That was fun.Hyun-Jin Ryu was excellent, John Lackey was excellent, the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen was not and Trevor Rosenthal survived a shaky ninth as the St. Louis Cardinals won 3-1 to take the series lead. Five big moments:
1. Kolten Wong, postseason hero.
— D.J. Short (@djshort) October 7, 2014
— Shane Victorino (@ShaneVictorino) October 7, 2014
Elbert for the RHB was a mistake, but with the way JP has gone, you had to try Elbert.
— Howard Cole (@Howard_Cole) October 7, 2014
I made this for you guys as a quick reference guide of sorts. pic.twitter.com/Kbj8nYpsBa
— Ben Carsley (@BenCarsley) October 7, 2014
A year ago, Kolten Wong was in tears after getting picked off to end Game 4 of the World Series with the tying run at the plate. Now the rookie second baseman is the temporary toast of St. Louis after hitting a two-run home run off Dodgers reliever Scott Elbert in the seventh inning to give the Cardinals that 3-1 lead.
Wong's power developed in the second half. After hitting one home run through June -- a period that included a trip back to Triple-A after beginning the season in St. Louis -- he hit 11 over the final three months. He didn't start regularly against left-handers but hit well in limited action (.315/.324/.466 in 76 PAs) and Mike Matheny had him in there against the left-handed Ryu. He's not a big guy but has a quick bat with good extension and he crushed an Elbert slider at the knees into the right-center bullpen.
Now, that Dodgers bullpen. It's a mess. J.P. Howell had been the Dodgers' top lefty all season with a 1.17 ERA through Sept. 10, but he allowed seven runs in his final three innings of the regular season and then gave up the two-homer to Matt Carpenter in Game 2. That was apparently enough to have Dodgers manager Don Mattingly lose faith in him and instead use a guy who had pitched 4⅔ innings all season in a 1-1 game.
2. Matt Carpenter gives Cards early lead.
Matt Carpenter homered off Ryu. Ryu only allowed one homer to a lefty all year, and Carpenter only hit two.
— YCPB (@cantpredictball) October 7, 2014
What a good player this guy is. Carpenter sort of flew under the radar this season because he didn't match his 2013 numbers when he led the National League in runs, hits and doubles and placed fourth in the MVP voting. But he played 158 games, led the NL in walks and scored 99 runs, giving the Cardinals an excellent .375 OBP out of the leadoff spot. His power was down in the doubles department -- 55 to 33 -- but he's making up for that in this series.
His home run off Ryu came on a 1-2 changeup; his big bases-clearing double off Kershaw in Game 1 also came with two strikes. That's how Carpenter usually approaches his plate appearances, working the count (he was fourth in the majors in pitches seen per plate appearances). But his home run off Kershaw in Game 1 came on a first-pitch fastball and his home run off J.P. Howell also came on a first-pitch two-seam fastball. He later added a double to become the first player in postseason history with a home run and double in three consecutive games. He's locked in and the Dodgers are having a hard time figuring out how to attack him.
3. Puig strikes out for seventh straight time.
Mattingly probably should drop Puig to 7th spot, move Uribe to 6th and Crawford to the 2-hole for Game 4 tomorrow #Puig7straightks
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) October 7, 2014
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) October 7, 2014
So, radical thought about Yasiel Puig I know, but the strikeouts will stop and he will start hitting again. Just like every time before.
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) October 7, 2014
Well, Jon Weisman, you were correct. After those seven straight strikeouts, Puig led off the sixth inning with a looping line drive into the right-field corner that bounced away from Randal Grichuk for a stand-up triple. John Lackey nearly worked out of the inning, getting Adrian Gonzalez on a fly to shallow left field and striking out Matt Kemp (with help from home-plate ump Dale Scott's generous strike zone that kept calling pitches that were off the plate to right-handed batters as strikes, perfect for Lackey's moving fastball/slider combo). Hanley Ramirez, however, lined a first-pitch fastball into the right-field corner for an RBI double.
Still, batting in the No. 2 spot, Puig in many ways is the key to the Dodgers' lineup. He doesn't have to hit for power -- he hasn't done much in that department since the first two months -- but he has to get on base and provide RBI opportunities for Gonzalez, Kemp and Ramirez. With Dee Gordon posting a mediocre .300 OBP in the second half (he had just four walks and 47 strikeouts, raising the question of why he's still hitting leadoff), it's often Puig who has to start rallies. The seven straight K's were reminiscent of last year's National League Championship Series when he struck out 10 times in 23 plate appearances and hit .227 and seemed to go into an emotional funk. There is not time to hang your head in the postseason.
4. Matt Kemp is frustrated.
Flip a coin Dale Scott.
— Brett Anderson (@BAnderson_30) October 7, 2014
Matt Kemp: "It’s supposed to be the teams, not the umpire, and I just feel like the umpire took the bat out of our hands today. "
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) October 7, 2014
After that 0-1 pitch that was outside was called a strike in his previous at-bat, Kemp was rung up leading off the ninth -- on a fastball that was in the exact same location as the previous pitch that was called a ball. Kemp got in a good beef with Scott, and rightly so. Even major league pitcher Brett Anderson was calling out Scott's inconsistent strike zone.
5. Flashes to Clayton Kershaw in the dugout ...
If we see a Dodger pitcher other than Kershaw, Greinke and Jansen before the NLCS, LA might be in trouble.
— Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann) October 7, 2014
This is the great thing about the pressure, intensity and anxiety of the postseason: Don Mattingly may do anything with his bullpen in Game 4 if he can't go from Kershaw to Kenley Jansen. Dan Haren? Pedro Baez again? Jamey Wright? Does he go back to Howell and Brian Wilson? Nobody knows. I'm not sure Mattingly knows. I'm not sure he wants to envision he scenario in which he has to know.