Throughout the postseason, Robert O'Connell will contribute brief sketches of small, significant moments from the last few games of 2014.
Tuesday evening, the Dodgers played the Cardinals in the fourth game of the NLDS, needing a win to force a deciding fifth. Though the game was played in St. Louis, the early innings looked Californian. Play started at five o’clock and featured the patterns of light and shadow between plate and mound that often frustrate batters before dusk in Los Angeles. Out of the sun, Clayton Kershaw threw fastballs and sliders and curves, and Shelby Miller threw fastballs, and nobody had much luck with any of them for a while.
Splotches had given to even shadow but the pitchers remained untroubled when LA’s Juan Uribe came to bat in the fifth inning with the bases empty and the game still a scoreless tie. Uribe once played shortstop, but he was born to be an ex-shortstop, to expand and expand and finally trade in the direct vectors of third base. Now, at age 35, he has a belly that implies a novelty barbeque apron and a meaty face adorned always with pointed sideburns and, most of the time, with a grin. He retains from his youth nimble enough feet, an urgent glove, and a thunderous arm.
The feature by which he is most immediately identifiable, though—and the one that inspired some hope among Dodger fans at this moment despite Uribe’s 1-for-14 performance in the series—is his swing. It is among the most earnest motions in sports, a quick, uppercutting hack devoid of all nuance or restraint. Once it has started, it is impervious to revision. When it connects well—as it does sometimes, inexplicably—it finishes with violent follow through, continuing in full force until the bat head crash-lands in the dirt. Only then does Uribe let go, lift his hands in a rushed self-salute, and hurry off to first. It is the type of swing that seems resistant to streaks, match-ups, or even statistics; it could work at any moment.
Miller threw two balls to Uribe to start off the at-bat, so Uribe’s eyes got big at the prospect of a fat pitch, a plunked-down stick, and a start to the evening’s scoring. The third pitch came, and Uribe let loose, driving it in a high arc deep to the opposite field. Dodgers inched towards the dugout’s rail; Miller fretted. Uribe’s bat hit the dirt and his hands went up. The ball could have hit the wall, it could have gone over. Instead, it died on the warning track, Cardinal right fielder Randal Grichuk stepping under and gloving it, and Uribe broke off his trot.
The next inning, Uribe would bat again, this time perpetuating a Dodger rally with a single and giving LA a 2-0 lead. When Kershaw struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth, things looked up.
But two runs are not three, and Matt Adams hit a three-run homer in the seventh for the Cardinals, and the Dodgers lost by either one run or a couple feet, and their year and Uribe’s were done. Not quite enough, but not for lack of trying.