Chess Match: Sticking with their starters
Dodgers, Cards eschew fast hooks with varying results
LOS ANGELES -- With Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright locked in a pitchers' duel on Thursday, there was very little place for strategy in the early innings of what would eventually become a walk-off 3-2 win for the Dodgers. Hits were at a premium for Los Angeles, and St. Louis was doing about as well as expected against Kershaw.
But as the game progressed, critical decisions followed. How long do you stick with a starter? Do matchups outweigh a pitcher's momentum? Who do you turn to, and more importantly, when?
With Thursday's game never more than one swing away from a lead being erased, these were the decisions that ultimately loomed largely as the Dodgers took a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five series.
Take the free base
The situation: With his team clinging to a 1-0 lead, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols comes to bat with a runner on second and two outs in the third.
The decision: For the third time in Pujols' seven plate appearances up to that point, Dodgers manager Joe Torre opts to intentionally walk the first baseman.
The outcome: Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw gets Matt Holliday to ground out to third to end the inning.
The analysis: Torre obviously didn't care that Holliday came in 4-for-10 against Kershaw and had already homered against him in the second. He has absolutely zero interest in letting Pujols be the one to beat his club, even if Pujols was hitless in the series coming to the plate in the fourth.
So far Holliday is 0-for-2 when following an intentional walk to Pujols, so Torre's strategy has worked impeccably. Unless Holliday begins to punish the Dodgers for choosing to walk Pujols, Pujols not expect to see any pitches to hit when a runner is on and first base is unoccupied.
"I think Albert is such a threat that you are willing to put the winning run on base. You're willing to give them an opportunity to hit a three-run homer instead of a two-run homer. I just want to make somebody else beat me, basically." -- Torre
Too lengthy a stay?
The situation: Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw's spot is due up second in the sixth. The lefty has already thrown 97 pitches to that point.
The decision: In an effort to get another inning out of Kershaw, Torre lets the young starter hit for himself.
The outcome: Kershaw grounds out in his at-bat, but he then gives up a run in the next half-inning and has to be pulled after getting two outs.
The analysis: Kershaw's pitch count was getting up there, but he's no stranger at eclipsing the 100-pitch mark, having done it 16 times during the regular season. Also, Kershaw had retired all but two of the previous 12 St. Louis hitters, so there was nothing to suggest fatigue was setting in.
As the matchups went, Torre had to like his odds with Kershaw going out there for the seventh. The first two hitters he faced -- Mark DeRosa and Colby Rasmus -- were a combined 1-for-8 against Kershaw in their careers, and Rasmus had hit lefties at just a .160 clip all year. However, the results didn't play out as the numbers suggested as Rasmus doubled home DeRosa. Going to a fresh bullpen arm might have changed the outcome.
"This is what you save all those innings for during the season. Again, he was very economical going into the seventh inning. He pitched great." -- Torre
Stand by your man
The situation: A two-out single off Adam Wainwright by Russell Martin puts the potential tying run on base for the Dodgers in the eighth.
The decision: Rather than go with lefty Trevor Miller, who was ready in the bullpen, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sticks with Wainwright to face pinch-hitter Jim Thome. He stays with him, too, when Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp came to bat later in the inning.
The outcome: Thome gets plunked with a pitch and Furcal draws a walk, but Wainwright escapes the bases-loaded jam by getting Kemp to ground out.
The analysis: Though the matchup seemed to work against Wainwright, La Russa was rewarded for sticking with a pitcher who had shut down the Dodgers all afternoon. Rather than potentially sapping Thome's power potential by bringing in a lefty, La Russa didn't budge. Nor did he when Furcal came to the plate with his 7-for-16 career success against Wainwright.
As it turned out, forcing Kemp to be the one to beat Wainwright was the best matchup of the three for the Cardinals. He entered the game just 2-for-8 against Wainwright and had gone 0-for-3 already during the game. La Russa is known to weigh matchups heavily in his decision-making, so when he goes against that, he must have good reason to do so.
"The quality of that was so good, it's almost impossible to describe under the circumstances. He made quality pitch after quality pitch. The lineup saw him several times. He kept making adjustments. Outstanding." -- La Russa
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.