TOP OF THE THIRD: DODGERS 4 (0) – 0 CARDINALS
Dave Roberts is looking out at Busch Stadium from the top step of the dugout, a Brooklyn “B” on his cap—the revived emblem of a team gone for California a quarter-century before his first birthday. The backs of their jerseys still have names, the helmets still read L.A., and the era we’re meant to revisit feels lost in the HD online stream of digital 2016ity. Cousin to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles.
Leading off the inning is Andrew Toles, at the tail end of his first major-league month—newest bearded Dodger inducted into the hirsute tradition maintained by Justin Turner.
Cue here the great Vin Scully, lest we forget his eloquence on the subject, delivered in the middle innings of a Padres game earlier this year:
“Way back to the dawn of humanity beards evolved, number one, because ladies liked them—and number two, it was the idea of frightening off adversaries and wild animals. In fact, it was so serious, if you look it up, that there’s a divine mandate for beards in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. There became a time when Greek dramatists mined the popular prejudice against clean-shaved men.”
— SB Nation (@SBNation) May 1, 2016
Mike Leake delivers home with a slider for St. Louis. Toles hits a hard ground ball to second, pulling Greg Garcia over behind the mound, then diving, popping up and rushing a throw to first. Just late, and an infield hit for Toles, with the throw high and Matt Adams leaping off the bag to catch it. Dirt on Garcia’s shirt, doing the splits as he watches the ball fly off the mark to first.
“The speed,” they say on the Dodgers’ telecast, “it never slumps.”
Joc Pederson follows, his bat set up in a tight vertical wiggle. Red and blue tape wound around the handle. His hands drop and he swings as the pitch arrives, slapping a single on the ground past Adams at first, into the outfield. Toles heads to third. None out.
And up next is our pitcher, Kenta Maeda, first-year import from the NPB, long-time pitcher for the Hiroshima Carp—with a Jerry O’Connell arc to his eyebrows, and a great front-crawl warm-up routine that I can only assume he brought over with the move.
And the Carp, familiar for two reasons—wearing the identical colors and logo of the Cincinnati Reds (C for Cincinnati, C for Carp), and for their inclusion in Haruki Murakami’s great tale of baseball, inspiration, the sudden creation of an author.
Maeda looks down to the third-base coach, with the goofy grin of a man well knowing what he’s meant to do. No sign needed. He nods, steps back into the box, and squares up for the bunt.
He knocks it into the ground toward first. Leake Charges. Adams charges. Leake gloves it, turns toward home, chickens out from the throw, Toles sprints for the plate on the squeeze, and the Cards turn to first for the consolation out. Nobody home. Adams off the bag, Garcia missing the cover. A repeat of last year’s NLDS, Game 2.
Toles pops up from the dirt, sliding home for the game’s first run. The blue of an L.A. flag raises up above the Dodgers’ dugout. The squeeze, at Busch Stadium, is back.
On the replay, Cards’ catcher Alberto Rosario raises his knee in the gesture of secondhand embarrassment, a full-body cringe mirrored by half the stadium. “Throw it!! Ooohh…oh!! …shit. shit shit. Shit…”
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 23, 2016
Chase Utley comes up next, silver fox of the major leagues. Another bunt! Slaps at the ball in a drag to first, rolling it hard all the way to the bag. Adams snags it and lays on the tag, as Maeda makes it to second, doffs his helmet, a dyed auburn ‘do mussed up and freed.
The infield hits, unbeatable formula for the sneaky lead, continue on. Corey Seager rips a one-bouncer to short, pulling Diaz out of position, and the throw comes late with the ball across his body. Maeda waits for the throw, times it, then takes off for third. Seager safe at first.
And then, Justin Turner, the “Animal,” the inning’s bearded hero number two, breaking up the ground-ball festival with a double slotted deep in the air to right-center, one bounce to the wall. Seager and Maeda score. A few quick at-bats. No mound meetings, no delays. Dodgers ahead 4-0.
Dodgers 3B Justin Turner meets his doppelganger, The Muppets’ Animal
— Liz Habib (@LizHabib) July 25, 2016
And it’s at this moment, a pause in the action, Mike Leake on the mound praying for relief in the hot July heat—I remember a bit of Spanglish once heard relayed mid-lesson from a language teacher. The verb “leak” + the spanish gerund form –ando. The roof, he’d said, is leakeando. El techo está leakeando.
The Cardinals, after the best week of their season, after an extras walk-off the night before, have slipped back into slip-ups. Mike Leake, the rest of the Redbirds, in pursuit of the first-place Cubbies, están leakeando.