Wild Ninth Gives Dodgers the Win over Cards
It's amazing that a guy who was in Triple-A back in June was able to help buffer the pain of the bad news of Clayton Kershaw being put on the shelf indefinitely. But Luis Cruz and the Dodgers did just that overcoming a deficit to walk off against the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3.
"What a game," manager Don Mattingly said almost speechless.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Red Birds leading 3-2, Andre Ethier kept the game alive with a single to right field. Manager Don Mattingly put in Dee Gordon to pinch run for Ethier with Luis Cruz at the plate, and the fun unfolded.
Gordon, after getting thrown out by catcher Yadier Molina Thursday night, decided to make a run for it again in this game. While on Thursday it was in the seventh inning, this time if he got caught the game was over.
On this occasion, Gordon made it, and the 42,449 who stayed got even louder.
A night after hitting the game-winning three-run homer in the sixth inning, the stakes were much higher for Cruz. However against the fire-throwing closer Jason Motte Cruz didn't have a game plan.
"I wasn't looking for a pitch," Cruz laughed. "I just reacted because that guy throws 100 mph. I just tried to relax and put the ball in play."
Down to his last strike, Cruz caught a 98 mph fastball away and lined it to center field. Center fielder Jon Jay tried to track the ball as it was tailing towards right field. Jay leapt to try and catch the ball only to have it land on the field.
Cruz had hit the game-tying double, the crowd cheered "CRUUUUUUUZ" and the Dodgers were alive.
"It's like a dream come true for me," Cruz said whose replica jerseys arrived to Dodger Stadium for sale for the first time on Saturday afternoon. "Three months ago I was in Triple-A. I just feel very happy to be here and help the team win."
On the other end of the spectrum was Juan Rivera whose playing time has been significantly cut down since The Trade. Having not played since Sept. 9, he was called on to pinch hit for A.J. Ellis.
"Every two innings I go to the batting cage just waiting for my opportunity," Rivera said. A 1-1 cutter from Motte, Rivera lined a single off of the glove of second baseman Daniel Descalso. "I was trying to hit it the other way," Rivera said.
That Rivera did and pinch-runner Elian Herrera running for Cruz scored the game winner.
But none of this would have been possible without the play.
Matt Kemp was having a very tough night at the plate, a ground out to the shortstop saving him from the indignity of a golden sombrero. But in the top of the ninth he made the play.
Yadier Molina hit a long fly ball to straight-away center field. Kemp ran to the wall but missed grabbing the ball with his glove, he and the ball bouncing off the wall and rolling to shallow center field as Molina was turning second base.
Kemp ran to grab the ball and left his feet to make the throw to third base. As he rolled the second time, the ball got to third baseman Cruz's glove just in time to tag the foot of the sliding Molina at third.
"I had to get it out quick," Kemp said about his throw. "Yadier, he knows he's not the fastest guy in the world — I think he has too many triples —, but he was booking it. I just tried to come up making a strong throw."
As demure as Kemp was about his play, Mattingly was a bit more effusive.
"You talk about great players, and you talk about a lot of ways to win a game. That play he made tonight, to me, it really chokes me up. It's an unbelievable play. He comes flying off that wall. Basically when he throws that ball he is off his feet. That's just total not wanting to lose. It's..."
Mattingly did look choked up at times and was clearly at a loss for words when describing the play.
The win puts the Dodgers in a dead heat with the Red Birds for the second wild card spot in the National League. And to think all of this came after bad news was handed down: the National League strikeout leader and Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw has been scratched from his start on Sunday with continued right hip pain.
"Kersh is not very good today," Mattingly said before the game. "He's going to miss [the game] tomorrow."
Mattingly did not confirm when Kershaw would next make a start if at all.
"It's not like he's going to pitch Wednesday right now or anything else," Mattingly explained. "At this point he's missed a turn. [Unless] we have some kind of dramatic change and everybody says he's okay to go again, then we'll start working that out."
Kershaw was first scratched from a start last Sunday in San Francisco because of his hip and given a cortizone injection. He recovered enough to make a start in Arizona on Tuesday where he gave up an unearned run in seven innings in the Dodgers 1-0 loss.
"Obviously he bounced back pretty good from San Francisco there, and a couple of days later he was ready to roll," Mattingly said, however he did not want to take a chance with giving Kershaw another cortizone shot.
"We want to see what we're dealing with, keep investigating I guess is the way I look at it, just keep getting more information. Obviously something is wrong
enough that it's not bouncing back. And then it came back."
Kershaw will see a hip specialist on Tuesday in New York while the team is in Washington, DC facing the Nationals. "Until we get some more information on Tuesday, we won't have any plans," Mattingly said.
Of course this sort of thing would happen to the Dodgers. Just when they look to gain some traction, the get a setback. The only bright side is that the Dodgers pitching has been pretty solid during this late-season swoon.
So again we're back at square one trying to figure out what sort of team the Dodgers are. One thing we know right now: at this very moment they are a wild card team.