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Anatomy Of An Amazing Dodger Comeback

NLDS: Cardinals vs. Dodgers
Dodgers Lead Series 2-0
Game 1 Dodgers 5, Cardinals 3
Game 2 Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2
Game 3 Sat Busch Stadium 3:07pm
Game 4* Sun Busch Stadium 12:37pm
Game 5*   
Oct 13   
Dodger Stadium 6:37pm / 5:07pm
*if necessary All times Pacific
All games televised on TBS

I still can't believe the Dodgers won yesterday.

They were done.  Finished.  Kaput.  As James Loney stepped into the batter's box against Ryan Franklin with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning, the Dodgers' chances of winning the game were roughly 4.1% (thanks to the fine folks at Fangraphs).  As Loney lofted a lazy liner to short left field, I had already mentally prepared for a pivotal game three with a tied series Saturday in St. Louis.  I have a tradition this season of posting a "We Win" photo, that used to run in the Cheers opening credits, as soon as the game is complete.  If I had a similar "We Lose" graphic, I would have jumped the gun and posted it as the fly ball was in the air.  I'm telling you, it was over!

Only, it wasn't over.

We all know what happened next.  Holliday lost the ball in the lights, or he was distracted by the waving white towels (that weren't actually waving), or he was busy mentally calculating his paycheck next season after signing a $100+ million contract this winter.  Whatever happened, Holliday didn't catch it, and the Dodgers were given new life.

However, we must remember the Holliday play didn't end the game.  Look back at the play log from Fangraphs, and you'll see that after Loney reached base the Cardinals were still 86.7% favorites to win.  There was still a game to be blown, and not by Holliday.  Just like Bill Buckner, who got too much blame for Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (the Red Sox already blew a two-run lead with two outs before his error), Holliday shouldn't bear the brunt of the burden.

Earlier in the broadcast of Game 2, Vin Scully was talking fondly of Rafael Furcal's sacrifice fly in Game 1.  The fifth-inning run gave the Dodgers some insurance and breathing room, turning a 3-2 game into a 4-2 game.  more importantly, it was an 11-pitch plate appearance by Furcal.  It helped get Chris Carpenter out of the game after five innings, and allowed the Dodgers to get access to the Cardinal bullpen earlier than expected.  Scully said it was the type of at-bat that wins championships.

Casey Blake had a similar plate appearance yesterday.  Following Loney, Blake hit with pinch-runner Juan Pierre on second base.  After falling behind 1-2, Blake took a nine-pitch walk, with tension dripping off every pitch.  Each pitch brought Dodger Stadium to a heightened level of excitement.  As Dylan Hernandez noted in the LA Times, the Dodger clubhouse all pointed to Blake's walk as a turning point:

"The hero of this game was Casey Blake," Belliard said.

Two lockers down, Rafael Furcal shared that opinion.

"The at-bat by Casey Blake is the at-bat that won the game," he said.

First calling Blake's plate appearance a "turno" -- the Spanish word for at-bat -- Furcal quickly corrected himself.

"El turnazo," he said.

Translation: Great at-bat.

Blake's walk was great, but the Dodgers still trailed, albeit with two runners on base.  The Cardinals were still setting pretty with an 84.1% win expectancy.

Up stepped Ronnie Belliard, in the lineup for over Orlando Hudson because Joe Torre likes the way Belliard has been swinging the bat lately.  Belliard delivered again, tying the game with a single to center, easily scoring Pierre.  Dodger fans now breathe a sigh of relief, no longer trailing, defeat no longer imminent.  In fact, with Russell Martin stepping to the plate, the Dodgers were now favored to win, with a 60.5% win expectancy.

Martin worked a four-pitch walk from a rattled Ryan Franklin, loading the bases for pinch-hitter Mark Loretta.  Loretta, to put it kindly, has not had a good season.  He hit .232/.309/.276 on the season, and there were good arguments to be made to leave him off the postseason roster entirely.  In fairness, the Dodgers have had a short and pretty weak bench all season, and Loretta was asked to do things he shouldn't have been asked to do.  Loretta's role should have been to hit against lefties, against whom he hit .273/.364/.345 this season.  I'll take that OBP from a bench player any day of the week.  However, Loretta was the primary pinch hitter against everyone for the first five months ofthe season, and he struggled mightily. After starting out blazing hot as a pinch hitter, Loretta went ice cold:

Mark Loretta as Pinch Hitter, 2009
Through May 15 14 8 3 4 .571/.667/.643 1.310
May 16-end of season   46 6 4 2 .130/.167/.152 .319
Regular Season Totals   60 14 7 6 .233/.303/.267 .570

However, as Phil Gurnee noted, all that changed with one at-bat, one swing, one Dodger win.

The playoffs are a crazy beast.  Fortunes can change just like that.  The Holliday error was huge yesterday, but it wasn't the only reason the Dodgers won.  Game 2 was a reminder that Yogi Berra was right: baseball is never over until it's over.