Guest Post: Frank Martinez
Every baseball season, there is the inevitable “What if” team. There isn’t a stat to quantify this, nor is there a known archive to refer to, but every year you can peruse the local online media outlets from an affected fan base and you will have no doubts of who that team is.
The cries are loud, the claims are relentless and after listening to them, you will usually be left empathizing with the fans.
This year, we look to the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles, wait, the only baseball team in LA. The amount of pivotal plays which could have swung the fortunes of the boys in Blue is astounding. So many unlucky breaks which just didn’t go the Dodgers way. Let’s face it, every championship team, no matter the sport, must have some amount of luck in order to become a champion. Laker fans will recall Robert Horry being in perfect position to receive a swatted rebound from Vlade Divac in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. What if he wasn’t standing there? What if Horry had crashed the offensive glass on the errant Kobe Bryant floater, and then Shaquille O’Neals’ failed putback?
Switching to Baseball, what if Nelson Cruz isn’t scared of the right field wall and doesn’t alligator arm the fly ball off the bat of David Freese? If Cruz makes the catch, the Texas Rangers are the 2011 World Series Champions.
Let us examine 3 of the many game changing moments for this years underachieving Dodgers Team.
1. NLDS Game 1 – You know the story, we all do. In fact, the story with live in infamy in a most gut-wrenching way for Dodger Fans. Clayton Kershaw our homegrown Ace. The reigning Cy Young and likely MVP, spread out 2 solo HR’s over the first 6 innings. The Dodger had the lead in Game 1 and then…..things completely fell apart. The dreams of a World Series birth after 25 long years were spoiled. The pesky St. Louis Cardnial suddenly treated our historically dominant ace like a bright eyed rookie in over his head. The Cards strung together hit after hit punctuated by a bases-clearing 3-run double by Kershaw nemesis Matt Carpenter.
What will likely be forgotten amidst the St. Louis onslaught is that the Dodger almost won the game in the bottom of the 9th. What if Puig comes through with one of his excuse me base hits with Ethier on third base? The game is now tied. Puig, a fast runner is on base with the middle of the order facing a shaky Cardinals closer. If Puig comes through, the Dodger may ride that momentum to a Game 1 come from behind win and have two top end pitchers going in Games 2 & 3. Instead, Puig struck out and was in the midst of a 0-9 streak with 7 k’s. The series was never the same.
2. NLDS Game 3 – Bottom of the 7th inning. Dodgers 8 & 9 batters go quietly. With 2 out and nobody on base, Don Mattingly sends up Scot Van Slyke to pinch hit for Starting Pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu. Ryu was coming off of 6th strong innings allowing just 1 run. Donnie rolled the dice thinking Van Slyke could give the Dodgers the lead with one swing of the bat. If even he had, a single run is hardly comforting considering the unreliable Dodger’s bullpen would now need to somehow complete 2 full innings in order to bridge the gap and hand the ball over to closer Kenly Jansen. Instead, postseason clutch pitcher and 2 time World Series Champion, John Lackey, who was himself, breezing through the first 6 2/3 innings, got the overly aggressive Van Slyke to ground out.
What if Mattingly stay with his hot pitcher? If Ryu can get through the 7th, do the Dodger get to the St Louis bullpen? Does Mattingly still bring in Scott Elbert to pitch in the next inning? Do the Cards still erase tie game with their first two batters of the 7th? Does the home plate umpire Dale Scott still make the controversial strike calls in the 9th inning, sending the Dodgers hottest hitter to the bench? Do the Dodger pull out a Game 3 win and a 2-1 series lead? Instead, the opposite happened, forcing Mattingly’s hand to start Kershaw on 3 days rest instead of well rested veteran Dan Haren.
3. Game 4 – Bottom of the 7th inning. Dodgers up 2-0. Soon to be NL MVP Clayton Kershaw is breezing through 6 innings, on 3 days rest. He is atoning for his meltdown in Game 1 just 4 days earlier. Kershaw is dominating the Cardinals line up and erasing the memory of all his playoff failures. Matt Holiday, the first batter of the inning hit a grounder up the middle. Dodgers All Star second baseman Dee Gordon gets to the ball, if he gloves the ball cleanly, he has plenty of time to get the slow runner at first. Instead, the ball hits the side of the glove and trickles away. The Cardinals have the leadoff man aboard. The question arises? Do you pull Kershaw? No way! This is his inning. His time to overcome the haunting ghosts of past failures. All he needs is a double play ball and the threat is mitigated. Maybe a strikeout of the next hitter, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Adams can only tie the game in the event of a homerun.
Peralta hit an average line drive to the up the middle, to the left of short stop Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez leaps and stretches out full extension in an attempt to pluck the ball out of mid air. The ball deflects off the end of his glove and makes its way into centerfield. Two on, nobody out for slugging first baseman Matt Adams.
You know the story. We all do. What happened next will plague Dodger Fans forever. St. Louis Fans will celebrate the moment for ever. After falling behind 0-2 on two sharp fastballs, Kershaw hangs a curveball. Public Enemy no. 1 was lauched into the right field bleachers. Cards 3, Dodgers 2. Kershaw done, Series over.
What if? What if Gordon makes the play on Holiday’s grounder? What if Hanley makes the catch on Peralta’s liner? What if Kershaw doesn’t hang the curve on his 3rd pitch to Adams? If any or the previous 3 do not occur, Kershaw and the Dodgers like get out of the 7th inning and take the lead into 8th with the possibility of using Jansen for a 2 inning save. Dodgers then hand the ball their other Ace in Game 5, at home with the series on the line. Instead, Dodger fans are stuck with the painful results of what happened, on top of the torture of what if.
Some might say that for this years Dodgers team, the breaks and the luck just wasn’t in the Cards.