At this point in his 15-year Major League Baseball career, Mark Loretta's job description has been simplified for the most part to watching from the dugout and staying ready, waiting for his chance to affect a game with his bat.
Easier said than done, particularly when the former St. Francis High standout has been sitting on the bench for the better part of nine innings, as was the case in Thursday's second game of the 2009 National League Division Series between his Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.
The first-year Dodgers utility man came up with the biggest hit of the team's season so far and the biggest of his own career, softly lining a pitch from Cardinals' closer Ryan Franklin into shallow left-center field with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie ballgame to deliver a 3-2 walk-off win and send Los Angeles to St. Louis for Game Three on Saturday with a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
â€œI don't think too many people gave us a chance of doing that,â€ Loretta told mlb.com regarding the Dodgers' two-run, two-out rally in the ninth. â€œBut this team never gives up and that's not just a cliche. We really don't.â€
Were it not for a two-base error by St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday on James Loney's slicing fly ball hit right at him with two outs in the ninth inning and the Cardinals leading, 2-1, Loretta never would have picked up a bat on Thursday.
Holliday's gaffe was followed by a nine-pitch walk drawn by Casey Blake and the next batter, Ronnie Belliard, singled on the first pitch he saw from Franklin to score pinch runner Juan Pierre from second and tie the game at 2.
Blake and Belliard each moved up on a wild pitch to Russell Martin, who eventually walked to load the bases for Loretta.
Loretta, who signed a one-year contract with the Dodgers for $1.4 million last offseason and was not even a sure bet to make the postseason roster assembled earlier this week, was 0 for 15 lifetime against Franklin, who finished the regular season with a 1.92 earned-run average and 38 saves.
â€œUnfortunately, I did know the numbers,â€ Loretta told the Associated Press. â€œI really didn't have a lot of nerves. I felt like all the pressure was on them at that point. I was fortunate to find a little bit of fairway out there.â€
Loretta's 200-foot bloop was the fifth postseason hit of his career. He went four for 15 (.267) with two runs batted in playing for the 2005 San Diego Padres in his only previous playoff appearance. He batted .232 (42 for 181) on the season with 25 RBIs and 19 runs scored.
â€œI feel like this is the best moment of my career, for sure,â€ Loretta told mlb.com. â€œAs long as you're on the roster, you have a chance. [Manager] Joe [Torre] had a lot of tough choices to pick. But once you're on the roster, anything can happen.â€