They say to take one game at a time when your team is on the brink of elimination. It’s difficult to find the right word to describe the mood in Los Angeles at the moment, with the Dodgers down 3-1 to St. Louis after a 4-2 loss to the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. Comebacks aside, where are these Dodgers we were used to seeing for much of the summer?
It’s as if the players have forgotten how to swing the bat and win baseball games. Sometimes it takes one swing, a magical swing of the bat to change the series. That’s all it takes in October, a Kirk Gibson moment, one of those dramatic miracles. Twenty-five years ago, Gibson’s game-winning home run in the opening game of the 1988 World Series was one of the enduring moments in one improbable season.
It was the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s home run on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium. It was a night when the Dodgers commemorated Gibson’s ninth-inning heroics as the boisterous crowd embraced the celebration of the organization’s most indelible moment in the postseason. More than 53,000 fans packed the stadium to watch Tommy Lasorda throw out the first pitch, and watch Gibson’s ninth-inning home run video on the scoreboard, and watch their beloved Dodgers’ championship hopes slip away on this night.
The Dodgers are one of baseball’s hallowed franchises. But this particular night, the Dodgers were one of baseball’s shadowy franchises. One moment, they appeared to be the scariest team in baseball. In these playoffs, they’re running scare. They haven’t taken giant steps in their pursuit of the pennant Tuesday night, but the series is far from over and the Dodgers can fight for survival in Game 5.
There are no miracles at the moment, but it is time to believe in miracles, one bigger than Gibson’s. This is such a bad time to stumble with the drama that surrounds the Dodgers this fall, and it’s not going too well. With the Dodgers facing elimination, they have no choice but to fight to stay alive. It’s not hard to imagine the Dodgers getting off to a winning streak and extending the series, but the swagger that LA plays with has diminished, and the Dodgers are facing the relentless Cardinals. It’s fair to credit the Cardinals pitching rotation, such as the 22-year-old, Michael Wacha, the fireballing right-hander who is an emerging ace in October, having incredibly more dominant innings than Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 last Saturday.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, needed every one of their pitchers to have respectable outings, and now winning really matters on a nightly basis. This is shaping up to be terribly bad and by the looks of it, it’s the Dodgers who are in a heap of trouble. Nothing was particularly impressive about Ricky Nolasco when he stepped onto the mound in Game 4. He was one of Dodgers best pitchers, and was heating up during the dog days of the season, but he was rocked and forced to make an early exit in his postseason start. There were no comebacks, no miracles, let alone a walk-off home run to accomplish the impossible in the year of the improbable.
A tensely quiet crowd watched in shock, and couldn’t stand to look at Matt Holliday smack a 423-foot home run that sailed over the left field wall. The home run that was launched by Holliday was drilled so hard, that it might have landed on the moon by now. Most daunting, though, was that Nolasco left a 91 mph sinker close to the plate and Holliday crushed it. He observed the ball fly over the fence with frustration that there was no chance he’d stay in the game much longer. And nevertheless, he has skipped a start during the NLDS and this was the first time he pitched since September 29. So maybe the long layoff has left him rusty and rested. He was done after four frames, allowing three runs on four hits in four innings of work. At least one runner reached base in each of the five frames thrown by Dodgers’ relievers. Shane Robinson, during the seventh, long after Holliday’s tone-setting, two-run blast, drilled an insurance home run off of J.P. Howell.
Up until this time, we have considerably treated the Dodgers with respect, and some of us are dreaming of America’s Game — Red Sox vs. Dodgers. But when we have matchups we dream about, they usually don’t come true. It’s still not over for the Dodgers yet. The rationale is, the Dodgers will not win the NLCS and advance to the World Series. They’ve trailed 3-1 six times in game-seven series, and never recovered to win. And by the way, the Dodgers are battling through injuries.
It was painful to watch Hanley Ramirez aka Mr. October swing, admirably trying to play through his injury. But he finally gave up altogether when he struck out looking on three pitches and left in the sixth, unable to endure the nagging soreness with his broken rib. And so, Nick Punto replaced Ramirez at shortstop. In one terrible moment, after reaching second base with one out in the seventh, Punto was being a bit greedy in his attempt to steal third with the Dodgers trailing by two. He was picked off second base by rookie Carlos Martinez after smashing a one-out double. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that he was caught, clearly thinking about stealing or taking off on a pitch in the dirt.
Deep down, Punto was hoping to take off on Martinez, and knew that a lot of his curveballs bounces in the dirt. But perhaps what he wasn’t aware of was Pete Kozma, who slowly stepped toward second base. As for Punto, he saw neither Kozma nor Martinez, but Kozma saw him slowly trying to make his way to third. It sounds like he was trying to get into position to possibly score on a sacrifice fly ball by Carl Crawford. But that’s when Kozma sneaked behind him to take a throw from Martinez, who nailed him perfectly.
The chances of the Dodgers making it to the World Series are quickly fading in a series where the LA ball club has held the Cardinals to eight runs and a .148 average in four games. It has not been pretty for the Dodgers. All they can do now is believe in miracles, and put together a three-game winning streak. If not, well, the improbable comes to an end in a heartbreaking fashion.
It is more of a question when, rather than if, the Dodgers can historically comeback and somehow win it all in the end. It’s too bad the Dodgers rained on Gibson’s parade, if not their own parade, at home in front of the stunned crowd. There’s no miracle without Adrian Gonzalez, Ramirez or Yasiel Puig, the rookie Cuban sensation who is overdue for an outstanding performance.
History will have to wait.
If we’ve seen the last of the Dodgers, we will have to wait another year for something astonishing.