“That was the turning point right there,” Molina acknowledged. “I’m frustrated I didn’t come through.”
Molina, in fact, almost singlehandedly kept Greinke in the game. In the third inning, with the score 2-2, he came up with runners on first and third and one out and tapped back to the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. If you were keeping score at home, that’s two at-bats, five runners on base, four outs.
The Cardinals, largely thanks to Molina, had missed their chance to knock out Greinke. The latter suddenly was untouchable, retiring 13 straight batters beginning with Molina’s second double play — until Mattingly lifted him for a pinch hitter after seven innings and 104 pitches. It seems reasonable to assume, given that relatively light workload, that Greinke could be able to contribute out of the bullpen in a potential all-hands-on-deck Game 7.
“It’s always a mental battle, a physical and mental battle against them,” Greinke said of the Cardinals. “I was trying to make adjustments before they do.”
When they faced each other in Game 1, Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly nearly matched Greinke, delivering six solid innings in a pitchers’ duel that ultimately wasn’t decided until the 13th inning. But four days later, Kelly simply didn’t have the same effectiveness. The Cardinals actually had their bullpen up in the second inning, when the Dodgers scored twice on RBI singles by Juan Uribe and Greinke.
When Gonzalez homered off Kelly to break a 2-2 tie in the third, the Dodgers’ first home run of the series, he flashed what appeared to be a mouse ears sign to his dugout — a cheeky reference to remarks by Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who accused Gonzalez of “Mickey Mouse” behavior during the Dodgers’ Game 3 win.
“Just having fun,” Gonzalez said.
As the Cardinals’ final chances came and went — including the would-be rally in the ninth against Jansen — it was easy to imagine the Cardinals of 2006 or 2011 — or even the 2012 division series — pulling something out of thin air, some game-winning, pennant-clinching miracle, then heading back to St. Louis to rest up for the World Series.
But this is 2013, and the Cardinals are discovering what everyone else learned long ago from playing them: The last one is the hardest to lock down.