How the Dodgers Beat the Cardinals in the N.L. Wild-Card Game


NYT > Sports

Oct. 7, 2021, 12:32 a.m. ET

Oct. 7, 2021, 12:32 a.m. ETImageChris Taylor (3) was greeted by Dodgers teammates at the plate after his winning homer.Credit…Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

It took until their final turn at the plate, but the Los Angeles Dodgers survived a do-or-die wild-card game against the St. Louis Cardinals, walking away with a thrilling 3-1 win on a night when neither offense could find much purchase.

The game was billed as ace versus ace, but Max Scherzer of the Dodgers was done after four and a third innings and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals was pulled after five and a third. Both teams’ bullpens stepped up, but the depth of the Los Angeles offense, which helped power the team to 106 wins, came through in the end when Chris Taylor hit a walk-off two-run homer to left center in the ninth inning, overcoming recent struggles to push his team to the next round of the playoffs.

“Think small and big things happen,” Taylor said when asked about his attitude toward big situations in an on-field interview after the game. “That felt good.”

Chris Taylor of the @Dodgers is the second player in MLB history to hit a walkoff homer in a winner-take-all playoff game despite not starting the game.

The other was Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) October 7, 2021

Taylor’s big hit came after both teams had struggled to do much of anything offensively. The Cardinals got three hits from second baseman Tommy Edman, but the rest of the team went 2 for 27 with nine strikeouts. The Dodgers were not much better, collecting six singles to go with Taylor’s home run.

The Dodgers ended up using five relievers after Scherzer’s early exit. Each did his job, but Kenley Jansen, the team’s closer, shined the brightest, slamming the door in the top of the ninth by striking out the sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill for the final two outs.

With the win, the Dodgers advanced to a division series against their biggest rival, the San Francisco Giants, who won 107 games this season, ending a streak of eight division titles for Los Angeles.

“We’ve been battling all year,” Taylor said. “I expect a hard-fought series.”

The Cardinals, who were the National League’s second wild-card team with 90 wins — 16 fewer than the Dodgers — qualified for the postseason thanks to a late surge in which they won 17 straight games. But given one chance to survive in the postseason, they came up just short.

Oct. 7, 2021, 12:27 a.m. ET

Oct. 7, 2021, 12:27 a.m. ET

With two outs and a runner on second base, Chris Taylor homered to left, giving the Dodgers a thrilling victory.

Oct. 7, 2021, 12:07 a.m. ET

Oct. 7, 2021, 12:07 a.m. ETCredit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Tommy Edman got a one-out single — his third hit of the night — and he stole a base, but Kenley Jansen struck out batters on either side of the second baseman. Tyler O’Neill sliced a ball to right that would have easily allowed Edman to score, had it stayed fair, but then Jansen struck him out as well to end the threat.

Can the Dodgers walk things off in the bottom of the ninth?

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:55 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:55 p.m. ET

The Cardinals brought in their closer, Giovanny Gallegos, to try to keep this game tied and he did his job.

Gallegos started things off by striking out Corey Seager, getting the star shortstop to flail at a slider for strike three. Trea Turner shot a grounder into left for a single, but then Justin Turner struck out. That brought up Will Smith, who hit what looked like a liner into the outfield until Paul DeJong, a defensive replacement at shortstop, leapt into the air to snag it for out number three.

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:46 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:46 p.m. ET

Reporting from Dodger Stadium

Now might be a good time for this reminder: In the postseason, baseball is reverting back to old-school rules. There will be no runner on second base to start the extra innings. The Dodgers and Cardinals, if unable to snap this 1-1 tie in nine innings, are going to have to figure this one out the way their predecessors did it before 2020.

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:38 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:38 p.m. ETCredit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Blake Treinen was back out for a second inning, and the relief pitcher allowed a leadoff single to Dylan Carlson that poked through the left side of the infield thanks to a shift that had all of the fielders pulled to the right.

Yadier Molina got jammed by a slider and flied out to left, and Carlson appeared to make a huge blunder, running behind second base and failing to touch the bag on his way back to first. A replay review, however, didn’t produce enough evidence to call him out.

After the delay, Edmundo Sosa hit a sharp liner to left that Chris Taylor was able to make a slick diving catch on.

That was it for Treinen, who was replaced by Corey Knebel, a 29-year-old right-hander who struck out Harrison Bader to end the inning.

