As Joe Lucia wrote last week, Carlos Beltran is a freak in October. As talented and productive as the Cardinals outfielder is during the regular season, he rises to the moment during the postseason.
We saw the latest example of that during the Cards' 3-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday. (Actually, depending on where you watched, the game ended on Saturday as it lasted 13 innings.) Beltran's single off Kenley Jansen drove in Daniel Descalso for the winning run. Yet St. Louis wouldn't have even been in the position for the win if not for Beltran's contributions earlier in the ballgame.
The Dodgers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning, as Juan Uribe continued his 2013 revival with a two-run single that scored Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. Both Ramirez and Gonzalez reached base after being walked by Cards starter Joe Kelly. Those would be the only runs Kelly allowed, but his five walks over six innings demonstrated that he may have been a bit too amped up for his first postseason start.
St. Louis tied the score 2-2 in the bottom of the third, thanks to Beltran's two-run double. Dodgers starter Zack Greinke was burned by allowing a single to Kelly, followed by a walk to leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter. Both of them came around to score on Beltran's hit.
That's where the game stayed for the next 10 innings. Greinke only gave up another two hits over his next five innings, lasting eight overall. He struck out 10, while only walking Kelly. On the Cardinals' side, Kelly went six innings before ceding to the bullpen. Six relievers kept the Dodgers off the board until Beltran's game-winner in the 13th inning.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has taken a couple of gambles thus far through the postseason, but his lucky touch eluded him Friday night.
In Game 4 of the NLDS versus the Braves, Mattingly opted to start Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest, looking to put away Atlanta when the Dodgers had an opportunity to clinch. In that same game, he asked Uribe to bunt during the eighth inning, hoping to move the game-tying run to third base. When Uribe couldn't lay the bunt down, he swung away on a two-balls, two-strikes count, hitting a go-ahead, two-run homer. While both moves may not have played out exactly as Mattingly envisioned, they ended up working out.
But a decision Mattingly made in the eighth inning of the NLCS opener backfired on him and perhaps cost the Dodgers a chance to win the game later on. Gonzalez drew a leadoff walk, but was then pulled from the game for pinch-runner Dee Gordon. Perhaps that wasn't the worst decision, given that the Dodgers had a chance to score the go-ahead run with Yasiel Puig and Uribe up next. The speedy Gordon certainly had more of a chance to score on a base hit than Gonzalez.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Puig grounded into a forceout, which eliminated Gordon from the equation. Uribe followed up by grounding into a double play, meaning Mattingly had nothing to show for his risk and took one of his best hitters out of the lineup because of it.
With the game going into extra innings, Gonzalez's spot in the batting order came up twice. Mattingly switched out Gordon for Michael Young, and that presumably gave the Dodgers a better chance at some run production. But Young went 0-for-2 in his plate appearances. In the ninth, he flied out to right field. That could have scored the go-ahead run, but Beltran threw out Mark Ellis at home plate to get out of the inning. He's not just an October star with the bat, folks.
Young had another opportunity to drive in a run during the 12th, with Carl Crawford on second base. Cards pitcher Lance Lynn intentionally walked Ramirez to face Young and set up the double play. Young obliged by hitting a groundball to shortstop Pete Kozma. Would Gonzalez have cashed in on either of those run-scoring opportunities? We'll never know, of course. But the question has to be asked.
Game 2 of the NLCS is Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 4:07 p.m. ET from Busch Stadium. Kershaw gets the start for the Dodgers, while the Cardinals will counter with Michael Wacha. The game will be broadcast on TBS.