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NLCS Game 2: Dodger Dog Days

The pitiful offense in the first two games of the NLCS almost makes you yearn for the good old days when the ball and the players were juiced. If a fan tosses a beach ball near home plate at Dodger Stadium on Monday, my guess is that the batter would swing at it and miss. Home runs are so 2012. This is a series for chicks who dig the sacrifice fly. You can thrill some of the baseball fans with overpowering pitching some of the time, but you can’t thrill all of the fans with just overpowering pitching all of the time. In 1858, all-star teams from ball clubs in Brooklyn and New York met in the first ever paid admission baseball games. The three-game series drew 15,000 to a baseball field carved out of the middle of a Long Island race track. The final scores of the games were New York 22-18, Brooklyn 29-8 and New York 29-18. Fans liked these scores, the game caught on and until these first two games of the NLCS, it seemed to be a very exciting sport. Of course, in those Long island games, the pitchers threw underhand and the idea was to let the batters put the ball in play, I say, let’s try that on Monday night. I want 10-9, I want bases-loaded triples, I want to see a ball actually go over the fence in fair territory. And I’m not going to get carried away, having to use up all my adjectives trying to tell the world that the Cy Young Award should now be named the Michael Wacha award. The kid looks good, he’s a nice story, but he’s still more than 500 wins behind Mr. Young.

GAME 2 NOTES:

* The Cardinals are in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 series lead after their 1-0 win, but they’re lucky if their small number of base runners could find home plate with a GPS. St. Louis has four runs in two games. They had two hits Saturday. They didn’t really beat Dodger aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, they just survived them. While 2-0 seems formidable, so did 3-1 last post season. The Cardinals then collapsed as the Giants rolled to wins of 5-0, 6-1 and 9-0. Sooner or later, you’ve got to hit. The Cardinals are supposed to be a sound fundamental team — that’s one of the reasons they got this far. But right now, they look like a spring training “B” squad. Center fielder John Jay converted a routine single into a triple by taking a bad angle to the ball; Jay failed to sacrifice a runner when Greinke pounced on his poorly positioned bunt; second baseman David Carpenter’s ill-advised throw to second in game two put the Dodgers on second and third and none out; the Cardinals got a leadoff triple from Carpenter in game two but couldn’t bring him home. Not even Dr. October, aka Carlos Beltran, could do the job. And one more time with Jay: He became the “offensive” hero Saturday with a sacrifice fly after failing on a squeeze bunt attempt with David Freese at third. Jay then had the good fortune to lift a rather short fly ball to left field instead of right field. Freese scored easily as Carl Crawford delivered an off-speed and off-line throw in the vicinity of home plate. Freese would probably not have even tried to score if the ball was hit to right, where you try to advance at your risk by testing the rocket arm of Yasiel Puig.

* Speaking of Puig, I keep thinking about how tough 10 at bats (he’s 0 for 10) can be for a rookie in a big post-season series. A young player can shine in the regular season, but then things can turn dark when the stakes get high as good pitchers bear down and each at bat becomes a pressure situation. Willie Mays faced that reality in the epic 1951 three-game playoff against the Dodgers. Mays hit 20 homers and drove in 68 runs in 121 games after he was called up, helping spark the Giants with his bat, speed and defense. But Mays went just 1 for 10 in the playoff, with no RBIs or extra base hits. This is not to suggest that Puig is or ever will be Willie Mays, but his potential to change the game is just one swing away. Hitting coach Mark McGwire will earn his money if he can explain to Puig during the Sunday off day that the game plan is to work him soft low and outside and then bust him with heat over the inside of the plate. Puig’s mission should be just line-drive type contact — trying to hit three-run homers with nobody on base is not a championship formula.

* The series MVP as of now should go to Cardinals first-game starter Joe Kelly, who drilled Dodger star Hanley Ramirez in the ribs with a fastball. Ramirez entered the NLCS red hot after tomahawking the Braves with an 8 for 16 performance. In games where runs are rare, the loss of Ramirez from that one pitch might be the single biggest moment of the series. This raises the question: Should the Dodgers have retaliated? No one is saying Kelly intended to drill Ramirez, but old school baseball might have drawn a response anyway. Intentional or not, you’ve go to protect your star.

* Game 3 is the biggest game the Dodgers have played in quite a while. Perhaps they should channel their Dodger past for inspiration to break out of their 19-inning scoreless streak. I would direct them to a similar situation in 1962. The Dodgers had Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam, Willie and Tommy Davis, Frank Howard, John Roseboro and others, but they just could not score when it counted. It was game two of the three-game playoff against the Giants, and through five innings the Dodgers trailed 5-0. They had now gone 35 consecutive innings without scoring a run. Then they scored seven times in the sixth to take a 7-5 lead. The Giants tied it, but the Dodgers won it in the ninth. How did the winning run score? You guessed it — a sacrifice fly..

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