The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers each moved to the brink of the National League Championship Series yesterday by winning the pivotal third games of their respective Division Series with the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. Here’s a look back on the key points from each game…
Pittsburgh 5 St. Louis 3: This was the game the Pirates had to have. Any realistic victory scenario for them in this series surely had to involve winning with Francisco Liriano on the mound in PNC Park. Liriano was excellent, pitching six innings of three-hit ball and giving up two runs. When Russell Martin hit a sac fly in the bottom of the sixth to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead, it put the game in the hands of their reliable bullpen.
Only Mark Melancon was not so reliable on this day. Carlos Beltran hit a massive home run in the eighth to tie the game and Melancon was frankly fortunate to escape the inning with the score still tied 3-3.
Pittsburgh kept coming though, and Pedro Alvarez continued what’s been a terrific series for the third baseman, as he drove in the game-winner in two-run eighth inning and Jason Grilli closed the door.
I was skeptical of Alvarez when this series began—I respected his power to be sure, but with his low batting averages and on-base percentages, he seemed like the typical hitter who gets shut down by good postseason pitching.
While I don’t second-guess holding that view five days ago, there’s no denying what Alvarez has done–home runs in each of the first two games and the biggest hit of Game 3.
The victory scenario for St. Louis when this series began would have revolved around Adam Wainwright being on the mound in both Games 1 & 5 at home. Wainwright delivered in Game 1, but now the Cardinals only have one more chance to get their ace chance in a decisive game. The season rides on the shoulders of rookie Michael Wacha this afternoon in Pittsburgh.
LA Dodgers 13 Atlanta 6: The redemption of Carl Crawford has to be considered pretty close to complete by now. The left fielder, after enduring a couple miserable years in Boston, so much so that the Red Sox literally gave him away last August in the mega-trade with the Dodgers, had a nice regular season and then came up with the biggest hit in a Game 3 that saw a lot of hitting done by both sides.
Atlanta had grabbed two runs of Hyun-Jin Ru in the first. The Dodgers had countered with a run in the second and had two men aboard. Crawford launched a three-run shot off of Julio Teheran, and Los Angeles would score ten runs by the time the first inning was over.
Yasiel Puig joined Crawford in having a three-hit night. Evan Gattis did the same for the Braves and drove in the game’s first run, showing the bat that persuaded manager Fredi Gonzalez to overlook his defensive liabilities in left field.
Los Angeles has as close to an ironclad grip as its possible to get on a best-of-five series when you’ve already lost a game. The Dodgers can close it out tonight when the Braves send the aging Freddy Garcia to the mound. And even if the series goes back to Atlanta for a Game 5 on Wednesday, it’s Los Angeles who has Clayton Kershaw in their back pocket.
The National League Championship Series begins Friday, regardless of whether or not they are games in either of these series on Wednesday. Should the Pirates and Dodgers celebrate at home today, the NLCS would open in Los Angeles.
MONDAY’S GRAND SLAM
It’s the last big baseball extravaganza of the year, as there will never be more than two games on any day after this point. The schedule is below. The Boston Red Sox join Los Angeles and Pittsburgh in having a chance to clinch.
Oakland-Detroit (1 PM ET, MLB)
St. Louis-Pittsburgh (3 PM ET, TBS)
Boston-Tampa Bay (5 PM ET, TBS)
Atlanta-LA Dodgers (8:30 PM ET, TBS)