ST. LOUIS -- The Los Angeles Dodgers had the dominant starting pitcher, opportunities to run away with the game and the stronger bench for extra innings.
The Cardinals had a Beltran.
That was all they needed.
Carlos Beltran singled to right field to score Daniel Descalso and deliver a 3-2 victory early Saturday morning in the 13th inning of Game 1 in the National League championship series. Beltran, baseball's Mr. Octubre, drove in all three of the Cardinals' runs, and even saved the Cardinals in the 10th with a throw to the plate to apprehend the potential go-ahead run.
The Cardinals outlasted an overwhelming start by LA righty Zach Greinke by making the most of the few opportunities they had. Beltran's two-run double in the third inning tied the score, and the Cardinals got only one runner safely to second base until the 13th inning. Daniel Descalso's pinch hit and Matt Carpenter's one-out walk brought Beltran to the plate with the winning run at second. Beltran turned on a 3-1 cutter for his second hit of the game and the Cardinals' first walk-off win in the postseason since Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
"He's a tough out for us," LA manager Don Mattingly said.
The win, which Lance Lynn earned with two scoreless innings of relief, gives the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. It also guarantees them at least a split at home against two of the stingiest starters in the majors. The Dodgers came to St. Louis bearing trouble with Greinke, fourth with a 2.63 ERA, going in Game 1 and Clayton Kershaw and his league-leading 1.83 ERA coming into Saturday's Game 2.
Before Beltran's game-winning hit came his game-saving throw.
In the 10th inning, Jon Jay misplayed a potential single into a triple for Mark Ellis that put the go-ahead run 90 feet from a lead with only one out. Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out two in his perfect ninth, intentionally walked No. 3 hitter Hanley Ramirez to face Michael Young, who had subbed in for cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez in the eighth. Young lofted a pitch to right-center field. Beltran, who has the better arm, waved off Jay, caught the ball, and fired an arrow home.
His throw beat Young on a hop and Yadier Molina held on and tagged Young on the arm for a double play that ended the inning and kept the score tied. That contributed to the Dodgers' one-for-10 night with runners in scoring position and 11 left on base.
"If the rest of this series is like this game," Mattingly said, "it should be a good one."
It took a catch not made more than a pitch misplaced for the Cardinals to tie the score on the dominant Greinke. The best team in baseball when it came to scoring with two outs -- they led with 287 runs and a .305 average with two outs and runners in scoring position -- the Cardinals got that chance in the third inning. Greinke struck out the first two batters, but Cards starting pitcher Joe Kelly skipped a single to left field for the Cardinals' first hit of the game. Carpenter, who brought a .053 average into the game, worked a full-count walk to bring Beltran to the plate.
Mr. Octubre carried a .345 average and the highest OPS in postseason history (1.214) to bat with him. He laced a line drive to right-center field that had just enough hang time for a center fielder to track it down.
Andre Ethier did not.
Back in the lineup from an ankle injury and starting in center field for the first time since Sept. 13, Ethier made a leap at the wall to try to snare Beltran's bolt. The ball got past the glove and dropped to the warning track for a two-run double.
As unerringly expedient as Greinke's first two innings were, Kelly's were complicated and filled with hazards. The Cardinals' righty, in his second postseason start, struck out leadoff hitter Carl Crawford on three pitches. Nothing else was that simple again for Kelly. As the first inning progressed, he skipped pitches in the dirt, struggled to relocate the strike zone and invited a rally from the Dodgers before squelching it.
A single by Ellis was followed by a fastball into Hanley Ramrez's ribs to put two on base before Kelly had two outs.
A wild pitch put them both in scoring position.
Catcher Yadier Molina came out to the mound to calm Kelly down. The righty recovered, trusted Molina enough to spike a curve in the dirt with a runner in scoring position and then fed Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig a series of breaking pitches. He got both of them fishing at an offspeed pitch for consecutive strikeouts and an escape hatch to the messy inning. It took Kelly 20 pitches to navigate the first inning. Greinke completed his first inning in eight pitches. He had six outs by the time he threw his 23rd pitch.
With Greinke having retired the first six Cardinals he faced, the Dodgers capitalized on Kelly's charity for two runs in the third inning. Kelly walked Gonzalez on four pitches to load the bases with one out. He got a comebacker from Puig for an out at home, but two walks would catch up to Kelly. Juan Uribe, who had four RBIs in the division series for LA, skipped a first-pitch fastball from Kelly up the middle to score both Ramirez and Gonzalez for a 2-0 lead.
As Kelly groped for the strike zone through the third inning, Shelby Miller started to warm up. As Kelly tried to find a third out in the fifth inning, Lynn started warming up. Miller and Lynn combined for 30 wins during the season and yet were recast for Game 1 as long relievers. Either could draw the assignment to start Game 4 depending on whether they're needed earlier -- or where the series stands for the Cardinals at that point.
Although he took the scenic route, Kelly finished with what he usually provides the Cardinals: a quality start. He weathered the early turbulence and pitched six innings, allowing only the two runs on six hits. Eight of his 15 starts in the regular season were also quality starts. When the bullpen was ready to rescue him in the middle innings, Kelly had the only flawless inning of his night, a three-up, three-down fourth inning on seven pitches. And, yet, when he finally did turn the game over to the bullpen, it was tied, 2-2.
Greinke came to St. Louis with only other NLCS history coming against St. Louis. In 2011, Greinke was the Brewers' ace and the Cardinals split his two starts and left him with an 6.17 ERA in 11 2/3 innings. The Cardinals scored 11 runs off him, but three were unearned in the game he eventually lost at Busch. He avoided any of that unearned nonsense by simply keeping the Cardinals off base.
Greinke had a postseason career-high eight strikeouts by the end of the fifth inning. Four of his first six innings were perfect, and before Kelly's groundball single with two outs in the third inning the Cardinals had only one ball out of the infield as Greinke retired eight straight.He had a Cy Young-winner's assortment to utilize.
In the third inning, just before the Cardinals' game-tying rally, Greinke struck out Pete Kozma on a biting, 93 mph fastball. In the fifth, Kozma whiffed on a 71 mph curveball. To start the eighth, Kozma skied an 83 mph slider for an infield popup. He was not alone in being baffled. When the Dodgers' righty struck out pinch-hitter Adron Chambers in the eighth he tied his season high with nine strikeouts. He broke it by freezing Carpenter to end the eighth and his evening.
Greinke sped through the Cardinals' lineup more often than he didn't. The one time they had a chance to score against him in the early innings they did, and when Molina pried open a chance in the seventh, they squandered it. Molina's leadoff single brought Jay to the plate, and he promptly sabotaged the rally. Jay dropped a bunt ostensibly to move Molina into scoring position. Instead, Greinke pounced on it and got Molina at second.
Standing at first then with one out, Jay took off on David Freese's line drive to right fielder Puig. Puig, who has one of the better outfield arms in baseball and is the most eager to use it, caught Freese's line drive and threw a dart to catch Jay wandering for a double play.
With two on in the ninth, Jay worked bearded reliever Brian Wilson to a full count and popped up to end the inning and force extras.
(c)2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services