With the wind whirling all around us, the center of the storm is often calm. We are in the center of baseball’s annual storm. The playoffs, where pitchers dominate and star hitters rarely come through in the clutch, was best described in Ernest Thayer’s legendary poem written in 1888 “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888”, first published in The San Francisco Examiner on June 3rd in that year. While we no longer have the Mudville Nine to worry about, today’s game during the baseball’s playoffs, still are dominated by good pitching.
Take for example game #1 of the NLCS: The visiting Dodgers put multi millionaire, Zach Greinke on the mound. With a 1-2 post-season record, his only career win coming against St. Louis for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 NLCS, he responded with ten strikeouts and only one walk. However, that one walk would come back to haunt him as the runner scored on a double that should have been caught in centerfield. You might question, ‘should have caught’ statement because it was a ball, high off the wall, which would have been a good catch. But it was a catch that was possible to make. It was simply misjudged by Andre Ethier. Yet little is said about that play. Rather, the emphasis for pointing fingers is that Dodger manager, Don Mattingly, pulled his star first baseman and one of its best hitters, Adrian Gonzalez, who had singled to put the lead run on first while the game was tied 2-2 and was hitting .333 in post season. No one knew that this game was going to go 13 innings and this was only the eighth inning. Dee Gordon came in to run and was quickly retired by a weak ground ball by rookie sensation, Yasiel Puig. One of the Dodgers star hitters was now out of the game. The point here is that he was ONE of the star hitters, not the only one.
“Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell; It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat, For Casey, might Casey, was advancing to the bat.”
There were other hitters in the Dodger lineup to do what Gonzalez had done so well. There was Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Puig, Uribe, Ethier and Mark Ellis to deliver. But this game, during this time of the season is not about the hitters. It’s about the pitching.
The Dodgers were no longer calm in the center of the storm.
“The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate; He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate. And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go. And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.”
On the St. Louis side, steeped in tradition with one of their greatest marked by a symbol on their sleeves with the number 6 set in a circle, and legendary pitcher, Bob Gibson in the dugout before the game, did what every winning team has done from time in memoriam in the post season…they won the game with tremendous pitching.
You can’t forget the work of Joe Kelly, a Los Angeles area native, beginning the game with six solid innings coming off a 7-2 record since August 11th with a 2.32 ERA. Don’t forget, he struck out all of the Dodgers in the first inning and then struck out Gonzalez with runners on in the second and Puig with runners on in the third. It’s not the time to forget Randy Choate and Seth Maness for their combined shutout inning of work. Carlos Martinez had a good inning and then came Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out two in his great couple of innings.
But the shock of shocks, was John Axford’s second lifetime entrance into post-season play. The boy from Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, was traded by the Brewers to St. Louis (that’s another story for another day) after being counted on to be able to loose more TV viewers than NBC. When he came into a Brewer game this season, fans would change channels just to miss the predictable debacle that would surely follow. But here he was, banging his fastball and making an inning interesting. Giving up a hit and walking another, he came in with a fastball of old to strike out the not so mighty Casey of the Dodger Nine, former Cardinal Nick Punto, to allow the game to continue. This game didn’t end suddenly as most had previously when ‘Ax’ entered a Brewer’s game. It left many in Milwaukee wondering where was this performance a few months ago for The Crew? There’s ‘beer pride’ here. This moment of past glory now resided on the hill at Busch and not at Miller.
To put the exclamation point on this note of post season pitching importance, Lance Lynn’s work for two innings wrapping up the game and the win cannot be over looked nor over stated.
“Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children should, But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.”
It’s not the magnification of blunders that decided this game. It wasn’t Ethier’s late start and misplay in center or a managerial decision that would do in the Dodgers on this long, long evening in St. Louis. It was pitching, namely for ‘Dizzy’ and ‘Daffy’s’ and ‘Bullet Bob’s’ legacies that brought victory to the team that plays under the Arch. And that was Friday. Same goes for Saturday’s games in both St. Louis and Boston.
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