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NLCS Game 6: “Right field”

It turns out that Peter, Paul & Mary were right in their wonderful song, “Right Field.” It’s important, you know. There were many story lines in the way the Cardinals embarrassed the Dodgers 9-0 to win the 2013 National League Championship Series. Rookie Michael Wacha, making just his 12th major league start, extended his scoreless streak in the series to 13-2/3 innings, defeated probable Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and was named NLCS MVP. Matt Carpenter set the tone for the Cardinals with a stubborn 11-pitch at bat in the third inning that ended with a double to right. Kershaw ended up throwing 48 pitches in the frame, which ended with a 4-0 Cardinal lead. The Cardinals played flawless ball, and it was eerie that they won by the same score that they lost by when the Giants eliminated them in game 7 last year. But there is no better way to fully appreciate the Cardinals superiority and the Dodgers futility than to examine the contrasting games of right fielders Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals and Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers.

The 36-year-old eight-time All-Star Beltran, playing in his fourth league championship series and his 2,109th career game, now has 37 RBI and 44 runs in 45 post-season games. Everything he does on the field is smart and smooth despite limitations from reconstructed knees — his swing, defense and base-running acumen are an instructional video. Beltran finished Friday’s clincher with three hits, including a single that drove in Carpenter for the first run. During one of the first few games of Beltran’s short stint with the Giants he came in hard on a soft sinking liner to right. As he dove, a knee brace dug into the grass, and it looked for a second as though he could have been seriously injured. Thus, it was perhaps the most stunning moment of the series when Beltran went all-out in right-center  field to snare a drive by Juan Uribe, and then crashed to the ground with a jarring slide on his stomach as his momentum took him off his feet.

Puig’s day may very well come. There seems to be too much talent for him not to some day be talked about with the respect that is bestowed on his fellow right fielder. But that day is going to have to wait. Puig’s biggest game in his young pro career was a disaster. He made two errors and struck out twice. He twice tried to throw runners out at the plate that he didn’t really have a shot at, allowing the batter to take an extra base. One of the throws almost landed in the seats near the Cardinals dugout. But one really can’t pin the Dodger debacle on Puig. Kershaw couldn’t survive a five-run fifth, giving up seven runs and 10 hits. Dodgers leadoff hitter Carl Crawford opened the game with a single, but was quickly wiped out when Mark Ellis hit into a double play. A.J. Ellis doubled to start the sixth, but was left stranded. The performance was so uninspiring that you can imagine that many fans watching in Los Angeles switched over to the Disney Channel.

The contrast between the clubs goes beyond the right fielders. The Cardinals had game, the Dodgers had glitz. The Cardinals played with their heads down, the Dodgers said look at me. The Cardinals were old school, the Dodgers were stay after school. The sideshow of Mickey Mouse ears, a bizarre lineup intro by comedian Will Ferrell at Hollywood Stadium, er, make that Dodger Stadium, and the bat-flipping Dodgers got more attention than they deserve because the series didn’t quite live up to the hype. And the weirdest moment of all the extra-curricular activities came after the game six anthem, when Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly got into a stare-down standoff with Dodgers reserve Scott Van Slyke. The background story is that Kelly by tradition is the last player to stand at attention for the anthem. The Dodgers decided to challenge that by having Van Slyke wait him out. The astonished plate umpire, Greg Gibson, had to send both bad boys to their dugouts so the game could start. Van Slyke claimed victory, saying Kelly moved first. Van Slyke explained his actions by saying ” it was something fun to start the game off.”

It was the only fun of the night for the Dodgers.

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