Now it’s a given: They won’t give up
The line drive pounded below Matt Holliday’s chest and the dormant Dodgers’ heart started pumping.
A chance . . . a chance . . . a chance.
With two out in the ninth inning of a certain loss, the tying run was suddenly on second base and blue blood was again coursing wildly through Chavez Ravine, fans screaming, Dodgers alive.
A chance . . . a chance . . . a chance.
It pumped through Casey Blake’s arms as he fought through the best clutch plate appearance of the season: nine pitches, three foul balls, one walk.
“A bundle of nerves, just trying to get ahold of myself,” he said.
It pumped through Ronnie Belliard’s wrists as he tied the score with a first-pitch single up the middle.
“I just swing at everything I see,” he said.
Finally, it pumped through Mark Loretta’s mind, the pinch-hitter facing a St. Louis Cardinals closer -- Ryan Franklin -- against whom he was hitless in 15 career at-bats.
Imagine that. You are not only pulled off the bench with the most important game of the season on the line, but you are asked to win it against a guy who has owned you.
“I knew it,” said a grinning Loretta. “But I suppressed it.”
That’s the only thing he held back, as he lined a second-pitch fastball up the middle to score Blake with the winning run in a 3-2 comeback victory that left Dodger Stadium shaking and Dodgers record books stirring.
“I can’t describe it,” said Manager Joe Torre.
This was about more than just the Dodgers taking a two-games-to-none lead over the Cardinals in the best-of-five National League division series.
This was about cementing a dugout belief that could last long past next week.
“Until that last out, nobody ever gives up,” Loretta said.
This was about cementing a Hollywood footprint that will last even longer.
“Man, this is fun,” said Matt Kemp.
It’s only the fourth walk-off victory in Los Angeles Dodgers postseason history and the first since, well, you know who in 1988.
Loretta unwittingly imitated Kirk Gibson in thrusting his right arm into the air as he approached first base.
However, he never had time to find his fist pumps, as Kemp tackled him in the middle of the diamond.
“Nobody was going to beat me out there,” Kemp said.
With more than 50,000 fans stomping and waving white towels, with the old house literally quaking, the Dodgers piled atop each other on the deep green grass, white bleeding into blue spilling into joy.
The dejected Cardinals, some with their arms around one another, trudged around the party shaking their heads.
Are they done? What do you think?
They just lost a game that they were one catchable line drive away from winning. They just blew a brilliant eight-inning, three-hit performance by starter Adam Wainwright.
To win this first playoff round, the Cardinals must now win three consecutive games against a team that has just won consecutive games against their two top pitchers.
And they must do it with a slumping Albert Pujols, a spooked Matt Holliday and a burned Ryan Franklin.
Won’t do it. Can’t do it. Done.
“You have a chance to win a game and then it turns out you don’t,” said the Cardinals’ Holliday. “It’s tough to swallow. Obviously, I feel terrible.”
While the Dodgers rally started with James Loney’s line drive off Holliday -- “I lost it in the lights,” Holliday said -- they set the comeback stage earlier.
There was Clayton Kershaw nearly matching Wainwright, buzz for buzz, giving up two runs in 6 2/3 innings.
There was Loney probably saving a run in the seventh inning by cutting off a relay toss and throwing out Colby Rasmus as he tried to take third after a run-scoring double.
There was Jonathan Broxton, unusually used in the eighth inning with the Dodgers trailing, shutting down the heart of the Cardinals’ order one last time.
Which brought the Dodgers to the ninth, to the unlikeliest of two-out rallies.
No Kemp. No Andre Ethier. No Manny Ramirez.
It was an unimaginable comeback that had actually already been scripted by Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager acquiring veterans Blake, Belliard and Loretta for specifically this purpose.
Talk about a comeback. Colletti has gone from lame duck to cash cow, his new contract in the mail any day now.
Nobody typifies his Dodgers blueprint better than Loretta, an Arcadia native who was brought home at age 38 to share his fearlessness and perspective.
The Cardinals were so sure they could get him out, they pitched around Russell Martin to load the bases so Franklin could face him.
About his hit, Loretta wondered: “What did Vin Scully say about it? I’ll have to ask him.”
That kind of giddiness was evident in a stadium worker who approached me Thursday evening.
“I thought we had lost,” she said. “But around here, everything can happen!”
At first I thought she meant, anything can happen.
But, you know, she was right. These days, around here, everything really can happen.
On a night when a playoff game turned into a revival meeting, everything did.
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