I did not believe what I just saw. OK, Matt Holliday’s towering two-run smash in the third inning in game four wasn’t exactly on par with Kirk Gibson’s off-the-charts blast in the 1988 World Series, which came 25 years ago on Oct. 15. But I still can’t believe it. An actual home run was finally hit in the National League Championship Series. I have nothing against pitching duels. Hey, give me Marichal vs. Spahn in a 16-inning, 1-0 game. It did happen. I won’t yawn or leave early. Or to move it up to modern times, I’ll enjoy the artistry of the Kershaws or Verlanders methodically shutting down the opposition. That’s still riveting baseball. But today it seems like everybody — from the starters to middle relievers to the set-up guy and the closer are all throwing 98 mph. So after 33 innings of the NLCS, it just felt good to watch someone pop one over the fence. Holliday did more than pop one. That one would have easily cleared the 42-foot high left-field fence at the Dodgers initial home, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That fence had to be that high to offset the 250-foot distance made necessary by the odd configuration in the former track and field stadium. The blast, which propelled the Cardinals to a 4-2 win and a 3-1 game series lead, also had to help bury the memories of Holliday’s 2012 NLCS. Not only did the Cardinals blow a 3-1 lead to the Giants, but Holliday became public enemy No. 1 throughout the series after his game two hard slide into Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro. The home run outbreak was contagious. Cardinal reserve outfielder Shane Robinson, all-world as a college player in 2005. but who only had five homers in 352 big league at bats, provided some insurance with a pinch-hit blast into the left field seats. Two home runs in one game. Go crazy! Go crazy!
GAME 4 NOTES:
* While not official, reports indicate Don Mattingly will return in 2014 to manage the Dodgers. It was sort of bad timing, in that the leak came as the Dodgers played a horrible game, including a balk, catcher’s interference and the devastating pickoff of Nick Punto at second base in the 7th inning. After the Reds let Dusty Baker go, I thought the former Dodger might be a fit as Mattingly’s replacement if ownership chose to make a change. I wondered if Baker might be just the man to guide the raw but talented Yasiel Puig, providing a combination of fatherly understanding and tough love. But something happened in the fourth inning which made me think that Mattingly might be just that man after all. Puig reacted with a tone of anger after Lance Lynn’s pitch in the fourth inning sailed up and in. Remember, Puig had not won any admirers from the Cardinals after his look-at-me triple the previous game, so it’s hard to tell if there was a message attached to that fastball. The cameras panned over to Mattingly, and caught a telling moment. Mattingly calmy put his arms out with his palms down, gesturing to Puig to just relax and in effect, get focused on the next pitch. Puig then delivered an RBI single. That moment provided a snapshot of the big picture of the Dodger season, as Mattingly remained the coolest guy in the locker room during the bad days, setting the stage for the incredible 42-8 Dodger blitz.
* A Giants fan would have trouble concurring with this, but high-intensity games at Dodger Stadium are still special. I recall the enjoyment of that ballpark while seeing some games while visiting Southern California in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — years when the Dodgers boasted some of the best names and teams in baseball. Baseball at Dodger Stadium hit bottom in 2011 with the McCourt ownership fiasco, the dropping of attendance and a loss of some of the family experience which culminated in the parking lot attack of a Giants fan. Watching last night, it did feel good to see this storied franchise and its historic ballpark back in the baseball spotlight. Giants fans should be OK with that, since they know better than anyone that Giants vs. Dodgers is best when both teams are packing their stadiums and battling for a post-season spot.
* Is the series over? While the Cardinals surprisingly played mediocre baseball in the first three games despite having a 2-1 advantage, they clearly tightened it up last night, so it’s hard to see how they could blow this one. I can only think of two reasons why the Cardinals might not wrap it up: Greinke and Kershaw. This series has not been a classic. If the two Dodger aces do step up, however, all that might change.
* With the 25th anniversary of Gibson’s legendary homer having just passed, it is worth touching on it one more time. Gibson’s left leg injury barely allowed him to walk when he pinch-hit against the A’s Dennis Eckersely in the bottom of the ninth of game one of the 1988 World Series with the score tied. The great Jack Buck’s call of Gibson’s home run is one of the tops ever in baseball. Alan Trammel, a former Detroit teammate of Gibson’s, predicted the whole thing when the Dodgers signed the slugger in the off season. Said Trammel: He thrives on late-inning pressure situations, He’s going to strike out with the bases loaded, but he’s also going to come through with some of those big hits.” Indeed.