Wednesday, October 09, 2013

At-Game Recap (Part 1): The Clincher (NLDS Game 4, October 7, 2013)

With the memory of this game more freshly situated in my mind, I'm going to try and write my thoughts of NLDS Game 4, the clinching game of the series, and an incredible roller-coaster ride of a game for Dodger fans. Having just attended Game 3 the night before, and still riding the high of that beatdown, I was hopeful. But little did I know that this Game 4 was going to play with my emotions like a high school girlfriend on Adderall.

To start out, the couple with whom we were attending was late arriving to my house. It was only a 15-minute delay, but having suffered through some pretty bad traffic on Sunday, I was pretty stressed out. I cut through backyards and alleys en route up the hill to the Sunset Gate (luckily, the incline wasn't that bad), only to be thwarted in Lot G (not only were normal entry points closed off, but I had to park all the way over at the far end of the first-base side, which was a pain relative to our third-base side seats).

Literally sprinting down the concourse (stopping only for two Dodger Dogs and two beers), I was able to make the first pitch. (I saw the pre-game ceremony involving our father, Steve Garvey, in between sprints down the concourse; I loved the fact that Garvey said "Welcome to the final game of the NLDS!" to the crowd, which got a great roar of approval.)

Don Mattingly had opted to start Clayton Kershaw on short rest, a decision that was widely panned in the media, given Kershaw had never started on short rest before, and he was coming off a 124-pitch Game 1. Indeed, Kershaw was off his game a bit, only because he has set his own bar so high: balls were landing in the dirt five feet in front of the plate; time in-between pitches seemed extra elongated; the pace of the game seemed to slow to take a lot of bated breaths.

Complicating the factor was Adrian Gonzalez, who pulled the wrong night to stop sniffing glue (or making solid defensive plays, as he has all year). Gonzalez allowed leadoff batter Jason Heyward to reach in the first inning, and even though Kershaw got out of it, it set the tone that this wasn't going to be an easy night.

And then: Carl Crawford. His mammoth home run to right field to lead off the bottom of the first sent the place rollicking. It was if all the energy from the crowd the prior night had just been unlocked again and things were about to start rolling. My wife and our friend even made it to the seats in time to see this HR, which was great.

The guys behind me started doing the fake tomahawk chop chant, which the Dodgers opened up late in Game 3 after we went up 10-4. This was a 1-0 lead. Waaaaaaay too early, I was thinking to myself.

But the Dodgers did keep rolling that first inning. Hanley Ramirez got in a one-out single to left, prompting a clip on Diamondivision of Ken Jeong screaming "I SEE YOU!!!" (they had showed this clip on Sunday night as well, and the place erupted both times). Yasiel Puig hit a moonshot to right that Justin Upton caught on the wall, but instead it was only 1-0, though Dodger fans were feeling and acting like it was 3-0.

Crawford came up in the bottom of the third with one out and hit another solo HR (2-0, LA), immediately followed by a strange Mark Ellis double that landed just inside the right foul line. Dodger fans were feeling it, again; the tomahawk chop chant started from behind me, again. But Freddy Garcia gutted through the inning and kept the Dodgers from scoring again, so it was only 2-0.

Between innings, Nancy Bea Hefley played "Master of the House" as Diamondvision tipped its hat to Orel Hershiser, who was in the booth. Orel got a nice round of applause.

And then came the fateful bottom of the fourth. The Braves tied the game after Gonzalez made his second error of the night, turning a likely double play into a no-out, men-on-first-and-second situation. The crowd groaned when both Braves scored to tie the game at 2. And this is where Kershaw's laboring became increasingly apparent; Kershaw didn't look sharp, in fact he looked really tired. In the stands, you could feel the tension rising.

The Dodgers didn't score in the fourth, fifth, or sixth innings, and when Ronald Belisario came out to relieve Kershaw in the seventh, Dodger fans were stunned. If Mattingly wants to go all in for Game 4 with Kershaw, why send the game to Belisario, who has been shaky for over a month now?

And sure enough, Elliot Johnson tripled to right field (which should have been a double, but Puig's defensive aggressiveness caused him to pass the ball as it caromed away and Johnson proceeded to third). Garcia was finally lifted for PH Jose Costanza, a MSB generously listed at 5'9" (measurements must have been taken on platform shoes day). And Costanza singled to center, scoring the Braves' go-ahead run. Belisario was mercifully pulled. The crowd just groaned in derision over this managerial move; you could sense that a Game 4 loss would certainly cause Mattingly's firing over the off-season. J.P. Howell came in to get out of the jam.

Bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers get a two-out double from Mark Ellis, and HanRam gets a IBB. But Adrian Gonzalez fouls out to right field to end the threat. At this point, the Dodgers crowd became incredibly quiet. I had this unique situation where the field level seats in front of my were unoccupied as there was a problem with the seat. So I spent my aggression beating the hell out of the seatback in front of me.

