We'd seen enough comebacks this year to know that we shouldn't give up hope. The St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright had been tough - the Los Angeles Dodgers had managed only three hits - but this was still only a one-run game, and Andre Ethier, the 2009 walk-off king was leading off. Sure, Ethier was facing a left-handed relief specialist, but his last walk-off home run was against a LOOGY, so we knew there was still a chance.
Ethier got ahead in the count 2-1 as our section stood on their feet, cheering loudly and hoping to see another magical Andre moment. Ethier worked the count full, working us up into an even louder, hand-clapping, whooping frenzy, but he ultimately popped up after an eight-pitch at-bat, causing us to let out a massive, collective heavy sigh.
As the pitching change took place and St. Louis' closer, Ryan Franklin warmed up, the murmuring in the crowd was hopeful for a Manny Ramirez moment to occur; after all, Manny was due, wasn't he? Off to my right, as Franklin settled in for his first pitch, the chant began, "Man-ny, Man-ny". On a 1-0 pitch, a momentary roar rose up as the ball left Manny's bat and ascended toward the sky, but another sigh was let out as it became clear that this was an ordinary fly ball destined for the center fielder's glove.
With what seemed to be the best two chances at game-tying heroes retired, a bit of the wind seemed to be taken out of our sails. But with James Loney at the plate, the first two pitches were balls and a bit of hope could be felt as we continued to stand and the noise level grew. We might just see the tying run get on base here. One strike later, the ball was lofted into left field, too low to be a fly ball, too soft to be a line drive. Our eyes shot out to left fielder Matt Holliday and our cheers started to wane toward silence as it became apparent that he can make the play to end the game and even the series. Suddenly, our section erupted in an unexpected roar as the ball caromed off Holliday to the grass at his feet and Loney motored into second base. Bonus - not only did the error keep the game alive, but also the tying run was now in scoring position.
Casey Blake, a fan favorite, strode to the plate in a key moment. We were all standing, unified in our cheering, then in our groaning when The Beard fell behind in the count, one ball and two strikes. But as Blake battled back, the cheering grew louder, broken only by a sharp inhalation when he fouled a fastball straight back that looked to us like he just missed squaring it up, and culminating with another roar for his hard-earned, nine-pitch walk, which put the potential go-ahead run on base and ratcheted up the hope in our section.
As Ronnie Belliard moved from the on-deck circle to the plate, I said to no one in particular, "Franklin's breaking stuff doesn't have anything like that nasty downward movement of Wainwright's. He shouldn't be able to make Belliard look as totally foolish as he had looked earlier." The cheering intensified with the situation and roly-poly infielder didn't keep us waiting long. The first pitch was sent on a line up the middle and as it became clear the ball was going to land in center field with pinch-runner Juan Pierre racing home uncontested with the tying run, we shouted at the top of our lungs and jumped up and down giddily. These magical 2009 Dodgers had created late-inning magic again, and the offense, throttled for eight innings, had risen up and tied the game. A two-handed high five was shared with my wife to my left, similar high-fives slapped with the strangers become friends behind me, then with the cheerful woman to my right with whom I had engaged in some conversation during the game.
The cheering seemed constant now. There was new life in a tied ball game, and now we realized that the winning run was in scoring position. The clapping, shouting, whooping and hollering never ceased as ball after ball was pitched to Russell Martin, with the decibel level managing to increase on the passed ball that advanced the runners, and the walk issued to the Dodger catcher.
Mark Loretta was announced as the pinch-hitter, but we could feel a little pessimism creep in when, following a four-pitch walk and four of five batters receiving a first-pitch ball from Franklin, Loretta hacked at the first pitch but only managed to dribble a foul bouncer outside the third base line. Nonetheless we regrouped and started up our cheering again, remaining standing as we had the entire inning. The pitch was thrown, Loretta swung, and contract was made, but not sharply. We inhaled as the ball floated in the air, but it cleared the infielders like a well-placed John McEnroe drop-shot clears the net, then struck the outfield grass in front of a charging Colby Rasmus, who reached the ball on a hop but had no play to make, much like the dumbfounded McEnroe opponent caught on his heels.
Bedlam! Pandemonium! Hysteria! A come-from-behind bottom of the ninth had turned what looked like a 1-1 NLDS series with home-field advantage shifting to St. Louis into a commanding two games to zero lead! Overwhelmed with more joy than I have ever felt in Dodger Stadium, I wrapped my arms around my wife, jumped up and down, and screamed words like "UNBELIEVEABLE!" in a small-scale imitation of Matt Kemp bear hugging Loretta in the celebration taking place simultaneously on the infield. We all continued to shout uncontrollably as I spun around again to the row behind me for vigorous high-fives, then to the woman to my right - whom I had never met before in my life before this game - and we threw ourselves into a celebratory hug. "OH YEAH!"
We all stood in our rows, still roaring loudly, but transfixed by the baseball miracle we had witnessed before us. The cheering continued unabated for minutes on end, even as post game interviews with today's hero, local boy Mark Loretta (St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge), were shown on the video scoreboard. Eventually, people began to file out of the stadium, but we were all letting out shouts and exchanging hand-slaps as those in the aisles passed those of us still in our seats, knowing that we had all been part of something amazing. I remained at my seat and soaked in the atmosphere, never wanting the moment to end, and we stayed until we absolutely had to leave. There was no rush for me to depart from the best Dodger game I had ever attended in forty years of being a fan.