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A Magical Ninth, An Improbable Dodger Victory
The Dodgers really weren’t supposed to win tonight’s game.
“It just comes down to one really weird inning,” said Saint Louis Cardinals Cy Young candidate, pitcher Adam Wainwright, of the bottom of the ninth.
“We were in the driver’s seat there. They had two outs, nobody on base.”
The Dodgers would never get out three courtesy of an improbable rally, capped by pinch hitter Mark Loretta’s RBI single to center.
“Nothing like a walk-off win,” the Arcadia native said through a big grin.
“That’s the biggest hit of my career.”
This was after the Dodgers’ bats had been sterilized by Wainwright. The home team’s best efforts had them down 2 - 1, and looking at taking a 1 - 1 series split to Saint Louis.
Over eight innings, Wainwright allowed just three hits. The only run coming off of Andre Ethier’s solo home run in the fourth inning.
“The quality of that was so good it’s almost impossible to describe under the circumstances,” said Wainwright’s boss, Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa.
Dodgers Manager Joe Torre put it another way: “Wainwright was a horse today.”
But he wasn’t the only Cardinal pitcher. The bullpen pitched the last of the ninth. Trever Miller got Mr. Walk-Off, Andre Ethier, to pop out, and red-goateed reliever, Ryan Franklin, did the same to the hitter with the most postseason home runs ever, Manny Ramirez.
“It was looking pretty bleak,” said Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake.
Then James Loney hit a pitch from Franklin to left fielder Matt Holliday.
“He usually is making that play, 9,999 out of 1,000 times,” said the game’s losing pitcher, Franklin.
Holliday dropped the fly ball and Loney took second. Madonna might’ve crooned, “Holliday... don’t celebrate.”
“I was shocked. It’s like, ‘thank you,’” said Blake, seemingly still shocked.
“Being on second base, puts an enormous amount of pressure on Franklin at this point in time, because it takes just a single to score a run,” said Joe Torre.
In an extended at-bat which was as well-fought as will be seen this postseason, Blake eventually walked. Then Ronnie Belliard had a clutch hit up the middle, plating pinch runner Juan Pierre.
“Once we got that, we knew we were at least tied, and all the pressure had gone switched to their side,” said Mark Loretta.
“I felt like the ground was shaking when I was hitting. It was incredible,” said catcher Russel Martin of the energy in Dodgers Stadium. His walk loaded the bases for Loretta, whose pinch hit was a classic Dodger highlight that'll be seen for years to come.
“It helps when it’s that kind of situation, you focus more, you concentrate more,” said the veteran, Loretta.
“This is my first time pitching in the post-season and I’m not down,” said Cardinal Ryan Frankin, whose ruddy, exhausted visage revealed a man who might be trying to convince himself of an alternate truth.
“There’s no lack of energy in that stadium, ever, but especially when there’s guys on base,” said Adam Wainwright, considerably more composed than the reliever.
Though the game wasn’t a sell out, 51,819 were going wild for the rare 3 p.m. mid-day Thursday contest, which featured more than just the bottom of the ninth.
“A lot of fans like to see offense, but you’ve got your die-hards that like to see these type of games, the 2 - 1s, the 3 - 2s,” said the game’s winning pitcher, Dodger closer George Sherrill.
Typically Joe Torre’s eight inning go-to hurler, Sherrill closed the game, after Jonathan Broxton was brought in to face the meat of the Cardinals batting order in the eighth.
This surprised the Dodgers’ technical crew, as a Black Eyed Peas song played Broxton's taking the field. Noting the lack of his theme, Black Sabbath’s “Ironman,” the music was changed right before he reached the infield. Brox the Ox would need just eight pitches to sit down Albert Pujols, Holliday and Ryan Ludwick.
Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw had a bad, good game. He forced some pitches, and missed plenty of spots, but when he exited the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, his Dodgers were only down 2 - 1. Using 106 pitches over 6 2/3rds, he held the formidable Cardinal lineup to nine hits, and only two earned runs.
Now the Dodgers head to Saint Louis, where they’ll play game three on Saturday. Their next victory in this series means a trip to the National League Championship Series to play either the Rockies or the Phillies.
“Normally, every other year, I’d be sitting at home right now, watching on t.v.,” said George Sherrill, who started the year as a Baltimore Oriole.
“It’s unbelievable, watching how these guys go about their business and how they kind of feed off each other, young and old. It’s fun to be a part of.”
Russell Martin agrees.
“It’s a good mix of veterans and younger players. Everybody’s doing their part,” he said.
Cardinals megastar Pujols finished the game 1 for 3 with a walk. His dreadlocked counterpart, Ramirez, was 0 for 4.
Holliday’s contribution to the game wasn’t just his game-losing error. His solo home run off Kershaw put the Cards on the board in the second inning.
Additional reporting by Jimmy Bramlett
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