Dodgers Come Alive in the Big Moment

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He plays in Los Angeles, a town where he’s the real Hollywood sensation, galvanizing towel-swinging fans, including a fan in a bear costume who went wild on the visitor’s dugout. There’s a frenzy surrounding Yasiel Puig, the 22-year-old Cuban rookie who has captured the imagination of baseball, and the Korean pitching sensation Hyun-Jin Ryu, who rebounded from his worst start of his rookie season with one of his finest performances.

Hyun-Jin RyuAnd here come the Dodgers, who shut out the St. Louis Cardinals with a 3-0 victory in Game 3, trailing 2-1 in the NLCS. It’s far from over and the Dodgers have a chance to even the series with a win on Tuesday night here in Los Angeles — at Dodger Stadium, where the boys in blue crave homemade food instead of having to call for room service. The bats finally came alive … much to the delight of the 53,049 fans at Dodger Stadium, with the iconic sportscaster Vin Scully in the press box calling the game on the radio. It was simply refreshing to look at the Dodgers, favored to win the World Series weeks ago, manufacture runs and play like the team fans in blue were accustomed to seeing all summer long when the Dodgers were hot on the Dodger Dog grill.

It was a night when Carl’s Jr. beat Hardee’s. It was a night when LA beat St. Louis.

It was a night when a raucous home crowd that practically gave the Dodgers life in this series against the Cardinals fueled their inspiration. It was a night when Ryu pitched seven shutout innings, giving up only three hits and a walk to outpitch his counterpart, Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals ace who was saddled with his first postseason loss. The Dodgers, already down, must continue to hit and drive in runs if they want to beat St. Louis. They’ll have to play through injuries, and they can’t expect to get anywhere without accumulating runs. This will all come down to stellar pitching and whoever’s bats come alive.

Hanley Ramirez, who suffered a broken rib when he was hit by a pitch in the series opener, was fighting back excruciating pain and had missed Game 2. He is icing his rib cage every 20 minutes, receiving treatment and taking painkillers to relieve the persistent pain. It behooves the Dodgers, struggling so badly with the bats, to do whatever it takes to get back into this series. Even though he winced every time he swung, Ramirez very much wanted to play. Even though he’s not healthy, after hitting .500 (8 for 16) with four doubles, a triple and a homer in the division series against Atlanta, he’s going to play baseball. And on days like this, he’s desperately needed, the hottest hitter in the MLB postseason, an RBI machine. It is important to remember that in the last series against the Braves, Ramirez went 8-for-16 with six extra base hits and six RBIs.

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He showed fortitude. It was evident as he singled softly off Seth Maness over the head of second baseman Kolten Wong. The speedy Carl Crawford, standing on second after hitting a one-out single, rounded third and slid past Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, barely beating the tag. It was a great game, a good piece of hitting for Adrian Gonzalez. The fans roared when he stepped to the plate in front of the home crowd, and responded with an RBI double that ended a 1-for-17 drought for the Dodgers with runners in scoring position. Andre Ethier, hampered by a microfracture above his left ankle, announced he was going to play through the injury. This was the way it happened, how it all unfolded.

This game was a reminder that the Dodgers still have a chance, and somehow Ethier and Ramirez are figuring out ways to get it done. They were swinging and grimacing, and amazingly they made it happen for the Dodgers. Ramirez is still the man, and he had a run-scoring hit as the Dodgers outlasted these more talented and tenacious Cardinals. They are more productive, have the winning recipe in postseason baseball and amazingly defy the odds, but the Dodgers are starting to deliver and swing the bats. It was kind of a crazy night in the outfield for the Cardinals, and the Dodgers capitalized on the costly mistakes that outfielder Jon Jay made in center.

It’s been 25 years since the Dodgers have played in the World Series, the year Kirk Gibson hit one of the most dramatic home runs, the year Magic Johnson led the “Showtime” Lakers to an NBA championship and the year Wayne Gretzky altered the hockey landscape in Southern California. We want to believe, here in LA, that the Dodgers have the most talented team in all of baseball, confident they can win their first World Series title since “The Cosby Show” was NBC’s top-rated TV sitcom. This is a team and fan base that certainly believes it can make noise in the postseason. For now, at least, the Dodgers are alive and glorified nationally in October. Most of all, the Dodgers have the mystique and tradition that comes with the franchise, back 25 years later to chase a championship, looking to raise up the Commissioner’s Trophy and celebrate in the streets of Los Angeles with the hometown crowd. There’s a sense of hope that the Dodgers can beat anyone.

It was a feel-good night, to be quite honest. In a nerve-racking, compelling series, Ryu had a masterful pitching performance. This was supposed to be the month that Puigmania would sweep the baseball world, like it did all summer long. Thank goodness for Puig as well. It was nice to see Puig, who was hitless in 11 at-bats with five consecutive strikeouts, drive a fastball deep to right field. This was not a home run, but he obviously thought it was a homer and prematurely celebrated by flipping the bat and throwing his hands in the air, certain that the ball would sail over the wall. The ball came down just short of the fence, and it resulted in a triple.

aptopix-nlcs-cardinals-dodgers-baseballThis sounds like a wonderful tale for the Dodgers star, but he’s been quiet in the postseason. Maybe this was a start to something. There were flashes of artistry, and the presence of Ramirez suggests that he’s the linchpin of the Dodgers offense. He had two base hits, and a deep fly ball to right, one of which drove in a run. We were all witnesses in Game 3, when Ryu had a scintillating performance and made it happen after the Dodgers wasted dominant performances from their two best pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the first two games of the series.

It’s all about survival. Still, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has to think smart and make wise decisions, before it’s too late. Furthermore, the Dodgers will have to continue swinging the bats as well as they did in Game 3. For once, though, Puig wasn’t absent and the Dodgers were hitting, especially an ailing Ramirez. In the fourth, Mark Ellis led off with a hit into right-center field, where Jay misjudged a play on the ball and watched it drop in for a single. That’s when Ramirez drove a fly ball to right, sending Ellis to third, followed by Gonzalez’s ball down the right-field line.

If they can do this for the rest of the series, there’s no reason to think the Dodgers can’t survive and advance to the World Series. This team, after all, is still scary good, just as they were during the regular season when no one could stop them. What I saw was something I’ve seen all summer.

That’s Dodger baseball.

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