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Dodgers-Cardinals Game 1 was a tale of two emotions for winners

Dodgers-Cardinals Game 1 was a tale of two emotions for winners
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has some words for Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina shortly after teammate Yasiel Puig was hit by a pitch in the third inning. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

If you ask the St. Louis Cardinals, there were two at-bats in the first game of their National League division series with the Dodgers that defined their team.

One carried with it a note of caution, the other they wore like a badge of honor following a 10-9 victory on Friday night.

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The first came in the bottom of the third inning, with the Cardinals leading 1-0. St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright threw a fastball up and in to Dodgers center fielder Yasiel Puig -- a little too up and in as it turned out -- and hit him.

In last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cardinals also pitched the Dodgers tight, with Joe Kelly drilling Hanley Ramirez in the ribs and knocking him out of the series. So the Dodgers took this one personally, with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez verbally challenging Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina that ignited a shoving match, which emptied both dugouts as well as both bullpens and led the umpires to issue warnings to both managers.

"I didn't hear what he said. But I can read lips. And he was screaming at me," Molina said. "I told him, 'If you want to scream at me you've got to be ready to fight.' I won't let anybody talk to me that way.

"But it's part of baseball. We're competing. We've got a bunch of respect for them. They're good.  A great team."

If the Cardinals deserve credit for standing their ground, though, the Dodgers deserve credit for getting in their heads. Later in the same inning, Molina was unable to make a throw on a stolen-base attempt, costing the Cardinals a run, and he let a wild pitch get away, allowing a Dodger runner to advance to third base.

Then in his next at-bat, Molina struck out on three pitches.

Molina is an emotional player, and he's lost his cool and focus on the field before, which is where the note of caution came in. Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny quickly pulled Molina aside and told him his team needed him and he needed to put his dispute with Gonzalez aside.

Which brings us to the seventh inning, when a refocused Molina singled off a tiring Clayton Kershaw to load the bases. Two singles and two outs later, the bases were still loaded when Matt Carpenter came up with the go-ahead run at first. And this is where the Cardinals showed the other traits that have defined their season: heart, resilience and determination.

Those things allowed the Cardinals, given up for dead in the NL Central race, to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers and win the division title on the final day of the regular season. Friday against Kershaw, Carpenter fell behind in the count, 0-2, then staged a rally of his own, one that ended with a three-run double that put St. Louis in front to stay.

"We just never quit," Carpenter said. "We were down a bunch but kept fighting."

And while one win won't decide the series, Carpenter said beating Kershaw at Dodger Stadium was worth more than just one victory.

"Just look at what was on the line," he said. "They threw their ace. They expect to go out and win, and we found a way to win. And this is the first game of the series.

"Winning the first one in any series is a big deal. We've still got a lot of work to do, but this is a big one."

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