When the Dodgers meet the Cardinals on Friday with the Gateway Arch framed in center field to start the National League Championship Series, we’ll see a clash of baseball worldviews and a collision of regional cultures, too.
The Cards have always hugged Midwest virtues while the Dodgers loved movie stars in the box seats and star power on the field. But this year both teams are such extreme versions of their traditional selves it’s just delicious.
For generations, the Cards have believed in hitting the cutoff man or going to bed without supper. Yasiel Puig thinks the cutoff man is there to give him a good sight line on his actual target, a 100-yard heave to third base or home on the fly to showcase his hose. Other runners? What about ’em?
In St. Louis, they think running hard to first base is next to godliness. Hanley Ramirez isn’t totally sure you have to run after balls that are actually in play, not if you’re in a bad mood and prefer to walk after it, like that day as a Marlin when he strolled toward the tarp as runners circled the bases.
Cardinals players, in the mold of Stan Musial, keep a low profile, never cause trouble and aspire to play for one team in one town for eternity. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford arrived in Los Angeles last year because Boston couldn’t stand the sight of them — or their contracts — and gave them away, along with Josh Beckett , for nothing.
St. Louis teams are drilled in fundamentals and are often greater than the sum of their parts. They don’t need superstars if it means paying them $250 million. That’s why Albert Pujols is now an Angelic anchor around the neck of that other Los Angles team for the next eight years. The Cards are doing just fine with Allen Craig, David Freese and Matt Carpenter, none of whom can be identified by anybody who lives beyond the reach of KMOX.
The Dodgers are always better, or worse, than their collective parts depending on whether Pisces is in the fifth house of Kasten or the number of Miley Cyrus wannabes in the Chavez Ravine box seats. The Dodgers have more stars than Orion. Matt Kemp ($160 million) is out for the season, but you hardly notice since Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, Zack Greinke backs him up and five other Dodgers are playing under contracts with an average value of over $100 million. If you don’t make $60 million, the clubhouse guy won’t pick up your wet towels.
In St. Louis, the populace believes that if a shirt has buttons, God meant for them to be buttoned, all of them. In L.A., you’re lucky if anybody, man or woman, wears a shirt at all. In St. Louis, you dress up for the Cards. At Dodger Stadium, if all 10 toes aren’t exposed, they won’t let you in the gate.
In St. Louis, everybody is friendly and gracious to visitors. If your team loses, they say, “Better luck next year,” while thinking, “Fat chance. Our Cards are anointed by Branch Rickey and washed in Bob Gibson’s sweat.” At Dodger Stadium, it’s friendly, too, unless you wear a Giants jersey in the parking lot. Then “Pulp Fiction” breaks out.
The Dodgers manager is Donnie Baseball. L.A. does nicknames, like an owner who’s Magic. The Cards manager is, come on, you remember, it’s Mike — sound it out — ma…THEE…nee. Before succeeding Emperor Tony La Russa I, Matheny played 1,305 games, won four gold gloves and never did one memorable thing. Baseball said, “Who? This guy’s never even managed in the minors?” The Cards said, “He’s the next baseball genius.” So far, the Cards don’t look wrong.
This season, the Cards had so many pitching injuries they had to call on seven pitchers age 21 to 24 with a combined 6-8 career record. No problem: farm system. Young Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal are easy to identity. They’re the ones you can’t hit. Their average fastball speed is, “Thanks for coming.”
When the Dodgers have a pitching problem, they solve it the Lotus Land way — they go to Rodeo Drive and buy the biggest baubles. If you’re a free agent who may not be not worth the money, long term, but you’re valuable today (Greinke, $147 million), Stan wants to talk to you. If you’ve only pitched on the opposite side of the planet, you’re perfect (Hyun-Jin Ryu, $36 million). If your team can’t afford you, you’re probably a Dodger already (Ricky Nolasco).
The owner of the Cards is Bill DeWitt Jr., whose father owned the St. Louis Browns. Baseball is in his blood. The owner of the Dodgers is “the founder and CEO of Guggenheim Partners, LLC, a privately held global financial services firm.” What’s that? Guggenheim is where Alan Schwartz, the CEO of Bear Stearns when it blew up and ignited a world financial crisis, landed his next swell job.
St. Louis fans wear sunglasses to help them get a bead on foul balls. Dodgers fans wear sunglasses because they know Paris Hilton will.
Because Don Mattingly gambled and won by starting Kershaw in Game 4 to close out the Braves, the Dodgers rotation is in fine sequence with Greinke for Game 1 and Kershaw on regular rest for Game 2. The Cards had to burn the house for firewood to escape the Pirates, so their rotation is kind of a mess. It’s Joe Kelly, fifth starter and sometimes reliever, starting Game 1. Ace Adam Wainwright isn’t available until Game 3.
If better talent decides this NLCS, the Dodgers win. If better baseball players do, it’s the Cards. For perversity, and there’s plenty in this series, L.A. wins in six with the Cards using Kelly twice but Wainwright only once while L.A.’s Greinke and Kershaw get to work four of the first six games.
When Heartland and SoCal collide, it’s Cardinal red and Dodger blue, button up or get out your high-heel sneakers. Perfect matchup: It’s so on.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.