadium started shaking like an earthquake. The supposed laidback fans of Los Angeles stomped, clapped and shouted over the heroics of Uribe, who each day this season has seemingly redeemed himself for a terrible first two seasons in a Dodger uniform.
Baseball’s long-remembered heroes are always made during the playoffs, with some of the unlikeliest names grabbing the spotlight. The Dodgers have a third baseman that fits that description perfectly.
To watch Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford come up big under pressure is really not unexpected. To see Juan Uribe do it is nearly miraculous.
“And it’s so nice to see a guy like Juan come through the way he has,” said champagne-soaked Dodgers owner Mark Walter, “because he’s such a favorite among his teammates. Juan has helped almost everybody in this clubhouse. He’s helped Yasiel and Juan has been great with the glove, too. Just five errors all season long. He deserves a Gold Glove, too. We couldn’t have done this without him.”
Ramirez says the fact that he, Uribe, Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez and any number of other players can come through when the pressure is intense, makes the Dodgers a very dangerous team.
“Any of our guys can hit,” Ramirez said, “so it makes it hard for the other pitcher to focus on getting one guy. With Juan, he’s been in these situations before — he’s been in World Series and won them, and we knew he was going to come through.”
Even after failing on the bunt attempts and keeping Puig at second base, Uribe still felt he was the right man for the job.
“I knew I had to move the runner over,” said Uribe. “And the one thing is I know the pitcher can’t beat me. They can’t eat me and I have to do my job. They gave me a hanging breaking ball … and I hit it.”
Uribe, who won a World Series with Chicago in 2005 and San Francisco in 2010, called Monday night’s blast the greatest moment in his career.
“Oh yeah,” said the smiling third baseman. “Oh yeah. This is what I tell my teammates — a lot of people want to be in the moment we are right now. This is a moment we’ll never forget.”