I kept thinking, this is a shitty way to lose the game. Game 5 back in Atlanta is going to suck. We're doomed.

And then, in between innings, they ran a Roy Campanella "Dodgers Legend" tribute. I remember looking over at my wife and explaining to her how awesome Campy was (from what I've read, of course), and how moving that evening at the Coliseum honoring Campanella must have been. The mood was reverent and somber. But the spectre of the Dodgers legend made things seem we had history and tradition on our side.

If there's anyone not steeped in Dodgers history, it's probably Puig, one of the newest members to the team. He led off the eighth with a double to right off of Braves reliever David Carpenter, and suddenly things got loud again. The crowd was back into it...

Except when the following batter, Juan Uribe, crouched over to bunt. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? We had gone through this EXACT situation earlier in the year, and I don't recall the outcome being positive--the key to Uribe's turnaround this year has been his crazy violent swing actually connecting, not his ability to advance runners with sac bunts. I was hurling profanities and epithets. Everyone around me started booing. Two failed bunt attempts and an 0-2 count later, I knew we were going to lose this game.

Until Tim Wallach laid off the bunt sign, and rightfully and finally let Uribe swing. BOOM. Uribe homers to left, just inside the pole. And it was pande-frickin-monium at the Stadium. High fives, people hugging random other people, everyone jumping up and down like they had just won the lottery. And we had. Juan Uribe won the 2013 NLDS lottery for us. And we were going to move on.

Or, to parahprase Bill Plaschke: In one moment, the Dodgers crowd was sad and forlorn. In the next moment, we were going apeshit wild because JUAN URIBE JUST GAVE US THE LEAD!

You've heard the radio call. "Isn't it amazing what somebody will do when he can't bunt."

Juan Uribe. Juan Frickin' Uribe! Sometime after the season ends, I'll take time to reflect on Uribe and his miraculous recovery this year from a miserable first two years of his contract. For now, I'm just in awe of that guy. Wow.

I felt bad for Carpenter, but hey, Dodger fans know that feeling all too well.

Enter Kenley Jansen for the ninth. Exit Braves from the NLDS.

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was left fuming in the Braves' bullpen. And ironically enough, the managerial misstep being discussed after the game had nothing to do with Mattingly, but rather the call by Braves Manager Fredi Conzalez not to call upon Kimbrel for six outs. Whatever. The Braves entered this postseason having issues. Upon Justin Upton's final strike three, the place went nuts.

Dodger Stadium had blue and silver ribbons explode into the sky and cascade down. The crowd reveled to Randy Newman's "I Love LA". And everyone just hung out and partied there for a long while (we stayed for thirty minutes or so to just soak it in; my mother apparently stayed for 90 minutes and saw the players emerge from the dugout and take victory laps on the field, high-fiving the fans).

Much has been made of the Dodgers' partying after the NLDS, as if it was excessive in its celebration (despite there being no stadium pool in which to go swimming). I say: Screw that. This team was left for dead in early June, and here we are advancing to the NLCS, and clinching at home, no less.

We've got eight more wins to get this year. But we deserve the opportunity to celebrate, especially winning a short best-of-five series in which (in baseball in particular) anything can happen. We've earned the right to enjoy it.

I took home a silver confetti streamer, dozens of photos (some of which I'll publish later, as to not try and compete with the Killeens' masterpieces).

And very, very fond memories of the Dodgers advancing to the 2013 NLCS. GO DODGERS!

photos: Crawford: AP / Jae C. Hong;


QuadSevens said...

Awesome recap Sax! I still get chills reading about Uribe's HR. I hope that silver streamer is on your fireplace mantle now.

BJ Killeen said...

wow, that's exactly how I remember it; but I also got a hug from Sax! :-D

We need to all party for one of the games...where's a good spot for us to hang and watch as a group???

Hideo Nomo said...

Postseason SoSG Fest? Hmmmm.

Fred's Brim said...

I love the long Saxy postings

I have felt a little weird about the celebrating in the days after, but at the time, I wanted to celebrate too. I can't remember the last time I had felt so nervous during a meaningful game, and so down and then so up, maybe the 4+1 game. After all that, it really felt like we did something special, and you could tell they all did too, and they let it fly. I would have done the same thing.

I am glad we have time to gradually come down off the high and appreciate it. If we had won Game 4 like this and then lost game 5, it would have been meaningless. I feel like all of this celebrating talk can only bring bad mojo so I a glad we have time to reset and get nervous again for the next series.

Dusty Baker said...

I'm really sad we didn't get to dry hump, Sax. Stoopid overworked cell phone towers.