To think you know baseball is to be a stupid, stupid fool.
No one understands this game, or why things happen how they happen, particularly when everyone expects exactly the opposite. That is why you watch in October. That is why jaws can routinely be picked up off the floor with a snow shovel in the autumn.
It is why the sport is beautiful, because the seemingly impossible can always trump perfectly sound reason.
It is why the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers left the baseball-watching world speechless and in disbelief Friday night at Dodger Stadium. This was an outcome nobody saw coming before Game 1 of the National League Division Series started, or even more than halfway through it.
In a game started by the two best pitchers in the league, the Cardinals won, 10-9. It wasn’t that the Cardinals won that was so stunning, but it was the way they got down and then came back, and the fact that Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright combined to give up 14 runs, every single one of them as earned as earned can be.
Simply stated, this game was shocking, and if the rest of the series is anything close to this, predictions be damned. This is going to be wild.
“That’s baseball. Anything can happen,” Dodgers right fielder Matt Kemp said after the game, attempting to brush aside the fact that this game was ridiculously nuts.
Kemp then paused for a few seconds before offering some candidness.
“Maybe I was a little shocked.”
The part that was so crazy was that the starting pitchers came in as the best the NL has to offer at that position, with Kershaw being the most dominant pitcher in the world during the regular season. Yet Wainwright was smacked around by a surging Dodgers offense that took errant fastball after errant fastball and locked in on his breaking pitches.
When Wainwright did miss in the zone with hard stuff—fastball, sinker, cutter—the Dodgers tagged him for eight hits. And when the curveball found the hitting zone, three hits, not including a laser of a liner by Hanley Ramirez that was caught for an out.
By the end of all the contact, Wainwright had allowed six runs on 11 hits and Dodger Stadium transformed from sporting venue to all-out house party. A five-run lead with Kershaw on the mound—he started the game 67-0 when the Dodgers gave him at least four runs—was plenty reason to start the celebration while the Southern California sun still beamed.
Tsk, tsk. As Kemp so plainly noted, this is baseball. More specifically, postseason baseball. Very little goes as plotted.
After Kershaw allowed a first-inning home run on a curveball—the third-ever home run he’s allowed on that pitch in 1,423.1 innings—he put away 16 consecutive Cardinals hitters and seemed to be cruising. Everything was working. The fastball, the curveball, the swing-and-miss slider and the changeup, all of them working seamlessly together to create Kershaw’s latest masterpiece.
For as lights-out as Kershaw has been over the last four seasons, not even he could duck the total wackiness of this game. Going into the seventh inning, Kershaw had allowed two baserunners, both of which hit solo home runs, and gave the Dodgers zero indication he was about to implode.
It started innocently: Matt Holliday lacing a single up the middle to start the inning, putting Kershaw into the stretch for the first time. Then Jhonny Peralta the same thing. Then Yadier Molina the same thing to load the bases, nobody out. Two more singles wrapped around a strikeout and suddenly it was a two-run Dodger lead.
Then a three-pitch strikeout and it seemed Kershaw was back. Furthering the assumption, he got ahead of Matt Carpenter 0-2, but the at-bat turned dim for Kershaw. He could not put away Carpenter, who worked to see six more pitches before thrashing a middle-middle fastball for a bases-clearing double.
“If I don’t get in the way tonight,” Kershaw said, “we have a pretty good chance to win this.”
Just the thought of two of the best pitchers in this galaxy saying they got in the way of their teams’ chances to win a playoff game is absurd. But that’s how this night went.
What wasn’t so unexpected is that the bad blood between these two clubs started to boil in this first game. It also signaled the start of Wainwright’s meltdown when he hit Yasiel Puig with one of those catch-me-if-you-can fastballs.
Puig calmly strutted to first base, but Adrian Gonzalez, usually the calmest of the men in uniform, confronted hot-tempered St. Louis catcher Molina.
“We’re not going to start this again,” Gonzalez claimed to have told Molina.
“You have to respect me,” Gonzalez claimed was Molina’s response.
For Molina’s part, he said he couldn’t hear Gonzalez, but that he was screaming.
“I told him, ‘If you’re going to scream at me, get ready to fight,’ ” Molina claims was his actual response.
Wainwright and Puig found each other, spoke a few words and called it a day, the latter finishing the exchange with a friendly pat on Waino’s backside.
“It kinda woke a sleeping dog,” Carpenter said, acknowledging the Dodgers went bonkers after that, scoring six runs in the next three innings off Wainwright.
This beef between the Cardinals and Dodgers started last postseason, when the ninth pitch of Game 1 of the NL Championship Series stuck in Hanley Ramirez’s side, snapping one of his ribs and taking him out of the series. Two games later, Gonzalez doubled in a run off Wainwright and gestured toward the Dodger dugout to fire up his team. Postgame, Wainwright described Gonzalez’s behavior as “Mickey Mouse.”
In July of this season, the fireworks went off again when Cardinals flamethrower Carlos Martinez hit Ramirez with a fastball high on his shoulder. In the bottom of that inning, Kershaw plunked Matt Holliday. In the ninth inning, St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal hit Ramirez again, this time on the hand, knocking him out of the lineup for a few games.
“It happened during the season, and it’s a trend,” Gonzalez said of the Cardinals hitting Dodgers players. “They can deny it as much as they want. They are going to say it’s not on purpose, but we all know (it is).
“If that’s the way they want to go at it, we’ll make adjustments.”
So that’s where we stand, in a completely unpredictable series that could erupt into punches at any moment. Or not.
This is baseball, though, and none of us knows what will happen next. So let’s just enjoy the drama as it unfolds.