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The 10th Man

Baseball fans are the most dedicated and devout fans in all of sports. We follow our teams with more passion than any other. Most Baseball fans know just as much about their respective teams as the managers and coaches do. Of all Baseball fans, Dodger fans are the most passionate and loyal. Every season nearly 3 million true blue fans walk through the turnstiles of Dodger Stadium. Every year we root passionately for our boys in blue, but we accept that there is nothing we can do but root. Or is there?….

Now I’m not talking about fan interference plays. We have seen that a few times. A fan reaches over to catch a home run ball or a foul ball, and interferes with the player’s ability to make the catch. I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about Dodger fans directly affecting the outcome of a game in the Dodger’s favor. Follow me here, because I believe this has happened. I know this may seem a bit far-fetched, but is it? Let me explain how it happened. Here was the scenario….

October, 8, 2009. Cardinals@Dodgers- NL Division Series- Game 2-@ Dodger Stadium

Well the Cardinals had done it. They had survived the first two games of their five game division series in Los Angeles with a split. The redbirds were leading by a score of 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th inning. With the Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin on the mound, the Dodgers quickly went down in their first two at-bats of the inning. The game had been a tight pitcher’s duel between Adam Wainwright, and Clayton Kershaw. Ironically it was Matt Holiday’s home run that had put the Cardinals up early 1-0. Andre Ethier hit a home run to tie up the game for the Dodgers. An RBI double by Colby Rasmus scored Mark De Rosa to put the redbirds up 2-1. It appeared the Cardinals were headed to St. Louis with the series even at 1-1.

“You can bet there is going to be a sea of red in St. Louis” –Vin Scully

The Dodgers had been in first place all season, and had survived a late season run from the Rockies to get there. The 56,000 Dodger fans prayed for a miracle. What happened next could be described as one. During those first two games, all Dodger fans were given white rally towels with the Dodger logo in the center. The atmosphere that night was electrifying. A sellout crowd, and a sea of blue encompassed the ravine. The count went to 2-2 on James Loney. What is the biggest weapon in a fan’s arsenal? Distraction. The ability to distract the opposing player with noise, or some kind of visual distraction. We weren’t going down without a fight. Loney hits a room service fly ball to left. Cardinals left fielder Matt Holiday runs in to catch what would have been the final out.

“Coming up in a hurry is Holiday to grab it and drop it. Loney goes into second base. Oh what a big break!”

 

This is where Dodger fans spring into action. The fans stood up and waved their white rally towels in unison. Holiday drops the ball! The lazy fly ball hits Holiday right in the groin and bounces off his front side. It’s a two base error on Holiday, and the mistake gives the Dodgers new life.

“ Talk about a painful error for Holiday, I hope he’s wearing a cup”

Juan Pierre is called in to pinch run for Loney. This was unlike the first game of the series, which was a game where both teams squandered scoring opportunities the entire night. No, this was something different, this was something special. Did Holiday lose the ball in the lights? No one knows for sure. Dodger Stadium began to rumble. There was so much Blue in the stands, it looked like an ocean. The rally towels started to wave again. Casey Blake had a chance to tie the game with a hit. With the speedy Pierre at second base, this was very doable. The crowd is on their feet now.

 

“This game should be over, and it isn’t!”

Casey Blake’s at-bat was epic. Franklin and Blake did battle, as the count went to 1-1. On the 1-1 pitch, Blake is called for a check-swing. The Dodgers are again down to their last strike. The umpire punches the air emphatically to signal that Blake had indeed failed to check his swing. The crowd goes nuts. Dodger fans shout for the umpire’s head on a platter. Blake calmly raises his hand to the crowd, like Casey at the bat. Finally he steps back into the box.

“Casey, poker face. Blank, no expression. No sign of displeasure”

Blake takes the next pitch low, and after fouling off two pitches, he takes another fastball low. The count draws to full 3-2. Blake fouls off several more pitches, amping up the tension. Finally the pitch is high, and Blake reaches base on balls.

“All Matt Holiday can do is feel like the loneliest man in Los Angeles, while 56,000 echo to the sky!”

Next up was the free-swinging Ronnie Belliard. Before we have time to think, Belliard, being the free-swinger that he is, swings at the first pitch and lines a base hit into center field. Pierre comes around to score, and the game is tied at 2-2.

“He hits a base hit up the middle! Here comes Pierre to score the tying run, and its 2-2 in the ninth!”

At this point Franklin is clearly rattled. Four straight balls thrown out of the strike zone and a passed ball. The struggling Russell Martin walks, and the bases are loaded. Up comes pinch-hitter and utility man Mark Loretta. The crowd is on their feet. Out come the rally towels again.

“Who knows how long this will go, but its going to be remembered for a little while. “

Little used utility man Mark Loretta had struggled all season long to hit above the Mendoza line. We all expected extra innings. Franklin remained in the game. Loretta lines a base hit into center field in the same spot as Belliard’s hit.

“Loretta gets one into center, its gonna fall! The Dodgers win it 3-2!”

The Dodgers mob onto the field in celebration. We had done the impossible. The Dodgers used the momentum to take game three and sweep the series, moving on to their second straight NLCS.

The Dodgers had 12 wins in their final at-bat that year. The million dollar question was, what happened to Matt Holiday? Did he lose the ball in the lights? Or perhaps he lost the ball in the thousands of white Dodger rally towels being waved at just the right time by all the Dodger fans?

Listen to what Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright had to say about the play after the game….

“That ball got lost in 50,000 white towels shaking in front of Matt’s face,” [Cardinals starter Adam] Wainwright said. “It doesn’t really seem fair that an opposing team should be able to allow their fans to shake white towels when there’s a white baseball flying through the air. How about Dodger Blue towels?”

There has to be some truth to that statement. Holiday after the game told everyone that he had lost the ball in the lights, but several other players commented about the many white Dodger towels that were distracting on fly balls. Holiday only made one error in the 62 regular season games he played that season for the Cardinals. Don’t ever give up guys. Don’t ever lose hope. Dodger fans truly are the 10th man.

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Tags: Adam Wainwright Casey Blake Clayton Kershaw Dodgers James Loney Mark Loretta Ronnie Belliard Russell Martin Ryan Franklin

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