Entire baseball games have been played to nine-inning conclusions faster than the forever-to-be-storied seventh inning of Game 5 of the National League division series, and that was not even the most unprecedented part of it.
When he asked Carlos Ruiz to pinch-hit for Chase Utley within the 66-minute inning, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts deployed his third catcher of the inning. Third-stringer Austin Barnes had sprinted to second base two minutes before to pinch-run for Yasmani Grandal.
But Roberts wanted Ruiz to bat against left-hander Sammy Solis, so he threw contingencies to the wind. And, in Thursday's marathon seventh, down in the count, the 37-year-old Ruiz stroked a smooth single through to left field for the go-ahead run in the Dodgers' 4-3 victory.
"He found a way to get it done," Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. "He got down two strikes, and he battled."
The Dodgers traded away fan and ace favorite A.J. Ellis on Aug. 25 to acquire Ruiz, known as Chooch, with the stated purpose of adding a man capable of hitting left-handed pitching. He also entered October with a .380 career on-base percentage in 46 games for Philadelphia.
Although Ruiz did not start against the only left-hander Washington started in this series, he pinch-hit against left-handers three times in the series and succeeded twice. On Monday, he homered against Gio Gonzalez. In Game 5, Ruiz stayed in and caught closer Kenley Jansen and, to his surprise, ace Clayton Kershaw. He missed catching Kershaw's first pitch, but Kershaw said that was his own fault.
"Chooch has been there and done that. I've seen him get big hits against me before. He's been there, and he's calm and confident," Kershaw said. "He's really worked since he got here to get to know our pitchers. He's a guy who works tirelessly at what he can."
Ruiz noted he saw Kershaw wearing running shoes in the dugout during the game's middle innings. He had no idea he might catch the man in the game. But he ended the night embracing the man near the mound.
"I am always getting myself ready for the opportunity," Ruiz said. "I was so happy to be on the field for the last out. That was a big moment for me, because I was almost at the end of my career, and I had a chance to extend it."
The Dodgers sacrificed an extra reliever and put three catchers on their postseason roster so they could use one of their backups to pinch-hit or pinch-run and still feel safe. But, in Thursday's instance, Roberts essentially bet significant money Ruiz would remain healthy. If he had gotten hurt, Yasiel Puig would have strapped on extra catcher gear in the dugout and jogged out to the backstop.
When it was made, the trade was considered disastrous for the club's chemistry and Kershaw's happiness. In his first game, Ruiz missed two pitches from Jansen that helped the Chicago Cubs win.
But Kershaw, best friends with Ellis, soon endorsed Ruiz. And the team followed, continuing to play unfettered baseball.
"That was tough for all of us," Turner said. "A.J. was like a brother to us and a leader in here and meant so much to this team. To see him go was tough for us. But as soon as Chooch came in, we opened up our arms, embraced him, and made him feel like one of us.
"Sure enough, here he is, getting big hits for us."