Dodger-Cardinal Series Brings Drama
In a race for the National League second wild card spot at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers and Cardinals split a four-game regular season series which was last weekend.
That left the Dodgers still one game behind the Cardinals in their hopes of making the playoffs.
When these two teams play, it’s always a heated battle, and the heat was on full blast, literally and figuratively, as the thermometer reached 91 and 95 degrees during the first two night games of the series. But that didn’t stop the fans from coming out to the ballpark as they knew this series would have a playoff atmosphere.
The Cardinals are playing without two of their star players who are both on the shelf due to season-ending injuries. Shortstop Rafael Furcal and right fielder/first baseman Lance Berkman. Former Dodger Furcal was a key component in the Cardinals World Series championship last season along with Berkman.
Ironically, Berkman re-injured his knee when hit by Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw. After a stellar career, Berkman, one of the famous four “Killer B’s,” is contemplating retiring at age 36 after his second knee surgery this season.
“I don’t want to rule anything out, but if you asked me right now, I’m leaning toward not playing next year,” Berkman said. “I don’t want to say for certain because I don’t want to do like Brett Favre and say, ‘I retired; I’m not retired.’ I don’t want to make that call right now, but if you put a gun to my head and demanded an answer, I would tell you I’m probably not going to play next year.”
Berkman hit .301 to go along with 31 home runs and 94 RBIs during the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series championship run.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they’ve had some hot bats to fill in the middle of the lineup. Especially Allen Craig, who moved from right field to first base after Berkman’s injury and seems to be settling in at the clean-up spot, batting fourth.
Craig was responsible for all three runs in the third game of the series with a two-run home run and an RBI single, but still lost to the Dodgers on catcher A.J. Ellis’ walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
Other bats in the Dodgers’ lineup have had to step it up as of late for the slumping star center fielder Matt Kemp, who had just two hits in 17 plate appearances in the four-game series with the Cardinals. Andre Ethier went yard twice during the series and second baseman Mark Ellis also hit one out of the park, as well as third baseman Luis Cruz.
Cruz went 1-for-4, hitting a three-run homer and drove in four runs during the second game of the series. After the home run, the crowd cheered and chanted “Cruuuuuuz!” as they summoned him out of the dugout for his first curtain call in the major leagues.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Cruz said. “I was excited. Everyone was hugging me in the dugout. I’ve seen it a lot of times on TV. I wanted to enjoy it one time.”
Kemp even praised Cruz by saying that if it weren’t for him, the Dodgers probably wouldn’t be in the position they’re in.
But don’t count out Kemp just yet even though he’s been less productive at the plate. He had a defensive gem during the third game of the Cardinals series when he threw out Yadier Molina at third base in the ninth inning as Molina was attempting to stretch a double into a triple. After the game, manager Don Mattingly had tears in his eyes as he spoke about that game-saving throw.
“It’s total, all-out effort of not wanting to lose a game. If he (Molina) gets to third base, we probably don’t win that game. It moves me. It’s one of the best plays I think I’ve ever seen considering all the circumstances of him hitting the wall before, him having a bad night, he’s been struggling, we’re down a run. To me, that’s greatness, I love it.”
As the regular season winds down with 15 games to go, the Cardinals are lucky to play two three-game series against the lowly Astros while the Dodgers have to face three hot teams (Nationals, Reds and Padres) on their nine-game road trip which started on Tuesday.
It seems as if this season might go down to the wire for the second wild card spot, especially between the Dodgers and Cardinals with the Milwaukee Brewers making a late charge.
This is the kind of drama that is definitely welcomed.