In a series of two evenly matched teams, taking advantage of opportunities is vital, and the Dodgers were able to do so to beat the Cardinals. I’m not surprised the Dodgers won the series, but the sweep was certainly a pleasant surprise.
Facing the ace duo of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright was a tall task, but somehow the Dodgers managed to win both games. In Game One, their own starter Randy Wolf struggled mightily and wasn’t able to finish the fourth inning. That was only the ninth game in Dodger postseason history that they’ve won a game when the starter didn’t pitch four innings. Two of the nine were all-time classics: the Kirk Gibson home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series, and Cookie Lavagetto breaking up Bill Bevens’s no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning in Game Four of the 1947 World Series.
Carpenter was not sharp either, lasting only five innings, turning the game into a battle of bullpens, a contest for which the Dodgers are supremely loaded. Before the power arms were brought in though, Jeff Weaver had to get the Dodgers out of a tough situation, retiring Ryan Ludwick with the bases loaded to preserve a 3-2 lead. Weaver has enjoyed a rather amazing renaissance this season, after three years of being awful in either the majors or minors, and he has been especially lucky effective with the bases loaded. During the regular season with the bases loaded against Weaver, opposing batters had just one hit in 20 at-bats, hitting .050/.167/.050.
Game Two was the turning point of the series, of course, although Matt Holliday shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame. Sure, if Holliday would have caught the ball with his glove rather than his groin, the game would have been over and the series would have been tied, but there was still a game to be won after the misplay. The Cardinals, leading 2-1 with Ryan Franklin on the mound, two outs in the ninth and a man on second base, were still 86.7 percent favorites to win the game at that point. The tying single was delivered by Ronnie Belliard, the unheralded late August acquisition from the Nationals who somehow has hit his way to becoming the everyday second baseman over All-Star Orlando Hudson. Even more improbable was the game-winning hit by Mark Loretta, who has played most of this season with a fork in his back. Loretta was in a 6-for-46 slump as a pinch-hitter before driving home Casey Blake with the game winner, the hit of his life.
With key performances from unlikely heroes Weaver, Belliard, and Loretta in the first two games, it was only fitting that castoff Vicente Padilla came through in Game Three with the performance of his career. Padilla threw seven shutout innings, the 18th time in Dodger playoff history a pitcher has thrown seven or more scoreless innings. The Dodgers, seizing their opportunities again, scored all five runs Saturday with two outs, led by Andre Ethier’s double, triple, and home run.
The Cardinals struggled with runners in scoring position all series, getting just four hits in 30 at-bats. The Dodgers walked Albert Pujols the first three times he came to the plate with runners in scoring position, only pitching to him in the eighth inning of Game Three with a 5-0 lead.
The Dodger bullpen outclassed the Cardinal pen, as expected. The Dodgers relievers allowed nine base runners in 9.2 innings, compared to 16 base runners in 11.2 innings allowed by the Redbirds.
From the “I wouldn’t have believed this three months ago” department: the heroes of the 2009 home opener for the Dodgers, Orlando Hudson (who hit for the cycle) and Chad Billingsley (11 strikeouts in seven innings), were complete non-factors in this series. Billingsley, who was scheduled to pitch Game Four, didn’t throw an inning, and Hudson never came to the plate.
The Dodgers took advantage of their chances while the Cardinals didn’t, and that’s why the Dodgers advanced to their second straight NLCS. Now it’s time for some revenge on those Phillies.