The Dodgers came into game 4 of the National League Division Series vs. the Braves up 2 games to 1 in the best of 5 series. The Braves were already in big trouble in this elimination game and then got word that Clayton Kershaw would start even on short rest. Atlanta would counter with Freddy Garcia, which made it look like a lopsided pitching match up. Manager Don Mattingly said Kershaw came to him after game 3 and said he would be ok to start on 3 days rest. I agree and like that decision as you want your best pitchers especially in a short series. This way they have Zach Greinke if it goes to game 5. The Braves finally got to Kershaw in the 4th inning after MVP candidate Freddy Freeman lines a leadoff single. Then a second error of the game by Adrian Gonzales as Evan Gattis hit a sharp grounder to him in what looked like it would be a double play but Gonzo’s throw was wide allowing everyone to be safe. After a wild pitch, Brian McCann struck out. Then Chris Johnson lined his second hit of the game to left field to make it 2-1. They had first base open but decided to pitch to the national leagues second best average hitter this year. A fielder’s choice tied it up at 2-2. Kershaw wasn’t as sharp as usual but still was pitching well as the game entered the 5th inning but his pitch-count was already above 60.
A few big differences in this series were the Dodgers coming together as the season went on and the team getting healthy. The Braves as they were beset by injuries and lost some key players for the season including starting veteran pitcher Tim Hudson. In addition, they lost key relievers Johnny Venters, O’flaherty and Brandon Beachy all to arm injuries. Starting second baseman Dan Uggla struggled with vision problems and was left off the post-season roster and their big free agent signing of BJ Upton to team up with his brother Justin didn’t work out as he hit a pitiful .184 with over 150 strikeouts in less than 400 at-bats. Manager Freddy Gonzalez did an admirable job with what he had.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers overcame a slow start and almost fired Mattingly as they were 20-32 before going on a tear even without star player Matt Kemp doing much as his season was filled with injuries. Andre Ethier had an average year and got hurt late in the season but one of the team’s strengths was their depth with key players like Shumaker and Punto helping pick up the slack. It was big to have Hanley Ramirez return to his clutch and high average hitting, Gonzalez providing consistency batting close to .300 with 100 rbi’s, Crawford igniting the offense in the leadoff position and of course rookie Yasiel Puig providing the biggest lift with his hot hitting and aggressive play to inspire and electrify the team while batting well over .300 all season. He did make some mental throwing and base-running errors but the positive far outweighed the downside. Without him, they wouldn’t be where they are now. The pitching got better and was dominant at times with Kershaw leading the league in ERA for the third straight year (1.83 this year is his career low for one season) going 16-9 as he is a top favorite to win his second Cy Young award. Signing free-agent Greinke to a huge contract seemed to be a mistake early especially when he was injured in a bench-clearing brawl after hitting Carlos Quentin who took him down. However, he rebounded to go 16-3 with an ERA under 3.00 to go along with Korean rookie Ryu and late season addition Ricky Nolasco to form a tough rotation. Kenly Jansen was dominant as their closer and picking up setup man Brian Wilson (pitching a scoreless 8th inning) helped solidify the bullpen.
The new Dodger ownership and management has gone to full extremes to bring back winning to Los Angeles baseball at no expense so they deserve to be proud for themselves and the fans.
Back to the game in hand as after 6 innings, it was still tied at 2-2. With Kershaw’s number of pitches getting high, Mattingly put in Belisario to start the 7th to work on the lower end of the Brave’s lineup. Belisario has been up and down all year so this move was risky and it showed as Elliot Johnson finally got his first hit of the series with a triple down the right-field line and scored the go-ahead run when pinch hitter Jose Constanza followed with a line single to center. JP Howell came in to face Jason Heyward and keep the game close and struck him out. He walked Upton before retiring Freeman on a groundout to first. David Carpenter came in the bottom on the 8th to face Puig and the Dodgers. Puig led off with a double down the right field line. Juan Uribe came up next and there was talk at the start of the season about releasing him in his final year of his 3 yr. $21 million contract. His first 2 yrs have been a big disappointment but he battled and hung in there. It all paid off one one swing of the bat on a hanging curve with 2 strikes after he failed to bunt Puig to third base as he launched a 422 ft. HR to left to put LA up 4-3. Kenley Jansen came in to strike out the side and put the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series vs. the Cardinals in a best of 7 game series.
The fans went wild when Uribe put them up by a run and the stadium was as loud as it gets. You couldn’t have asked for a more exciting finish to a tough battled back and forth game. Mattingly was ecstatic and was so proud of all his players including Uribe and Kershaw. He is also happy not to get on a plane and giving his team a day off tomorrow. He also showed his class congratulating the Braves and Manager Gonzalez on a great year and great bunch of players and coaches. I asked Kershaw on the post game interview how is arm felt as the game went on and if he wanted to stay in and he said he felt fine and he never wants to come out of the game. He also said he didn’t want to take anything for granted and the playoffs are something special.