Call off the Dodger dogs: It's over
The scene inside the Dodgers clubhouse was one of loud music and high spirits. All that was missing was the champagne. Then again, at this point, the cork-popping to commemorate victory in this division series victory is just a formality.
The Cardinals are done. A team doesn't come back after wasting an effort like Adam Wainwright's: allowing one run — an Andre Ethier solo homer in the fourth inning — over eight innings. For the second time in as many nights, the Dodgers beat a prospective Cy Young winner. On Wednesday, it was Chris Carpenter, who had been 5-0 lifetime against L.A. On Thursday, it was Wainwright.
As his brilliant evening came to a close, he'd become noticeably fatigued, hitting Jim Thome with a pitch and walking Rafael Furcal. Perhaps you wondered why Tony La Russa left him in. Well, now you know.
For all the richly deserved accolades directed at their first two starters, the Cardinals lack what the Dodgers have in abundance: strength of bullpen. Of course, Ryan Franklin, St. Louis' closer by default, had a little help in turning the ninth inning into a spectacularly memorable one for the Dodgers and their fans.
With two out, Franklin faced James Loney, whose fly ball to left should've ended the game. Instead, Matt Holliday lost it in the lights. "I had it," he would recall, "I was coming in to get it, then, all of a sudden, it hits the light. It's like ... you can't see ..."
These things happen. Now there's a man on second, two out. Game should still be over. Instead, Casey Blake comes to the plate and draws a walk on nine pitches, the second of which — a called strike on a swing he tried to check — left him uncharacteristically pissed off.
"I can't really describe what I was feeling," he said, recalling his angry gesticulation at the first-base ump. "Angry, upset, couldn't breathe ...
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"Maybe I should find something to get mad at more often."
What remained of the at-bat became a triumphant exercise in concentration. Upon taking first base, Blake would report, "I could breathe a little."
From the Dodger dugout, pinch-hitter Mark Loretta sensed something else. "Once Casey got on base," he said, "it felt like all the pressure shifted to them."
Now it was getting fun. Ronnie Belliard — who's hit more than 100 points better since being acquired from the Nationals — came to the plate following a pep talk from hitting coach Don Mattingly.
"I seen you for the last month," Belliard would recall him saying. "You hit a breaking ball pretty good. Stay back and go through the middle with it. So I went out there ... and that's what I did."
First pitch, breaking ball. Single to center. Game tied.
Then Franklin walked Russell Martin to load the bases. Still two out, with Loretta pinch-hitting in the ninth spot. Loretta is 38, born not 20 miles from Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers, whom he rooted for as a kid, are his seventh major-league team. The sum total of his postseason batting experience is three games with the Padres in 2005. Most interesting, however, were Loretta's career numbers against Ryan Franklin: 0 for 15.
He knew it, too. He'd seen the stat sheet before the series.