ST. LOUIS — Each game has a moment, a deciding instant in which the outcome hangs in the balance and the victor is determined by which way the needle tips. Saturday’s Game 2 came down to a missed call in the third inning, and a fateful few inches between the baseball in Kolten Wong’s right hand and his mitt in the other.
Lance Lynn and Zack Greinke went toe-to-toe in the encore of Friday’s pitching-duel-turned-slugfest, and the Dodgers entered the third frame boasting only one hit compared to four strikeouts. A.J. Ellis led off with a double, and his battery mate moved him to third with a single. It was one of two hits for Greinke on the night, but it was his presence in the base path that would end up changing the game.
With men on the corners, Dee Gordon hit a chopper to Wong, too soft for a double play up the middle. Instead, the Cardinal second baseman chose to tag Greinke, who was attempting to evade the out while Gordon was racing down the line.
With a split second to make the play, Wong slapped Greinke with his mitt and fired the ball to first. The problem was the two were separate the entire time. The umpire called a double play on the field, but LA manager Don Mattingly challenged the play. After a review, the tag was overturned and the double play was reduced to a solitary out.
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Under review regulations, the umpires had the discretion to place Greinke where they deemed appropriate. They chose second base, even though the Dodger hurler never made it to the bag. In fact, had the call been made correctly on the field, Matt Adams would have had plenty of time to throw to second and catch Greinke anyway.
Instead, the Dodgers had a man in scoring position to go with the run they just scored. A strikeout followed, but Adrian Gonzalez singled to score Greinke one hitter later, giving Los Angeles a two-run lead.
Very little was made of the play at the time, with none of the national announcing team addressing the idea that the Dodgers were gifted an extra out until the seventh inning. Mike Matheny didn’t emerge to argue, and afterward was very brief when discussing the play.
“That's kind of one of those funny plays that probably isn't caught without the replay system right now, which it wasn't. It ended up coming around and not just costing us extra pitches, but ended up costing a run,” he said in his press conference. “But it's a tough play, because your instincts are to reach and Kolten didn't even realize that he still had the ball in his bare hand. But I think it was obvious that that happened and that one came back to get us.”
Matt Carpenter would tie the game in the eighth with his second homer in as many nights, but Greinke’s run would loom large. Matt Kemp answered with a solo shot in the bottom half of the frame, giving LA the lead, and ultimately the win. 3-2 would be the final, and though the third inning was a distant memory by the last out, Greinke’s place on second base was ultimately the deciding factor.
Replay did its job in catching the mistake, but the error still changed the course of the play. From there, approaches, at bats, and decisions were altered. The roadmap spiderwebbed in a different direction, and the new waypoint in the series is a 1-1 tie in St. Louis.
Lynn takes home a no decision, despite a strong six innings in which he fanned eight and mostly scattered seven hits. Carpenter would nearly play the hero again, going 2-for-4 with a double and a two-run bomb. They were tough efforts to see wasted, but optimists can point to the fact the Cardinals escaped LA with a 1-1 split. John Lackey will take the hill for the Cards when action resumes Monday night. Waiting for them will be another moment- a pitch, a swing or a high-bouncing grounder- to define the next turn in the NLDS.
Hopefully it won’t require a call to New York.