The old mantra "One game at a time" never rang so true than for these Dodgers. Needing to win three straight games to fight off elimination, they put their best foot forward on Wednesday afternoon. The result was an offense that found a spark, and a trip back to the Midwest.
Powered by two homers from Adrian Gonzalez, plus solo shots from Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis, the Dodgers took down the Cardinals, 6-4. The Cardinals are still in control of these series at 3-2, as the setting will shift back to Busch Stadium.
Both teams have been plagued by poor hitting throughout the series, but more so for the Dodgers, who seemed to make failing in the clutch a new hobby. In Game 4, they hit into three double plays and had a guy picked off of second in the late innings. Not exactly the recipe for how to win in the postseason.
What the Dodgers have been able to count on has been their pitching, but right away, Zack Greinke found himself in a whole lot of trouble. Matt Carpenter led off with a single, Carlos Beltran walked, and Matt Holliday singled to load the bases with nobody out.
How did Greinke respond? Beautifully. He struck out Matt Adams swinging, then got Yadier Molina to ground to Juan Uribe at third, who turned the easy 5-3 double play. As announcer Ron Darling correctly pointed out, sometimes pitchers provide a spark by striking out the side, but this time it was by wiggling out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam.
The offense went down in order in the first, but got going in the second. It started on a single by Adrian Gonzalez, who was awesome on both sides of the field. Andre Ethier flew out (no surprise there), but Yasiel Puig's single to right put two on. Uribe's RBI single up the middle made it 1-0.
After A.J. Ellis fouled out, Greinke pulled the old "help himself out" thing by sneaking an RBI single to left, and it was 2-0.
If you found the score and situation to be eerily similar to Game 1, then you would be right, because it was. Just like the first game, Greinke came right back to the mound with a 2-0 lead and faced Joe Kelly. Unlike last time, Kelly grounded back to the mound, and Greinke was ready to put up a zero, right?
Wrong. Four straight hits came next, and it started on another single by Carpenter. Beltran smacked an RBI triple off the very top of the centerfield wall, making it 2-1. Then came the second run on a double by Holliday, and it was a new game. Thankfully Molina grounded into another double play to end the threat.
When this happened in Game 1, the Dodgers failed to score the entire rest of the night, which went 13 innings. This time, Gonzalez made sure to erase the bad memory of a double play grounded into by Hanley Ramirez, as A-Gon's 450-foot monster shot to right made it 3-2.
From there, simply put, Greinke was fantastic. He retired the side in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. Add it all up, and he put down the final 13 batters he faced for a final line of seven innings, six hits, two runs, one walk, and four strikeouts. In three postseason starts, his ERA is a healthy 2.40.
The Dodgers kept adding to their lead with the longball. Yes, really! Crawford demolished one into right in the fifth to go up 4-2. In the seventh, it was Ellis's turn, hitting one out to left to make it 5-2. And just for fun, Gonzo hit one more in the seventh to give Kenley Jansen a 6-2 lead.
Jansen's ninth was interesting, to say the least. I wouldn't say the Cardinals pounded him, but little hits here and there made the home crowd much more nervous than they thought it would. And the guy typing this!
It all started on a double by Holliday, who had a good day with three hits and two doubles. Adams made it 6-3 on an RBI single. As good as Holliday was, Molina was not, as he struck out for one down, putting him at two K's and two DP's on a dreadful day at the plate. Jon Jay singled, but David Freese struck out on some high cheese.
When light hitting Peter Kozma came up, it looked like game over. Only it wasn't. He hit an RBI single, and it was 6-4. At this point Jansen had already given up more hits in one inning than he did all season (four), but everyone exhaled when he struck out Adron Chambers to end the game.
Guess what? Jansen still struck out the side, giving him 10 in 4 1/3 playoff innings.
So here the Dodgers find themselves on their longest run since that famous 1988 championship season. They've made the NLCS a couple of other times, but lost in five games to the Phillies in both 2008 and 2009. At least they got over the dreaded Game 5 hump. You have to start somewhere.
What's working for the Dodgers is that they get a day off to rest Ramirez, who left again in the seventh for Nick Punto. Actually, because of the day game on the West Coast, it'll end up being just over two full days off, which can only help him get back on track after injuries have slowed him down to .167 in the NLCS.
Oh ya, there's that Clayton Kershaw guy getting the ball in Game 6 as well. It's hard not to be excited about their chances, even on the road.
The pressure is still on the Dodgers, as they're the ones in a do-or-die situation on Friday. But suppose they get the win, then what? Definitely, the pressure shifts to the home team, as the Cardinals would be looking at two straight years of blowing 3-1 series leads. No team has ever done that in MLB history...
...or in the NBA or NHL as well.