NLCS Game 1: A goat, and a hero (again)

Ed Zurga

Friday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost an incredibly well-balanced game. It lasted 13 innings, which means be definition it could have ended differently, due to just one swing of the bat, literally hundreds of times. Or what about those two plays that weren't made in the third inning?

In the top of the third, with the bases loaded and one out. Yasiel Puig shot a routine grounder back to pitcher Joe Kelly. It looked like a probable inning-ending, rally-killing double play. But the ball squirted out of Kelly's glove. He recovered in time for the force at home, but the bases remained loaded. And Juan Uribe followed with a single to account for the Dodgers' only runs of the game.

In the bottom of the third, with two runners on and two outs, Carlos Beltrán drove a double to the wall in right-center fielder. Andre Ethier and just about any other center fielder might usually make the play. But Ethier hadn't played center field in nearly a month, and he didn't make the play. That accounted for the Cardinals' only runs until the 13th inning.

Two plays that would usually have been made were not made. On such things, championships are won and lost. On such things, later decisions are made, decisions that pile upon one another and are later used as evidence against the manager of the losing team.

Case in point: D.J. Short's fisking of Don Mattingly's anti-percentage moves. First, he pinch-ran Dee Gordon for Adrian Gonzalez in the eighth inning. This worked out poorly because a) Gordon didn't actually steal a base, and b) the Dodgers didn't score in that inning, and two of Gonzalez's would-be at-bats went instead to Michael Young ... who hit into double plays both times. Yeah. And second, Mattingly didn't use his best relief pitcher until there were two runners aboard in the bottom of the 13th inning. Yeah.

I don't like either move. Maybe it makes sense to pinch-run for Gonzalez if Gordon's running. But for whatever reason, he didn't run. And I'm pretty sure the difference between Gordon on first base and Gonzalez on first base is less than the difference between Gonzalez batting and Young batting. Especially twice, although of course Mattingly couldn't have known the game would go 10 innings, let alone 13. It was a bad move. I'm not sure it was terrible.

I do believe that "saving" Jansen until the 13th inning was pretty terrible. But would making the "right" move have made a difference. The Dodgers lost in the 13th when Jansen did come into the game, and got behind in the count against Beltrán. I would have used Jansen in the ninth and maybe the 10th innings. The Cardinals didn't score in those innings anyway. Eventually, somebody was going to score. Basically, the Cardinals just happened to score before the Dodgers.

It wasn't a good night for Mattingly. But the Dodgers losing was mostly about baseball, and just a little about their manager.

Now, about THE PLAY ... A lot's been made of the brilliant communication between Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay, but this seems to me a fairly routine way of doing things. It was an easier play for Beltrán, and anyway it's standard procedure for the outfielder with the better throwing angle to make the catch if there's a big throw in order. I'm not saying Beltrán and Jay don't deserve any credit for this part of it. But most other pairs of outfielders would have done the same.

What came next was the spectacular part, as Beltrán set himself for the catch perfectly, then uncorked a perfect throw to the plate. Here it is again:

You can watch that as many times as you like, and unless Cardinal Red flows through your veins, I doubt if you'll ever see Molina's mitt ever touch Mark Ellis. Because it didn't. Or if it did, it was a few molecules of the mitting interacting for just a nanosecond with one of Ellis's forearm hairs.

This will lead, I'm sure, to some cries in Dodgerwood for INSTANT REPLAY. ("When do we want it? Yesterday!") But I'm not at all sure that video review would have overturned this play on the field. When you see the play in real time, you realize just how impossible it would have been for plate umpire Gerry Davis to see the space between the mitt and the Dodger. You might also realize that Molina, presumably one of the toughest men in the game, flinched.

He flinched. Instead of meeting Ellis head-on, he turned away just enough to make his tag questionable, at least after the fact. Does he do that if he knows the play will be officially reviewed afterward, from every possible angle? I don't know. What I do know is that baseball's not supposed to be a contact sport, and that runners shouldn't be allowed to ram into catchers like a one-man flying wedge. It's not baseball (or shouldn't be), and it's not safe.

Last week, I thought that Quintin Berry deserved to be safe, even if the umpire missed the call. This time, I thought that Mark Ellis deserved to be out, even if the umpire missed the call. I can see the other side of things, in both cases. But there are baseball's rules, and there are the universe's rules. Usually the former trumps the latter in real life, and we're okay with that. We have to be okay with that, or go insane. But when the universe's rules -- or at least what we wish were the universe's rules -- come into play, that's okay too. Jon Jay and Carlos Beltrán and Yadier Molina did everything right, until the nanosecond when something inside Molina's brain told him that taking a direct hit from a 190-pound speeding locomotive maybe wasn't the wisest thing in the world.

Maybe Molina's survival instinct should have cost him the out, and his team the game. I'm okay with the other.

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