In 2009, the Dodgers entered the playoffs with the best record in the National League at 95-67. In the NLDS, Los Angeles went up against St. Louis. After three games, the series was over and the boys in blue were moving on.
GAME 1 - Dodgers 5, Cardinals 3 - WP: Jeff Weaver LP: Chris Carpenter SV: Jonathan Broxton
To Dodgers' fans, this might have been the least exciting game of the series. 30 runners were left on base combined between the two teams, Manny Ramirez was 1-for-4, and Albert Pujols was 0-for-3. Randy Wolf started the game for L.A. and gave up a run in the first after loading the bases with no outs. But in the bottom half, Matt Kemp's two-run home run gave the Dodgers a lead they held the whole game.
GAME 2 - Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2 - WP: George Sherrill LP: Ryan Franklin
Every Dodgers fan should remember this game... or at least the ninth inning.
Andre Ethier popped out to second to begin the bottom of the ninth. Manny Ramirez followed him by flying out to center field. And then James Loney stepped up to the plate. The Dodgers first baseman hit the ball to left field and well, I'll let TBLA's David Young tell the rest of the story:
...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...The Beard fell behind in the count, one ball and two strikes. But as Blake battled back... another roar for his hard-earned, nine-pitch walk...the potential go-ahead run on base.
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."... 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... 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 clapping, shouting, whooping and hollering never ceased as ball after ball was pitched to Russell Martin ... the walk issued to the Dodger catcher.
Mark Loretta was announced as the pinch-hitter... Loretta hacked at the first pitch, but only managed to dribble a foul bouncer outside the third base line.... 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!"
GAME 3 - Dodgers 5, Cardinals 1 - WP: Vicente Padilla LP: Joel Pineiro
Manny knocked in Kemp in the first to give L.A. the early lead, the boys in blue added two more in the third and one in the fourth, and Vicente Padilla pitched a masterpiece. Padilla's final line was 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 97 pitches. The Cardinals were finished, and the Dodgers were heading back to the NLCS.
The 2009 NLDS is an interesting series to look back at because in a sense, it was the last time the Dodgers truly won. Over the next three seasons, L.A. won a total of 248 games, Clayton Kershaw was named the NL Cy Young, Frank McCourt sold the team, and the new owners proved to fans they're willing to spend. But in a sense, the Dodgers haven't really won since Game 3 of the NLDS.
The MLB regular season is great, but the playoffs are much better. There is nothing like a packed Dodger Stadium of 56,000 fans watching two teams battle it out after a long 162-game season. And the Dodgers haven't experienced that feeling since 2009 when they swept the Cardinals. Yes, they did make it to the NLCS that year, but we all know what happened in that series. After five games, the Phillies defeated the Dodgers for the second straight year to earn a trip to the World Series.
When the Dodgers make the playoffs, the stadium is packed before the fourth inning. When the Dodgers make the playoffs and win multiple games, the team truly wins. And even though great things have happened to this team since 2009, the team hasn't truly won since that 2009 series with the Cardinals.
So I wonder, what would happen to this city if they made it back to the playoffs with a team like they have now? Would fans bleeding purple and gold begin to bleed more Dodger blue? Would old fans that now love basketball or football more begin to realize how great the sport of baseball is again?
The 2009 NLDS was an incredible series to watch. The team looked happy, the fans looked happy, and most importantly, the team won. Fans look happy when the Dodgers win now, and the team does too, but no where near as happy as they did back in October of 2009.
A magical run like the one in 2009 is something this team, and this city, needs. Kemp and Ethier picked up this team after Manny was suspended for 50 games because of steroids, Kershaw began to show everyone that he had the potential to be a future ace, and the team made the playoffs and won.
This team does have the potential to replicate the magic that spread throughout Chavez Ravine in 2009. But to do that, they need a spark. Something they can all rally around and give them the drive to go on a magical run to the postseason.
If this team wants to make it back to the postseason, and win, they need to look back at the last time they truly won, the 2009 NLDS. To win it all, or at least make it back to the postseason, this team needs to do what it looks like it hasn't done all season, have fun. Because when I watch replays of Loretta and Ronnie Belliard's hits, all I see is a team having fun, and more importantly, winning.