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Oct. 6, 2021, 11:34 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:34 p.m. ETCredit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Matt Beaty did not put up much of a fight, grounding out to second on the third pitch he saw to start the seventh. Cody Bellinger showed some life by singling on a liner to right, but Chris Taylor, who entered the game via a double-switch, popped out to first on the first pitch he saw. That brought Mookie Betts to the plate with a runner on first and two outs, and Bellinger shocked Dodger Stadium (and anyone watching from home) by stealing second off Yadier Molina on what was a very close play.

Bellinger’s nice sequence did not lead to anything. Betts flied out to center to end the inning.

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:28 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:28 p.m. ET

On a flyout by Yadier Molina, Dylan Carlson, who had advanced to second and gone slightly beyond the bag, appeared to fail to touch the base on his way back to first. The Dodgers challenged the play, resulting in a replay review, but there was not enough evidence to overturn the call and Carlson was allowed to stay at first.

Credit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:16 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:16 p.m. ET

LOS ANGELES — As this game rolls into the late innings, it’s worth noting how Los Angeles opted to construct its roster for this single wild-card game: The Dodgers went with 16 position players and 10 pitchers, as opposed to the Cardinals, who went with 14 position players and 12 pitchers.

That means the Dodgers have an eight-man bench tonight, which they’ve already dipped into for lefty pinch-hitter Luke Raley, who batted in Max Scherzer’s spot in the bottom of the fifth, and for Chris Taylor, who double-switched into left field in place of A.J. Pollock in the top of the seventh as reliever Blake Treinen entered the game.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers left co-ace Walker Buehler off the roster tonight as he pitched on Sunday and would start Game 1 on Friday in San Francisco. Manager Dave Roberts acknowledged pregame that the 20-game winner Julio Urias could be used in relief tonight, probably in the late innings, so keep an eye out for him.

But on the bench, in a game that has potential extra innings written all over it, Roberts has plenty of position-player options left to deploy as the game dictates — including left-handed Gavin Lux, right-handed Albert Pujols and outfielders Zach McKinstry, Billy McKinney and Steven Souza Jr.

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Oct. 6, 2021, 11:12 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:12 p.m. ETCredit…Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Blake Treinen came in as the Dodgers’ fourth pitcher of the game, and he immediately struck out Tommy Edman. He fell behind in the count against Paul Goldschmidt, 3-1, but recovered to retire the first baseman on a grounder to shortstop. That brought up Tyler O’Neill, who walked. With Nolan Arenado at the plate, O’Neill stole second, but Treinen stayed cool and got Arenado to pop out to first to end the inning.

It has been a quiet night for both offenses, but it’s worth noting that St. Louis batters not named Edman or Goldschmidt are 0 for 18 with five strikeouts.

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:00 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 11:00 p.m. ETCredit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Adam Wainwright had a very short leash. And both teams are into their bullpens now.

He got leadoff batter Corey Seager to ground out to Edmundo Sosa who was playing up the middle in a shift. But the speedy Trea Turner fought his way through an eight-pitch at-bat and ended up hitting a chopper to third that even the great Nolan Arenado couldn’t field in time to him throw out. And that was it, as Manager Mike Shildt pulled his ace who had reached 95 pitches.

Luis Garcia relieved Wainwright and the big right-hander got Justin Turner to line out to left for the second out of the inning. Garcia got ahead of catcher Will Smith, 0-2, but proceeded to walk Smith with four straight balls. Garcia, however, escaped the inning when A.J. Pollock grounded out on a comebacker to the mound that Garcia was able to get to Paul Goldschmidt for a close play at first.

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:42 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:42 p.m. ET

In the top of the sixth, Manager Mike Shildt believed in Adam Wainwright to the point that he essentially gave up on the half-inning, letting his pitcher bat with two outs to keep him in the game. In the bottom half of the sixth, Wainwright got one out and allowed a slow-bouncing infield single to the second batter he faced. He proceeded to get pulled from the game. Why not.

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:33 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:33 p.m. ETCredit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Brusdar Graterol was the Dodgers’ third pitcher of the evening, entering after Joe Kelly was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fifth, and he induced very quick, very weak, groundouts from both Yadier Molina and Edmundo Sosa.

Graterol’s first pitch to Harrison Bader hit him squarely in the left shoulder, sending him to first (the second time Bader had been hit in this game), and Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt made the call to keep his starting pitcher in the game by letting Adam Wainwright hit for himself. Wainwright grounded out on the first pitch he saw, but he’ll be back out to pitch a sixth inning. Considering the way he’s pitching, that seems like a fair deal.

