LOS ANGELES -- There's always chaos theory, a powerful force in baseball, but it's difficult to imagine these two teams not meeting again in October.
If you were a child of the 1980s you probably have memories, mostly painful ones for Dodgers fans, of two confident teams and franchises that always seemed to be in each other's way. The Los Angeles Dodgers will always have the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals will always have the Chicago Cubs. Together, they've formed one of the better intersectional rivalries in the game.
The Dodgers are two games out of first place in their division. The Cardinals are 5½ games out in their division. If the season ended today, they would play each other in the wild-card game for the right to advance. Seems fitting.
And there's enough history to give it texture. The teams battled for the wild card into the final few games of the 2012 season, with the Cardinals then crashing all the way to the World Series. The Cardinals knocked the Dodgers out of the National League Championship Series last year after knocking Hanley Ramirez effectively out of the series with a broken rib, and the teams took some verbal shots at each other throughout.
Some Cardinals players didn't like the way Yasiel Puig comported himself. When Adam Wainwright described some of the Dodgers' gestures as "Mickey Mouse," Adrian Gonzalez made Mickey Mouse ears every time he had a big hit. Later, some Dodgers wondered whether the Cardinals had gotten a hold of their signs and were relaying the location of upcoming pitches from second base.
"Just different cultures," said second baseman Mark Ellis, a Dodger last year, a Cardinal this year.
The past two nights, it was hard to miss a playoff-like tension because one bad pitch or one well-placed hit was going to decide the outcome. The Dodgers were on the losing end Friday, 3-1, because the Cardinals' most meaningful hit was placed perfectly and the Dodgers' best-struck balls were gobbled up by Cardinals gloves.
Take it from someone who literally was born into this rivalry. Scott Van Slyke came into the world less than a year after his dad, Andy Van Slyke, watched from the on-deck circle as Jack Clark hit the home run that proved the decisive blow of the 1985 NLCS. The Van Slykes, all of them, still live in St. Louis County.
"I think they're just a good team that likes winning and knows how to do it," Van Slyke said. "They're just good games, and you're playing against a good team. You want to win."
Thursday's game was about two borderline-great starting pitchers feeling the full measure of their powers, with the Dodgers prevailing 1-0 over Wainwright behind seven strong innings from a reborn Josh Beckett and strong defense.
Friday had a different feel entirely. Carlos Martinez was coming out of the bullpen and on a limited pitch count, so after they dispensed with his 99 mph fastballs, the Dodgers had a great opportunity to get to the softer middle portion of the Cardinals' bullpen. Instead, they hit into nothing but frustration. Gonzalez had a great at-bat off reliever Pat Neshek in the eighth inning with Dee Gordon on second but scalded a one-hopper right to first baseman Matt Adams. Matt Kemp squared up a pitch and drilled it right to third baseman Matt Carpenter.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was all about damage control, working his way carefully around nine hits, but he couldn't contain one of them. It was a soaring drive by Jhonny Peralta that split the seam between Puig and Van Slyke and accounted for the Cardinals' winning runs, turning a 1-1 game into a 3-1 game. Even though there was plenty of baseball left -- it was the fifth inning -- it felt fateful because of how well these teams pitch and how well they match up.
Nobody really gave in, but somebody had to get a break. The Dodgers got one Thursday, with Justin Turner's hit -- the only RBI of the night -- trickling through the hole between short and third. The Cardinals got one Friday.
Van Slyke pulled up when he saw Puig, all 230 pounds of him charging in his direction. Van Slyke admitted he didn't particularly want to take the hit.
"Would you?" he said.