They pulled off a classic to win Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Thursday. It wasn't the World Series like Gibson's, but it just might help get them there, a stunning 3-2 walk-off win over the Cardinals on Mark Loretta's bases-loaded pinch-hit single for a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five matchup that shifts to St. Louis.
"I don't think too many people gave us a chance of doing that," Loretta said of the Dodgers' underdog status entering the series. "But this team never gives up and that's not just a cliche. We really don't."
This was a game, though, that even the Dodgers thought they lost and should have lost. Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez made the first two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Nobody on, down a run, St. Louis closer Ryan Franklin on the mound and James Loney sliced a line drive right to left fielder Matt Holliday.
But this game started at the unusual time for 3:07 p.m. PT for broadcasting purposes, which meant sun glare and shadows and stadium lights when and where you least expect them.
And with the game and a tied series within his grasp, Holliday had a Bill Buckner moment. He lost the ball in the lights. It clanked off his glove, he stumbled and crawled to retrieve it, Loney kept chugging right into second base and the Dodgers were alive.
"Heads were definitely sinking quick when they saw that ball go up in the air," said Ethier, "and then all of a sudden, you see it's bouncing by him and [Loney's] standing on second base -- that's a turnaround right there."
Casey Blake worked back from an 1-2 count to a nine-pitch walk, one-time Cardinal Ronnie Belliard singled home pinch-runner Juan Pierre on the first pitch to tie, a passed ball moved Blake and Belliard to second and third and Russell Martin walked to load the bases for Loretta, who was 0-for-15 in his career against Franklin.
It should be noted that Loretta wasn't sure he would make the postseason roster and wasn't even sure he had made it because nobody ever told him after Monday's workout.
"I'll assume I'm on it," he said at the time, not altogether convincingly.
But there he was, sending Franklin's 0-1 pitch into shallow left-center to score Blake and trigger the customary walk-off mob scene.
"I was on second and I see the short drive and I was like, 'Wow, look what happened,'" said Belliard.
It was the kind of 200-foot hit for which he's become known in the Dodgers clubhouse, where the word "vintage" was scrawled after the game, as in "vintage Loretta hit."
"I feel like this is the best moment of my career, for sure," Loretta said. "As long as you're on the roster, you have a chance. [Manager] Joe [Torre] had a lot of tough choices to pick. But once you're on the roster, anything can happen.
"The game was already tied at the time, so I felt like all the pressure was on them at that point, and I was fortunate to find a little bit of fairway out there."
|10/3/1947||BRO 3, NYY||WS, 4||Lavagetto double off Bevens|
|10/9/1956||BRO 1, NYY 0 (10)||WS, 6||Robinson single off Turley|
|10/7/1978||LAD, 4, PHI 3 (10)||NLCS, 4||Russell single off McGraw|
|10/15/1988||LAD 5, OAK 4||WS, 1||Gibson homer off Eckersley|
|10/8/2009||LAD 3, STL 2||NLDS, 1||Loretta single off Franklin|
What the loss did to the Cardinals' psyche will be determined later. Manager Tony La Russa tried to put it into words.
"I think it's about as tough a loss as you can have," said La Russa, although he noted that at least his club hadn't been eliminated. "Right now we're feeling disappointed. But we're not discouraged. There's a big difference in the two."
Blake said the Dodgers are now "flying high," but they appeared plenty discouraged as Loney's line drive headed toward Holliday's glove. They nearly wasted an impressive postseason debut by 21-year-old rookie starter Clayton Kershaw, who was charged with two runs in 6 2/3 innings, threw enough strikes to issue only one intentional walk and shook off a slight re-injury to the non-throwing shoulder he separated last month.
They seemed to have wasted a solo homer by Ethier in the fourth inning that countered a solo homer by Holliday in the second. After pushing around Chris Carpenter in Game 1, they were contained by Adam Wainwright, who allowed only three hits in eight innings.
"Wainwright was a horse today," Torre said.
Meanwhile, Kershaw came within a Colby Rasmus RBI double in the seventh from dueling Wainwright on even terms. On the play, Loney made a heads-up cutoff and throw to cut down Rasmus at third base, which could have been a huge run.
"That was a great play," Torre said. "That stopped any further damage."
Torre, who yanked Kershaw all season whenever he was close to 100 pitches, let him bat in the bottom of the sixth and sent him back out for the seventh having already spent 97 pitches. Although Kershaw allowed a home run to Holliday, he kept Albert Pujols in check with a leadoff single, an intentional walk and a groundout.
"This is what you save all those innings for during the season," said Torre. "I was comfortable watching Kershaw pitch today. I thought he responded to the challenge very, very well."
The Cardinals took the lead in the seventh, but Torre was managing in the eighth to win it. He brought in closer Jonathan Broxton an inning earlier than usual because the Cardinals had their right-handed pair of Pujols and Holliday, and Broxton pitched a 1-2-3 inning. George Sherrill pitched the ninth and inherited the victory. Ronald Belisario put down the Cardinals' rally that Kershaw left him as the bullpen checked in with 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
But when Torre pinch-ran with Pierre in the ninth, he was in jeopardy of running out of players.
"You basically push all your chips in at this point," he said. "If that game stayed tied, I had no idea what I was going to do."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.