LOS ANGELES -- This being Los Angeles, the Dodgers are never far from the intersection of Hollywood glamour and baseball drama. There is the retinue of celebrities who attend games at Dodger Stadium, the endless parade of movie references between innings on the scoreboard, and the "Think Blue" sign nestled into the hills beyond the leftfield wall that calls to mind the iconic Hollywood sign just a few miles away. And against a back wall of their home clubhouse is a faux a movie poster, showing a jubilant bunch of Dodgers piling on each other after a walk-off win that reads "The Dodgers star in ... THE COMEBACK KIDS" and a tagline promising "It's never too late."
The poster is dated July 16, but here we are almost three months later and that same movie is still showing, and if the reaction of the more than 51,000 fans in Chavez Ravine on Thursday was any indication, it's still playing to rave reviews. Outpitched, outhit and outplayed down to their last out in Game 2 of their NLDS against the Cardinals, the Dodgers rallied for an improbable victory in the bottom of the ninth inning that featured a dropped fly ball by a man who had made just one error in the past three months, a passed ball by the best defensive catcher in the game and a pair of bloop singles to score the tying and winning runs by two players who had been reserves for most of this season, all of which resulted in a 3-2 Dodgers win and a 2-0 lead in the NLDS.
This being the Dodgers, whose very season has featured enough dramatics to fuel a Best Picture nominee, rightfielder and co-star Andre Ethier, grinned and said. "It was magic."
This being October, there is no accounting for the bizarre behavior that determines outcomes and renders scouting reports, statistical analysis and common sense moot. Sometimes a ball gets lost in the lights. Sometimes the team that should win doesn't. And sometimes baseball still manages to find new ways of capturing our imagination. This time it was, as hard-luck Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said afterward, "one really weird inning."
This postseason has its first unforgettable moment, even if it is one the Cardinals would like very much to forget. Just one out removed from a 2-1 win and a tied series, Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin induced a routine fly ball to left by Dodgers first baseman James Loney. Only it wasn't so much routine as it was rueful, for it was the one ball in 1,000 that outfielders dread. It intersected with the bright lights that were trying to compensate for the late afternoon gloaming and as soon as it did, Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday lost it. Soon enough, the Cardinals would lose the game, but afterward all the talk was about the one that got away.
Loney, who smartly hustled into second to get himself into scoring position, admitted thinking the game was over. "My first thought was, Oh man, don't catch it," he said. Amazingly, Holliday didn't, the ball missing his glove entirely and hit him in the stomach, a literal shot to the gut to go with the figurative one that soon awaited the rest of his teammates.
"I couldn't see the ball," said a somber-voiced Holliday as he stood barefooted in front of his locker in the cramped visitor's clubhouse afterward. "I lost it in the lights. At that point, you hope it hits your body. I had it in the beginning, but as the ball came down it went in the lights." He shrugged. "That's it. It's a pretty deflating feeling. I feel terrible."
Critics will be quick to blame the unusual start time and the odd lighting as prime culprits for Holliday's misadventure, but he quickly defused those theories. "The light in the sky didn't make a difference," he said.
Across the clubhouse, Cardinla rightfielder Ryan Ludwick could only offer sympathy for his depressed teammate. In the bottom of the sixth, he had struggled to find a soft liner by Rafael Furcal when it too went in the lights, and by the time he saw it again, it had fallen in for a hit. Ludwick, who had a similar problem in Game 1 on Wednesday night, compared trying to find a ball in that situation as "like staring at a ball in the sun. When it gets in white lights and it's a white ball, it's hard to see. Sometimes it doesn't come out."
Neither Ludwick nor Ethier felt that Dodger Stadium's rather unique configuration -- as a triple deck structure it's taller than almost every National League stadium, with six banks of lights scattered about -- but it wasn't a surprise to either. "Those low, medium line drives are tough everywhere," said Ludwick.
"I've lost two or three balls this year," said Ethier, who admitted that both rightfield and leftfield are equally problematic in his home park. "That's probably the fifth or sixth time I've seen that happen here this season. It's not like the lights are a small spot, it's a very big surface area."
This being baseball, superstition abounds, which is why as soon as Ethier admitted the "magic" at work in the Game 2 win, he hastened to add, "We stole one. It was magic and we stole one. It's both."
Ethier and Loney were all that remained in the home clubhouse, two of the young stars who have played leading roles in getting the Dodgers to within one win of a sequel appearance in the NLCS. Across the hall, the Cardinals were quickly exiting their own clubhouse, hoping to exit this horror show and get home. They still stand a decent chance of returning to Los Angeles, with yet another edge in starting pitchers in Game 3, the possibility of bringing back Chris Carpenter in Game 4 and even Wainwright, who was brilliant on Thursday and said he would pitch again "as soon as they give me the ball", to pitch a possible series finale in Game 5.
As Albert Pujols walked out of the clubhouse, he started to head to the right, but stopped to ask directions. After he got his answer, it was suggested to the Cardinals fearsome slugger that at least now he'd know which way to go when the Cardinals return to Los Angeles for Game 5 next Tuesday. Pujols laughed, and continued going to the right, where he opened a door and found a waiting crowd of Dodgers fans who immediately shouted "It's Pujols!" and surged, cameras and autograph pens at the ready. He closed the door and headed back, and the fans couldn't help but wonder if they'd missed their last chance this season to see the game's best player.
Don't bet on it. The Cardinals may be down 2-0, but if Thursday's drama taught us anything, it's that the script can be rewritten at any time. This being October, more theatrics await.