As if the post-season hadn’t become crazy enough given the Orioles’ battering of the Tigers’ bullpen in each of the first two games of the ALDS and the Royals’ statistically improbable win in the AL Wild Card game against the Athletics, the Cardinals and Dodgers added to the intrigue on Friday night. Clayton Kershaw against Adam Wainwright. It’s going to be a low-scoring pitcher’s duel, right?
Randal Grichuk put the Cardinals up 1-0 early with a first-inning solo home run off of Kershaw, but that was it for offense for the Cardinals against Kershaw for a long time. The benches cleared at the start of the bottom of the third inning when Wainwright hit Yasiel Puig with a pitch. Following that, the Dodgers scored twice in each of the third, fourth, and fifth innings. A.J. Ellis, whose fifth-inning, two-run home run put the Dodgers up 6-1, ended Wainwright’s night much earlier than anticipated after just 4 1/3 innings.
According to FanGraphs, the Dodgers had a 98 percent chance to win based on historical data — meaning home teams ahead five runs after five innings have won 98 percent of the time. The Cardinals didn’t seem to care. Third baseman Matt Carpenter lifted a solo home run against Kershaw in the sixth inning to make it 6-2 before the Cardinals took control in the seventh.
Like a dating website, the seventh inning was all about the singles. The Cardinals racked up four of them consecutively off of Kershaw to lead off the frame, pushing across a run while loading the bases with nobody out in a 6-3 game. Pete Kozma, looking to lift a fly ball to right field, struck out which seemed like a good omen for the Dodgers. Jon Jay singled to left-center which brought in the Cardinals’ fourth run and brought two more runners into scoring position. Pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras then struck out in ugly fashion, which illuminated the end of the tunnel for Kershaw, but he’d have to get through Carpenter first.
Carpenter has been Kershaw’s nemesis, as he was a big reason why the lefty performed so poorly in his last post-season start, Game 6 of the NLCS last year. Carpenter saw 11 pitches from Kershaw in the third inning before doubling with one out. The Cardinals would go on to score four runs in the inning and eventually take the NLCS with a 9-0 victory over the Dodgers.
So what did Carpenter do against Kershaw this time? He fell behind 0-2, but fought valiantly to see six more pitches. On the eighth pitch, Carpenter laced a double into the gap in right-center, scoring all three runners on base as the Cardinals took a 7-6 lead. That was it for Kershaw. Pedro Baez took the hill in relief and issued a walk to Grichuk, bringing up Matt Holliday. Holliaday swung at Baez’s first offering, sending a three-run home run into the seats in left field to make the score 10-6.
From 98 percent underdogs to 95 percent favorites. Given the tenor of the post-season to date, though, one knew it wasn’t over yet. In the bottom of the eighth, Puig drew a one-out walk to bring up Adrian Gonzalez. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny opted to bring in lefty Randy Choate to face the left-handed Gonzalez, but Gonzalez promptly sent the third pitch Choate threw over the fence in right-center, cutting the Dodgers’ deficit to 10-8. Pat Neshek relieved Choate and escaped the eighth with no further damage.
Still, a two-run lead with three outs left? The Cardinals were still nine-to-one favorites historically. After the Cardinals went down quality in the top half of the ninth, closer Trevor Rosenthal took the hill looking to quickly get through the bottom of the Dodgers’ order. After Juan Uribe struck out, A.J. Ellis singled to right field for his fourth hit of the ballgame. Andre Ethier sliced a double down the left field line, putting the tying run in scoring position and moving the Dodgers’ odds of winning up to 26 percent. Dee Gordon grounded out weakly to the right side, pushing across a run while moving the tying run to third base, but also giving the Cardinals the second out, sending the Dodgers’ odds of winning down to 14 percent. The Dodgers’ hope rested on the shoulders of Puig. Puig fell behind 1-2, then fouled off three pitches before ultimately striking out swinging, giving the Cardinals a 10-9 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the NLDS.
This was a heck of a game to watch, as it completely deviated from every single narrative that was attached to it. A should-be pitcher’s duel turned into a slugfest. The greatest pitcher of his generation has been turned into a post-season chump in back-to-back games by the Cardinals. If you predicted anything that happened in Game 1 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Cardinals, please email me with tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers.