With one hard-hit double on an 11-pitch Matt Carpenter at-bat to ignite their rally, plus four well-placed singles, a hair’s breadth full-count walk, a missed cutoff man (by Puig) and an overthrow of home (by Puig), the Cards did what no other team has done all year: score four runs in an inning off the closest thing this age has to Sandy Koufax.
Then, two innings later, with a third fielding gaffe of the night by Puig further unhinging his team, the Cardinals knocked out Kershaw and hung seven earned runs on him in a mere four-plus innings, more than Koufax allowed in his whole postseason career. By the time the inning ended, the rout had reached 9-0, the forfeit score, and a 19th St. Louis pennant was ready to be unfurled.
The Dodgers, the highest-paid team in the National League, and one of the loosest, arrived here in St. Louis, the temple of sometimes sanctimonious but always precise baseball, to meet their antithesis, a Cardinal team bent on dismantling them to prove a point. We understand baseball; you don’t. We play it right; you goof around. You have talent; we are a team. You talk; we play.
Both teams bought into it, played to it. Before this game, a St. Louis fan, known for making posters, brought an insulting one of Adrian Gonzalez, in Mickey Mouse Ears riding Dumbo, with the caption “Dumbo and Dumber.” He also brought a poster of “Our Squirrel” (the ’11 Cards’ “Rally Squirrel”) and “Their Squirrel” (Puig). Gonzalez and Puig, laughing, walked to the Cardinals’ side of the field, autographed the posters and posed for pictures. See, you’re not getting under our skin. Watch us laugh. Not for long.
Of course, no matter how badly they dismantled the Dodgers before a crowd of 46,899 that was standing in one prolonged ovation as early as the third inning, the Cards don’t really own baseball, though they sometimes act like they invented it. They grate on opponents, which bothers them not at all. And they have moments, like last year’s NLCS, when they blew a three-games-to-one lead to the Giants and were outscored 20-1 in those defeats.
The Dodgers were created — bought, actually — to highlight what the Cards do correctly; and what teams that are assembled, not built, often need years to learn. In the decisive third inning, with one out and none on, the crowd cheered on every pitch as Carpenter, perhaps the Cards’ most valuable player this season, battled Kershaw through six fastballs, three sliders and one curve before finally slashing a double into the right field corner. That might not have ruffled Kershaw, who has gone 51-23 with a 2.21 ERA the last three seasons. But, perhaps, Puig did. On a Carlos Beltran RBI single, Puig threw home, allowing Beltran to move into scoring position. And he did score on a Yadier Molina single.