Thursday, October 13, 2011
Not odd that NLCS is all even
By Nick Pietruszkiewicz
ST. LOUIS -- Did you really expect anything different? Did you expect a sweep? Did you expect the St. Louis Cardinals to stroll back into Busch Stadium after splitting the first two games in Milwaukee and rattle off three consecutive wins and stomp like a Clydesdale straight on through to the World Series? Did you expect that this NLCS would be one-sided, that it would be over quicker than a Tony La Russa pitching change or a Nyjer Morgan alter-ego reference?
Well, then, you haven’t been paying attention. The Cardinals beat the Brewers nine times during the regular season; the Brewers beat the Cardinals nine times during the regular season. And lo and behold, here we are, after four games of this National League Championship Series, because of Milwaukee's 4-2 Game 4 win, and the Brewers have beaten the Cardinals in two games and the Cardinals have beaten the Brewers in two games.
(We interrupt for a quick math break. OK, carry the 1, divide by 2, add 6, subtract 4 ... yep, that makes them 11-11 against each other, which, according to sources, is pretty even).
OK, so it didn’t appear we were headed to splittsville at the outset of Game 4, when the “Tony La Russa Everything I Do Turns Out Perfect” tour seemed to be making another appearance and the “Randy Wolf Postseason Meltdown” show was coming on right as scheduled. Because here’s what happened:
- La Russa moved Matt Holliday down to fifth in the lineup. "[Holliday] is caught between a rock and a hard place. He's missed some key at-bats [because of injury]," La Russa said before Game 4. “I think his hand is all right, but here he is trying to get his stroke and his timing in the most pressure you feel all season, and it's a little bit unfair. So I'm going to keep him out of that 4 spot.” Of course, Holliday homers off Wolf in the second inning to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. It was Holliday’s first homer in 57 at-bats.
- Lance Berkman, named NL Comeback Player of the Year earlier in the day Thursday, is left out of the lineup, replaced by Allen Craig. Of course, Craig, who’s had a grand total of two at-bats in nine days, homers in the third and the Cardinals are up 2-0. And so yes, that would do it, right? The Cardinals would add a few more against a shaken Wolf, and Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse and the bullpen Houdini act orchestrated by La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan would have the Cardinals playing for a spot in the World Series in Game 5. Right?
Um, again, if that’s what you expected, if you had already started digging through stats about what happens when a team leads 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, permit me to ask a simple question: What were you thinking?
This series was, like these two teams, destined to end up even by night’s end.
Wolf, who had been pummeled by the Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series and was carrying around a career 9.00 postseason ERA, suddenly settled himself, not permitting another run before handing the ball to the bullpen after seven surprisingly effective innings.
“I would have left the season, that [in the NLDS] would have been my last start and it would have been a hard offseason for me,” Wolf said Wednesday, on the eve of his Game 4 start. “Just to have that opportunity to pitch again was a very big deal for me. Regardless of what happens, I just wanted that opportunity again.”
The Brewers pushed across two in the fourth, the tying run coming when Jerry Hairston slipped past Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina with a sweet how’d-he-do-that slide. And in the fifth, Ryan Braun, who is hitting .471 in this series (no, that’s not a typo, the man is hitting .471), singled home the go-ahead run after La Russa had summoned his bullpen with the hope of escaping the inning with game still tied. And right there, the Brewers had their first lead since Game 1.
They would not give it back, and so a Game 5 comes our way with the series locked at 2-2.
We should have seen this coming.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz is a baseball editor at ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: