ST. LOUIS — “Hope is the refusal of the inevitable, a hand lifted to the clouds, Hope is what makes us humans, for when reality threatens to destroy us, we reach inward, and we create Hope.” - Lex Luther
Lex Luther may be the world’s most famous villain, but St. Louis might want to launch a rebranding exercise. Because if Clayton Kershaw is baseball’s Superman, the Cardinals are his arch nemesis.
The battle began early, when Randal Grichuk opened the scoring in Game 1 of the NLDS by hitting the seventh pitch from Clayton Kershaw out of the park to left, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. It was an improbable early lead on baseball’s best pitcher, and though Adam Wainwright dealt with a dicey first inning, St. Louis appeared to be in control.
But Chavez Ravine wouldn’t remain so accommodating. Wainwright’s second inning of work was similarly troublesome, and after six outs, the Dodgers had tallied four hits and left four on base while the Cardinal ace labored through 44 pitches. He was hanging on by a thread, and in the third inning, it broke.
Plagued by control issues all game, Wainwright put the leadoff man on in the third frame when he hit Yasiel Puig. Adrian Gonzalez took exception, and when Yadier Molina responded with anger, the benches cleared.
Order was shortly restored, but Wainwright’s control of the game was tenuous. Dodgers fans were on their feet, the players were electrified and two outs later a single by Hanley Ramirez was followed by a Carl Crawford double, and Grichuk’s solo shot was overtaken as LA took a 2-1 lead.
Kershaw smelled blood, and launched a relentless assault on the Cardinal hitters, retiring 16 straight at one point.
Meanwhile, Wainwright fought for his pitching life. At times, he seemed only to command his curve ball, leaning on it heavily. LA would get two more runs in the fourth, and Wainwright’s night ended after an A.J. Ellis two-run shot in the fifth. Wainwright’s line - 4.1 innings, 11 hits and six runs – seemed far worse because of the sheer dominance of Kershaw.
But the Redbirds were not done by a long shot. Matt Carpenter sent a jolt of life through the St. Louis dugout with a solo shot in the sixth, closing the gap to 6-2, for the Cards’ second hit of the night. But The Man of Steel was in control with only nine outs to go.
Matt Holliday became the first actual Cardinal base runner when he slapped a ball up the middle for a single. Jhonny Peralta joined him two pitches later with a single of his own, and when Molina hit the first pitch for a third straight hit, the Cardinals were tugging on Kershaw’s cape.
Three straight hits off the Dodger ace was improbable, but a fourth seemed impossible, especially after Matt Adams got down to his final strike. The big lefty would defy the odds, lifting a ball into center and giving the Cardinals new life. An out would follow, but Jon Jay’s single continued Kershaw’s transformation back into Clark Kent, drawing the game to 6-3.
Another strikeout left the bases loaded for Carpenter with two outs, setting the stage for a rematch of Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS. Seven pitches followed, with Carpenter fouling off three two-strike offerings and taking two balls. On the eighth, he ripped a ball to right center for a three-run double, the end of a surreal string of hits against Kershaw, who left the game having struck out 10, walked none and had nothing but a 7-6 deficit to show for it. Matt Holliday padded the lead with a three-run homer off Pedro Baez.
The inning closed with a 10-6 Cardinal lead, and though the Dodgers would claw back to within one run, Trevor Rosenthal closed the improbable win with a strikeout of Puig to strand the tying runner at third.
Friday marks the third straight postseason game the Cardinals have won against Kershaw, and it was by far the most inexplicable. After six innings of near-abject futility (two swings aside), the Birds awoke in time to pick up six hits in eight at bats off a pitcher allowing less than one an inning on the season.
Call it perseverance, grit, luck or simple playoff magic, but it’s starting to look like Superman’s Kryptonite isn’t green after all.