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:27 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:27 p.m. ETCredit…Harry How/Getty Images

Cody Bellinger, who used to be good, struck out on four pitches to start the half-inning. That brought up pinch-hitter Luke Raley (replacing relief pitcher Joe Kelly, whose night is done), and Raley also struck out on four pitches. Mookie Betts didn’t get the memo, as he was out after just two pitches, grounding out to third to end the inning.

Adam Wainwright is through five innings and has continued his throwback season with a terrific performance. At 83 pitches, he could theoretically pitch another inning or two, but he’s due to hit fourth in the sixth, so the Cardinals will have a tough decision to make.

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:22 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:22 p.m. ETCredit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Dodgers are into their bullpen way earlier than anyone expected. Way, way, way earlier. But thus far the decision has worked out for Manager Dave Roberts.

Tommy Edman continued to be a thorn in Max Scherzer’s side by leading off the inning with a single, his second hit, that just barely found its way into center field. Paul Goldschmidt worked a six-pitch walk, which resulted in a meeting on the mound and got some activity going in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Scherzer struck out Tyler O’Neill on five pitches, absolutely blowing a 95-m.p.h. fastball past him for strike three. That, however, was it for Scherzer. Roberts came out to the mound and took the ball away from his team’s co-ace, pulling him after 94 pitches and four and a third innings.

Joe Kelly replaced Scherzer, inheriting runners at first and second with one out. He got a quick force out at third on a grounder to Justin Turner. And despite a wild pitch sending Goldschmidt to third, Kelly got out of the jam by striking out Dylan Carlson.

Scherzer’s final line for the day: 4 ⅓ innings, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts, 3 walks, 1 hit batter.

If the Dodgers’ bullpen falters in the next inning or two, the second-guessing of Roberts will be fierce.

Dave Roberts stuck his hand out to accept the ball from Max Scherzer, like managers do when they’re changing pitchers. But Max was not giving him that ball. Hilarious.

— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) October 7, 2021
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Oct. 6, 2021, 10:06 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 10:06 p.m. ET

Max Scherzer is out of the game with one out in the fifth inning thanks to his pitch count reaching 94 and the Cardinals having two runners on base. Joe Kelly is coming on in relief in a move that could make Manager Dave Roberts look brilliant or foolish.

Credit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Oct. 6, 2021, 9:56 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 9:56 p.m. ETCredit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Dodgers had been steadily making Adam Wainwright work hard for outs in the last few innings and Justin Turner was able to get the payoff for that, walloping a 2-2 curveball into the Dodgers’ bullpen in left field for a solo homer that made this a 1-1 game.

There was no rally to follow. Wainwright was able to recover quickly from the homer by striking out catcher Will Smith on three pitches and punching out A.J. Pollock on five. That brought up Matt Beaty, who popped out to the catcher to end the inning. (At some point in this game Albert Pujols will pinch hit for Beaty or for the pitcher and that’s going to be a big moment … but not yet.)

Justin Turner ties the game, 1-1, with a homer to left.

Turner’s blast into the bullpen woke up the crowd at Dodger Stadium.

Oct. 6, 2021, 9:41 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 9:41 p.m. ET

A perfectly executed shift resulted in Yadier Molina grounding out on a ball that would have been a single if the shift haters were to get their way. Edmundo Sosa grounded out softly back to pitcher Max Scherzer for the second out. But Harrison Bader messed up Scherzer’s attempt at his first perfect inning of the day by fighting through an eight-pitch plate appearance that ended with Bader being hit by a pitch and heading to first base.

Luckily for the Dodgers, that brought up Adam Wainwright, who may have a silver slugger in his trophy collection but is still a pitcher. He struck out on three pitches, swinging and missing at all three.

Oct. 6, 2021, 9:32 p.m. ET

Oct. 6, 2021, 9:32 p.m. ETCredit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Issues with his control, communication problems with his catcher and a brutal defensive mistake by his shortstop had Adam Wainwright in big trouble, but the veteran pitcher pulled a Houdinilike escape act by inducing an inning-ending double-play with no runs having scored.

Wainwright had put himself in a hole quickly by walking the fairly dreadful Cody Bellinger on five pitches to start the half-inning. He then managed to fall behind the overmatched Max Scherzer, 3-1, before allowing the opposing pitcher to sacrifice bunt Bellinger over to second.

A liner up the middle by Mookie Betts absolutely should have been caught by shortstop Edmundo Sosa, who got his glove on the ball but dropped it (a play that was somehow ruled a single). Then the next batter, Corey Seager, walked, loading the bases with one out. It looked like the Dodgers would surely be able to tie the game, but Wainwright induced a grounder from Trea Turner that resulted in a double-play and allowed the Cardinals to escape unscathed.

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