The Braves are trying to rebound from a crushing defeat. The Cardinals are trying to make the biggest September comeback of any wild-card team in history. The Giants are somehow still in this thing.
It’s September baseball with games that mean something, games that make you sweat more than the players, that make you curse every bad strike call and yell at the TV set in joy or frustration, those twin emotions of sports.
Time for a running diary.
7:19 p.m. ET -- I think the Marlins crowd consists of a couple of hot dog vendors, some advance scouts and Jonah Hill trying to promote “Moneyball.” The field also looks like it came straight from the 1979 World Series, complete with football yard lines, beat-up grass and chunks of concrete. All that’s missing are the orange and yellow uniforms.
7:26 -- Rookie Randall Delgado goes for the Braves. He pitched well his previous three starts (five earned runs) but went only five innings each outing. That means the Braves will be using their bullpen at some point, and a hot topic Tuesday was whether Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are getting burned out from their heavy workload. Venters in particular has struggled a bit this month.
7:43 -- Alex Gonzalez homers for the Braves. For a second, I wondered whether he could join the illustrious “more homers than walks" club, but alas he has only 15 home runs against 22 walks. Two more runs makes it 3-0.
7:50 -- Steve Berthiaume tweets, “Woman in Princess Leia Star Wars costume at #Marlins #Braves game looks much more like Sally Field in The Flying Nun. Just sayin'.”
8:13 -- Back-to-back hits bring up Mike Stanton. You might have seen that 700-foot home run he hit Monday night. Delgado is too careful and walks him on four pitches, loading the bases for Logan Morrison with one out. He hits a soft liner to short that Gonzalez easily snares and tags out Omar Infante. Remember that double play, Braves fans.
8:49 -- Stanton is up again with two on and two outs. Delgado falls behind with three balls but throws an inside fastball that Stanton takes, throws a nice tailing fastball that catches the outside corner and then induces Stanton to bounce out to shortstop. At 92 pitches through five innings, however, Delgado is probably done.
9:01 -- Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Mets are getting to Edwin Jackson with some little ball. A walk, a bunt single and an error, a groundout, a wild pitch, another walk, a fielder’s choice and then two singles plate three runs to give the Mets a 4-0 lead. Tony La Russa starts thinking about his fantasy football team.
9:08 -- It’s a Jack Wilson sighting! Alex Gonzalez pulled something so Wilson is in to play shortstop. The only shocking thing is that Wilson is actually healthy enough to play himself. Anyway, 1-2-3 for Cristhian Martinez, with Jason Heyward making two running catches on shallow flies. Also, Cristhian Martinez has to be the most misspelled name in the majors besides Marc Rzepczynski.
9:18 -- Did I mention Mike Pelfrey is pitching for the Mets? It’s now 4-3.
9:22 -- Freeman up with the bases loaded and a chance to blow this one open. He hits the ball hard but grounds into a double play. I’d give a slight edge to Hosmer, as he has better contact ability (Freeman’s K rate is nearly 10 percent higher) and seems to be a better athlete. Both are going to be very good for a long time.
9:29 -- Heyward with another fine running catch, this time into the deep right-field corner. Stanton might have blown away Heyward in the “great young right fielder" debate this year, but I’m willing to give Heyward a mulligan and see what happens in 2012 before I declare Stanton the winner.
10 -- Nice hit-and-run by La Russa with Albert Pujols. He’s grounded into a league-leading 29 double plays, and Pelfrey doesn’t strike out many guys. Pujols then steals second, and Lance Berkman grounds a two-run single up the middle on a 3-0 pitch. Hit-and-run, steal, green light -- La Russa made all the right calls this inning. Game tied at 5.
10:12 -- Martinez and Anthony Varvaro finish with four hitless innings for the Braves to complete the 4-0 shutout. They now have 41 games allowing zero runs or one run, most in the majors (the Phillies have 40).
10:40 -- Jerry Sands homers leading off the second to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead over Tim Lincecum. Considering Clayton Kershaw is 4-0 against the Giants with five runs allowed in five starts this season, this game might already be over.
10:43 -- The Mets take the lead thanks to a bases-loaded walk. Is this a Triple-A game or a contest with playoff implications?
11 -- I know this is going to shock you, but somebody named Josh Stinson was unable to hold the Mets’ lead. September baseball, everyone! By the way, another great inning by La Russa. He twice pinch hit for pinch hitters to gain the platoon advantage, and Ryan Theriot delivered a two-run double off Tim Byrdak and Adron Chambers hit a three-run triple off submariner D.J. Carrasco. The Cards explode for six runs.
11:30 -- Kershaw hasn’t dominated but has scattered five hits through five scoreless innings. I think if the Giants signed Mays and McCovey they might have a chance.
11:38 -- The Cards close it out, their 11th win in 13 games. The Mets allowed 16 hits and two walks. The Cardinals allowed 10 hits and nine walks. It wasn’t pretty, but La Russa pulled the right strings, Matt Holliday might actually return before the season ends, and the Cardinals face the Mets, Cubs and Astros the rest of the way.
Yes, Braves fans are still sweating.
12:09 -- Kershaw breezes through the sixth and seventh. He’s at 99 pitches, so he has at least one more inning in him. Lincecum will have faced Kershaw four times this season, and has allowed one, one, one and two runs ... and not won any of the four games.
12:28 -- Great at-bat by Andres Torres to draw another walk. Don Mattingly goes to the ’pen, but waiting to pinch hit ... “The Panda”!
12:37 -- ... but he takes a called third strike, a nasty cut fastball that curls over the outside corner. (Mets fans nod their heads.)
12:54 -- Javy Guerra escapes his throwing error to close out the Giants, getting Aubrey Huff to ground into a 3-6-3 double play, perhaps the apropos ending to a game that just about puts the final dagger in the Giants’ season. With two teams ahead of them in the wild-card chase, they need a lot of breaks over the final week.
As for Kershaw, he wins his 20th game, the first Dodgers pitcher since Ramon Martinez in 1990 to achieve that total. It was another terrific performance by the lefty, and when the Giants look back on their 2011 season, they’ll see nightmares of Clayton Kershaw.
Eight days left.
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