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Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Minotaur A-Mazes: Dodgers 4, Cardinals 3 (10 Innings)

The maze may not be real, but the Minotaur certainly is. Clayton Kershaw came out of the gate overthrowing even on his warmup pitches, something Helen noticed, and it immediately showed up in his taxing first inning. He managed to strike out Skip Schumaker after going all the way with him, but he walked Brian Barton on four pitches and Pujols doubled behind Barton to give the Redbirds an early 1-0 lead. Regrouping, Kershaw struck out the next two batters, and faced the minimum over the next three frames. He got in and out of a man on second jam in the fifth, but whiffed Brendan Ryan to end the frame. He gave up another run during a sixth inning rally, but overall, it was a masterful performance by the rookie, who kept Albert Pujols in the yard and the game within reach for his team, a fine outing by any yardstick.

Kershaw really only showed us two pitches, his hard 95 MPH heater and his jaw-dropping high-70's 12-6 curve, one of which elicited a called strike three on Troy Glaus to end the first. With only two pitches and an emerging circle change, he'll be vulnerable the second time through the league (and maybe not even that far into the future), but the 15-20 MPH difference between his pitches should earn him a ton of whiffs until then.

The Dodgers answered Pujols' first inning double from an unlikely source, with Luis Maza getting his first major league home run, and thus ensuring Andy LaRoche will have to wait at least another two weeks before Ned punches his ticket. In fairness, Maza actually had a fine game, getting two hits, the second an infield single in the eighth that chased reliever Russ Springer. Like the Dodgers, the Cardinals have a lot of nasty weapons out of the bullpen, and that got Tony LaRussa to call in Ron Villone, who squelched the nascent rally.

The game went into extras after a weird ninth in which Takashi Saito allowed a pair of infield singles but struck out two of the three batters he faced; he struck out the side in the top of the tenth, and for good measure, caught Pujols looking and Ludwick as well. That brought the bottom of the tenth out, and pinch-hitter Terry Tiffee. Tiffee shockingly got a single in his first at-bat of the game and season, and his first major league at-bat in two years. Juan Pierre followed that up with a narrowly missed double play ball that was supposed to be a sacrifice; instead, he hit it straight back to the box, easily erasing Tiffee at second. As it turned out, that bit of boneheadedness turned out to be a net positive for the Dodgers, because it put a far faster runner on base.

Unfortunately, Joe Torre seems to still be laboring under the assumption that Mark Sweeney is a useful pinch hitter. He really isn't, and when Cardinals reliever Mike Parisi struck him out looking, things started looking awfully grim for the Dodgers. Good for them, then, that Andre Ethier hit a solid line drive single to score Pierre from second (he had arrived there thanks to a wild pitch in Sweeney's at-bat), though you could just as easily argue that Tiffee might have scored as easily from second. However they did it (and stumbling over themselves offensively wasn't pretty), they did manage to put another win in the books. Kershaw, sadly, will have to wait another day to get his first win, but that takes nothing away from his excellent first outing.

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