It didn’t look good.
That moment many have feared since Joe Kelly returned to the starting rotation — the moment the league catches up with his magic tricks — appeared to have arrived. Too many pitches. Too many base runners. Too much adrenaline booming through his usually mellow veins.
That was the first three innings. The good news is, it takes at least nine innings to tell the whole story.
Yes, in the first three innings, Kelly struggled. A single, a hit batter, and a wild pitch in the first; another runner at second base with two outs in the second; and a double, two walks, a botched 1-2-3 double play and a base knock in the third, and the Dodgers — behind Zach Greinke — had a 2-0 lead.
But, we know how this story goes. Where Adam Wainwright is the Ace, Michael Wacha is the Boy Wonder, and Shelby Miller is the Near-Perfect Game guy, Kelly is the Escape Artist. He weaves his way into, and then out of, trouble. He ties himself in knots, bound with the chains of one of baseball’s most potent lineups. And yet, he escapes.
It baffles the minds of the sabermetricians. The numbers don’t always add up. He shouldn’t be this successful. He keeps getting lucky.
… I think he gets lucky a lot. And I have nothing against getting lucky.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s living dangerously. All it takes is one ball to bounce a few inches further right of Pete Kozma, and it’s a base hit instead of a double play. There’s something to be said, though, for the fact that after the threat-level red third inning, Kelly allowed just two hits.
Also noteworthy — none of the hits allowed belonged to Hanely Ramierez or Yasiel Puig. Kelly just kept winning the battle of wills. I’d like to see a stat for that.
The offense was a different story. Of course, facing Greinke means not much is going to come easily. As shaky as Kelly looked in the first couple innings, Greinke looked strong. He easily retired the first eight batters he faced, then looked to complete three perfect innings with the opposing pitcher at the plate.
A single, a walk, and a Carlos Beltran two-out, two-RBI double, though, made Greinke look almost human again as Beltran’s October legend grew.
Giving up a hit to the pitcher. More often than not, it comes back to haunt you.
Ten innings and eleven pitchers later, it had become a staring contest — managers Mike Matheny and Don Mattingly countered, odd move for odd move, daring the other man to blink. Their offense wasn’t helping the cause, though each team’s pitching proved why they are the last two NL staffs standing.
The Dodgers had this game won a handful of times. Bases loaded, lead-off walks, defensive miscues, failed bunt attempts by their opponents … perhaps Kelly’s been teaching some of his Houdini routine to the other guys in the clubhouse.
Maybe, though, that’s the real “Cardinals Way” — winning when you’re not supposed to.
Kelly wasn’t supposed to make the rotation. At all, and certainly not in the postseason. He wasn’t supposed to out-dual Greinke (who, by the way, locked it down after the two runs in the third and pitched five more sensational innings and had 10 strikeouts on the night). A bunch of inexperienced rookies weren’t supposed to be able to handle the spotlight and the pressure of posteason play. It appears no one told Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, or Trevor Rosenthal about that. Oh, and Lance Lynn? He wasn’t supposed to be good anymore. Especially not good enough to throw two clean innings and, in the kind of bizarre fate twist only baseball can provide, pick up the win for his efforts.
A lot of things happened contrary to how they should have, but that’s how baseball goes — all the calculations, statistics, predictions, or strategies in the world can tell you only what should happen. This game, though, is won based on what does happen. Which is totally different. When two exceptional teams go head-to-head, the script goes out the window.
One thing did happen just as it was supposed to, though.
After getting the Cardinals on the board, he took it upon himself to eliminate a 10th-inning Dodger threat, calling off Jon Jay in shallow center field with the sole purpose of gunning down Mark Ellis at the plate and complete the inning-ending double play.
Then, with two on and one out in the bottom of the 13th inning in the game that just wouldn’t end, Beltran stepped to the plate. Because, of course he’d be the guy to hit the walk-off base hit to send his now teammates, but former postseason rivals, pouring out of the dugout, deliriously happy to escape from Game 1 victorious.
And just like that, what looked like it was sure to be an 0-1 series deficit heading into a faceoff with Clayton Kershaw just hours later was now a 1-0 series lead with Boy Wonder Wacha on the mound, to be followed in Game 3 by Wainwright.
That’s baseball for you. And if this is a preview of how the rest of the NLCS will go, it’s going to be a fun ride.
Game 2 begins in three hours.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on twitter @tarawellman.