The 50,000-plus fans at Dodger Stadium might as well have thrown in their towels instead of continuing to wave them around their heads.
This game was over.
The bases were empty. The Dodgers were trailing by a run and down to their last out.
When James Loney hit what looked like a catchable a line drive toward Matt Holliday in left field, Andre Ethier said he turned his back to the field and started to make his way across the dugout, figuring the game had ended.
“All of a sudden, I heard people go crazy,” Ethier said.
Holliday had dropped the ball.
The most improbable of errors set the stage for the most improbable of comebacks, this one completed when Mark Loretta drove in Casey Blake with a bloop single to center field that lifted the Dodgers to a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday that put them up, 2-0, in their best-of-five National League division series.
The stadium shook. The towels continued to wave.
Loretta was hitless in his previous 15 at-bats against Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin. The only other time he played in the postseason in his 15-year career, his team went winless.
“This is the best moment of my career,” Loretta said.
And, perhaps, the most inexplicable.
The Dodgers’ 12 other walk-off wins this season did nothing to temper their amazement.
“Can’t figure this game out,” third base coach Larry Bowa told Manny Ramirez as they walked out of the Dodgers’ clubhouse together.
Instead of heading to St. Louis with home-field advantage lost and the series tied, the Dodgers will head into Game 3 at Busch Stadium with wins in games against Cy Young Award candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
“That doesn’t really happen too often,” Blake said. “You’d be really lucky to get one of those guys when you face them back-to-back. The fact that we got two wins out of there is a huge, huge boost of confidence for everybody.”
But Blake made sure to add one qualification: “I wouldn’t say we beat Wainwright.”
While Carpenter was hit hard in Game 1, Wainwright held the Dodgers to one run and three hits in eight innings.
Andre Ethier’s fourth-inning solo home run accounted for the only run charged to Wainwright, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth by getting Matt Kemp to ground to first to hold the Cardinals’ 2-1 edge.
Clayton Kershaw’s 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball looked as if they were about to be wasted. So did a perfect eighth by closer Jonathan Broxton, who came out of the bullpen an inning earlier than usual to face Albert Pujols, Holliday and Ryan Ludwick.
Ethier led off the bottom of the ninth by popping up to second base.
Ramirez followed by flying out to center.
Then, Holliday, who hit a solo home run in the second inning, dropped the ball hit to him by Loney. The ball missed his glove and hit him in his midsection. Holliday fell down and Loney reached second.
“I lost it in the lights,” Holliday said. “It’s unfortunate timing, it really is, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort. I couldn’t see the ball.”
Loney said he was in shock.
“Lights, knuckleball, whatever,” said Loney, who was replaced on the basepaths by Juan Pierre.
Blake walked on nine pitches.
“You started to think that destiny was on our side,” said Ronnie Belliard, who singled to center to drive in Pierre and tie the score, 2-2.
Blake advanced to third and Belliard to second on a passed ball. With first base open, Franklin pitched around Russell Martin to load the bases.
Up came Loretta, hitting for George Sherrill.
Then came the hit.
“It felt like I was floating around the bases,” Martin said.
Players charged out of the dugout. Rafael Furcal, who was on deck, threw off his helmet and sprinted in the direction of Loretta, who soon found himself at the bottom of a mountain of bodies.
“It’s feels good when you’re the one to do it,” said Ethier, who had a major league-leading six walk-off hits, “but I had as much fun right there, running out there, trying to be the one to tackle Loretta.”