ST. LOUIS -- The Los Angeles Dodgers got into a battle of bullpens with the wrong team and wound up losing an excruciating Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals, who seem to trot out a hard-throwing reliever every inning, shut the Dodgers down after the third inning in a 3-2, 13-inning win at Busch Stadium Friday night. Carlos Beltran singled home the winner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.
It was a slow grind for the Dodgers all night, an evening of wasted opportunities. They got 10 runners into scoring position, but came up with just one hit in those situations.
The Dodgers nearly scored the go-ahead run in the 10th inning, but Beltran threw out Mark Ellis at the plate after Ellis tagged and tried to score on Michael Young’s shallow fly ball. Young was hitting in that spot because the Dodgers had pinch run for their cleanup hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, two innings earlier.
Andre Ethier, playing the outfield for the first time since Sept. 13 and dealing with a sore left ankle, couldn’t reach a Beltran line drive in the third inning, leaping early and seeing the ball clang off the wall to score two runs and tie a game in which Zack Greinke was otherwise cruising.
The game became a battle of bullpens, and that’s a dangerous one to play in St. Louis. The Dodgers looked overmatched facing Trevor Rosenthal in a tie game in the ninth inning. Rosenthal, who has a high-90s fastball, struck out two of the three batters he faced.
One gambit that surely will be dissected by amateur managers after the game was Don Mattingly’s decision to pinch run Dee Gordon for Gonzalez with no outs in the eighth inning. Gordon didn’t attempt to steal off Carlos Martinez, and Yasiel Puig hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Pete Kozma, who likely would have been covering second had Gordon run, leaving a gaping hole on the left side.
Instead of a hit, it was a fielder’s choice, the Dodgers didn’t score, and they were without their leading RBI man for the remainder of the game.
The Dodgers’ strength coming into this series was their starting pitching -- particularly at the top of the rotation -- and that reputation wasn’t dented in any way by Game 1.
Greinke, the Dodgers’ ace 1-A behind Clayton Kershaw since midseason, had the task of starting this series off because Kershaw pitched Monday’s NLDS clincher on three days’ rest.
Greinke was about as good as the Dodgers could have hoped over his eight innings. He mostly breezed along, striking out 10 Cardinals and only allowing four hits. It was his finest postseason start. But the timing of those runs hurt.
The Dodgers staked Greinke to a 2-0 lead in the third inning on Juan Uribe’s two-out single that drove in Hanley Ramirez and Gonzalez. It was a continuation of Uribe’s clutch play. He had hit the decisive home run in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ Game 4 NLDS-clinching win.
Greinke cruised but for one little stretch with two outs in the third inning. St. Louis pitcher Joe Kelly started the brush fire with a single to center, Matt Carpenter walked and Beltran -- one of the most dangerous postseason hitters of this generation -- laced his line drive off the center-field wall.