Championship Series off to great start

The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals got the Championship Series stage of the 2013 postseason off to a flying start with an enthralling Game One on Friday night.

The Cards won 3-2 in thirteen innings and left U.K.-based fans wondering whether to go back to bed or just to get on with their Saturday morning with the game ending at close to 6.30 a.m. The latter was probably the option most took as it was difficult to drift off after such an exciting game.

Carlos Beltran once again proved to be an October hero, this time making two decisive plays to add to his postseason scrapbook.

The first came in the tenth inning when his perfect throw from the outfield beat a tagging-up Mark Ellis to home plate where Yadier Molina was more than happy to play the role of base-blocker to preserve the 2-2 scoreline. It looked initially from the TV footage that centre-fielder Jon Jay might take the fly-ball, but Beltran had the better angle to catch and fire and he did so brilliantly.

It was the second impressive outfield contribution to a double-play of the game after Dodgers right-fielder Yasiel Puig caught a David Freeze line drive and then smartly got the ball to first base to double-off Jay to end the seventh inning.

Beltran’s fielding play came with a side story, that of the man who hit the fly ball to him to start it off.

Adrian Gonzalez had walked to lead off the eighth inning and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly decided to take the first baseman out of the game for pinch-runner Dee Gordon. With all to play for in a 2-2 game, Mattingly’s keenness to take a late lead was understandable but it was a gamble considering Gordon still needed to get around from first base and, if he didn’t, the Dodgers would play the rest of the game without one of their most potent threats at the plate.

Unfortunately for LA, Mattingly’s gamble didn’t pay off – Gordon was out at second on a fielder’s choice in the next at-bat and Juan Uribe then grounded into a double-play to end the inning – and the result was that Michael Young took over Gonzalez’s spot in the batting lineup. It was Young who flied out tamely in the eleventh inning to set up Beltran’s double play and Young compounded the situation in the twelfth inning when he killed another Dodger rally by grounding into a double-play.

We’ll never know how the game might have panned out had Mattingly not been so hasty to remove one of his best hitters, but it certainly didn’t help their cause as the game ultimately unfolded and all Gonzalez could do was watch from the bench rather than stand in the batter’s box.

Gonzalez’s watching brief ended in the bottom of the thirteenth inning with the sight of Daniel Descalso crossing home plate to score the winning run. There was an air of expectation and also inevitability as Carlos Beltran stepped into the batter’s box with the game there to be won. Sure enough, he singled into the right field to send the Red Birds to a 1-0 series lead.

It was a great game and a great win for the Cardinals, not least because Zack Greinke was terrific on the mound for the Dodgers. Watching a masterful pitcher snapping off curveballs at will is one of the joys of baseball – unless you‘re the batter trying to hit them – and he struck out all three Cardinal batters with that pitch in the fifth on his way to ten K’s over eight innings.

Game Two of the series begins at 21.07 BST on Saturday and although it’s got a tough act to follow, don’t rule out it being just as exciting as the first with Clayton Kershaw and Michael Wacha on the mound.

Detroit and Boston will then get their series underway at 1.00 a.m. with Anibal Sanchez and Jon Lester taking to the mound at Fenway Park.

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