This is the full version of David Gao’s column, The Payoff Pitch, that appeared in the October 12 issue of the New University.
Even though I moved away from St. Louis when I was 14, my diehard fandom of the Cardinals has not diminished whatsoever. Whether it’s because we have been blessed with the greatest player in the game, Albert Pujols, or because they have been in the playoffs seven times in the decade, or maybe just because we have been known as the best fans in baseball, I proudly wear the Birds on the Bat around Southern California.
Going to high school in San Diego, this never really had many consequences. A few of my friends would scoff or act annoyed, but I always ran into plenty of fellow St. Louis fans at Padre games.
So when the Cardinals were matched up with the Dodgers of Los Angeles in the first round of this year’s National League Division Series (first round of the playoffs), I knew I had to go.
I called up the only other Cardinal fan I knew, Luigi, bought tickets for Game 2, and got the OK from kind Professor Wasserstrom for missing his class. Here is a running diary of what transpired.
1:20: Armed with my Pujols jersey, Luigi and I depart for the land of the smog. As this is the first ever playoff game for both of us, spirits are high.
2:58: As we get settled into our sun faded, now light turquoise seats, LA flashes its movie star personality, as Slash of Guns N’ Roses plays a rather melancholy national anthem and George Lopez throws out the first pitch.
3:10: Today’s pitching matchup will be fondly looked upon years from now. Clayton Kershaw, a 21-year-old kid among men, and Adam Wainwright, who has the dirtiest curveball I have ever seen, will be standouts for their respective teams for years to come.
3:28: Matt Holliday seemingly lunges toward a ball on the outside part of the plate and knocks it out of the park. Luigi remarks that Holliday was the best acquisition ever. The five other Cardinal fans in our section, Luigi, and I are the only ones left standing and cheering. Immediately, the entire section starts booing us and demanding that we sit our behinds down … in slightly different language.
3:34: For no apparent reason, the left field pavilion seats in the outfield starts booing voraciously. Upon further inspection, I realize the target of their jeers. A pair of lonely Cardinal fans are making their way up the stairs, two specks of red in a sea of blue. At this point, I am suddenly a lot more thankful for my location near at least somewhat courteous Dodger fans.
4:15: Dodger fan next to me: “Wow, we still haven’t gotten anyone on base. This guy has got a no-hit-” “CRACK!” Home run Andre Ethier. The whole time the fan was coming to the no-hitter realization, I was wishing he would just stop talking. Everyone knows the most sure-fire way to break up a no-hitter is to talk about it. Although I suppose if you’re rooting for the team being no-hit, then talking about it would make perfect sense.
4:23: The upper deck of Dodger Stadium has one exit — at the top of the section. So, anytime you leave the section, anyone in rows above you get a great view. Cardinal fans leaving the section are booed and heckled, all the way up those long stairs. Luigi deems this “the walk of shame.” However, an older Cardinal fan tipping his cap and urging the crowd on gives me the courage to go get something to drink.
4:25: I decide that leaving to get food or go to the bathroom just isn’t worth it. I mean, I wouldn’t want to miss out on any of the action…
4:55: Mark DeRosa and Colby Rasmus help the Cardinals take a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, Rasmus gets greedy gunning for third and is thrown out by a perfect relay. This makes for the first out of the inning, and instead of him being on second with no out, there is now no one on with an out. Fiddlesticks.
5:08: Nancy Bea, the resident organist at Dodger Stadium, plays “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Props to the Dodgers for keeping a live organist — what a shame it is that all we hear now are the same old rock-and-roll tracks that everyone plays.
5:18: I guess I should mention the fact that the one and only Manny Ramirez is manning left field in his customary lazy fashion. At the plate, he isn’t having much luck. Wainwright freezes Manny with his classic strike 3 curveball.
5:22: Speaking of the same old rock and roll tracks that all sporting events play, Jonathan Broxton enters in the 8th inning to the tune of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath. The accompanying montage doesn’t really impress me. I’m pretty sure they used the same formula for Casey Blake in the middle of the 3rd inning.
5:32: The depth of both teams’ benches is staggering. Jim Thome is now pinch-hitting for the Dodgers … everyone on their feet swinging those free white towels. Big Jim gets hit by a pitch and is promptly pinch run for by Orlando Hudson, the Dodgers everyday 2nd baseman for most of the season.
5:42: The Dodgers load the bases against Wainwright with 2 outs in the 8th. The energy is really pumping through the stadium. Aforementioned standing and towel waving is in full force. The count runs to 3-2, and this is what it’s all about.
5:43: Exhale. Kemp breaks his bat grounding out to first, and Wainwright has successfully completed a gem of an outing.
6:04: Trevor Miller gets Andre Ethier to pop out, and Ryan Franklin retires Manny on a fly out to center. Cardinals are up 2-1, with two outs!
6:05: Line drive out to left field … Matt Holliday is going to be able to get to it!
6:05: Amazingly, Holliday loses the ball in the lights and drops the ball. James Loney is on at second, and instead of game over, it’s runner in scoring position.
6:11: Casey Blake works a walk, which is what I wanted. Ronnie Belliard, the next batter, has looked terrible all game.
6:13: Of course, Belliard gets a base hit to tie the game. Dodgers fans go crazy, literally. A guy behind us jumps down into our row and pushes me as if I had just insulted him on the playground.
6:15: Trying to stay calm, I reason that we can still go into extra innings. Russell Martin walks, which again I wanted, as I feel like the Dodgers don’t really have much of a bench left. Mark Loretta, who has to be nearing 60, is called upon.
6:16: At this point, my gut is just losing hope. I can feel the momentum swinging like a carnival pirate ship towards the Dodgers. My confidence in Franklin has all but evaporated. But my head says to just keep hoping.
6:17: Of course, Loretta drives in the winning run, and Chavez Ravine spontaneously bursts into pandemonium and I simultaneously feel like someone just punched me in the stomach. Several Dodger fans immediately scream taunts and jeers, while others take pictures of our dejected faces. The worst part now is the dreaded walk of shame.
6:18: Walking up the stairs stone-faced, I’ve been whipped by those stupid towels at least four times.
6:19: Apparently, Dodger fans are only programmed to shout “Cardinals suck!” This phrase is shouted in our faces or general direction too many times to count as we make our way back to the car. I don’t really mind the insults, but some variety is always nice.
In the end, the Dodgers swept the Cardinals, who looked like a team ready for the World Series for much of the season. Baseball, more so than any other sport, is a complete crapshoot come playoff time. It all depends on who is on the hot streak, and who the baseball gods decide to smile down upon. No matter what though, I will never regret my foray behind enemy lines. The atmosphere of playoff baseball is really something special — towel whipping, insult hurling and above all, having absolutely no idea what will happen.