And when Ethier and Ramirez made two quick outs in the ninth, it really felt like the end. We were on our feet when Loney got to a 2-2 count. The rally towels were out (more on that later), Vin was talking to us indecipherably on the helmet radio, and though we wanted to believe, it just all seemed so unlikely.
Then the ball left Loney's bat, and it looked like Matt Holliday would have an easy catch. It looked like the game was over, the Dodgers had lost game two, and they would have a long flight to St. Louis for game three. Looking back now, I feel like the stadium went completely silent when that ball was in the air. But that's probably not what happened; it's probably that what happened next caused some hearing loss, and I'm still recovering.
Because Holliday dropped the ball. He appeared to lose sight of it, and before we knew it, the ball had bounced off of him and Loney was standing on second. Holliday's teammate, and tonight's starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, blamed the drop on the white rally towels that the Dodgers handed out, calling it "unfair" that the Dodgers give them to the fans. There are a number of things wrong with that statement, the first of which being that it defines the idea of a "sore loser." Secondly, it's not as though fans were only waving those towels when the Dodgers were batting. I was there; there wasn't some big conspiracy to distract Cardinal players. I waved my towel while hoping for a strikeout of a Cardinal batter more than once. Third, the Dodgers aren't the first to use white towels, and they won't be the last. Fourth, as Jon Weisman points out, fans weren't waving their towels when the ball was in the air. I know I wasn't. I dropped my towel in disgust and despair, and almost started the long walk to my car before the ball even got to Holliday. But to put in another--and more succinct--way: shut up, Wainwright.
I've lost the point here, which is that Loney was standing on second base with two outs and the Dodgers down by a run. I won't lie; I still didn't think we had a shot to win this game. I thought this would be the one little bit of false hope that the Dodgers would give us before the game ended. But Blake came up and had one hell of an at-bat, walking on nine pitches. That at-bat might be lost in the rest of the story, but it kept us alive and it was nerve-racking as all get-out, but so fun to watch. And then came Belliard. In stark contrast to Blake's patience, Belliard swung at the first pitch and knocked a ball up the middle. Pierre, who was pinch running, came around to score.
I don't know that the word "pandemonium" can accurately describe the stands at Dodger Stadium at that moment. I thought we couldn't get louder or crazier. I would turn out to be wrong about that, but at the time it just felt impossible that things could get any more extreme. I hugged Christine, we high-fived strangers, we waved our towels, and at that point I might have started to believe that we were actually going to win this game.
Russell Martin walked, and then Loretta came up to pinch-hit. And I knew he would do it. I just knew that the veteran Loretta would know what was necessary to get the job done. Now, maybe it was just lucky that he hit a bloop that landed in short center field, but I think he knew what he was doing. Put the bat on the ball, and see what happens. That's what Loretta did, and that's what won the damn game.
That ball took forever to finally drop in the outfield, and even though I could tell it was going to drop long before it did, I couldn't go crazy until I saw it hit the grass. And when it landed and Blake came around to score, it made the previous craziness that had followed the Belliard single seem like high tea at Buckingham Palace. I went nuts. More hugging, more high fives. I screamed forever. I sang "I Love L.A." then stopped singing when they stopped the audio so we could hear Mark Loretta speak to TBS (though I don't know who in that stadium could hear a word Loretta said). The crowd didn't start filing for the exits. We stayed, and we watched the celebration, and we cheered some more. When we finally started to make our way out, the "Let's Go Dodgers!" chant was ringing down the concourse. Guys were standing in the middle and high-fiving anyone who walked past. Strangers screamed at each other as they walked by. In cars all across the parking lot, people were playing "I Love L.A." on their stereos. I did the same when I got to my car and drove past hordes of people walking to theirs.
I went to lot of Dodger games this year, and a lot last year and the year before. I was there when the Dodgers clinched last year, and when they finished off the Cubs in game three of the NLDS. But I have never been a part of something like this game. And I wasn't even going to get to a playoff game this year, but some tickets fell into my lap at the last moment. And so now, when this game gets played in highlight packages about the Dodgers over and over again for years to come, I can say I was there.
Want to feel like you were there? Watch this video of the ninth inning (starting with Loney's at-bat), combined with Vin Scully's call, courtesy of MLB. I'll post some pictures tomorrow.