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NLCS Gm1: Mattingly discusses the play at the plate

ST. LOUIS -- Officially, Game 1 of the National League Championship Series ended on Carlos Beltran's RBI single off closer Kenley Jansen with one out in the bottom of the 13th inning, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 walk-off win over the Dodgers on Friday night.

Strategically, however, the game turned for the Dodgers when manager Don Mattingly pinch-ran Dee Gordon for 100-RBI cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez after a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth with the score tied at 2. Gordon didn't attempt a steal, was forced out by Yasiel Puig's grounder and the Dodgers didn't score.

Then Michael Young, who wound up in the cleanup spot instead of Gonzalez, hit into double plays with runners in scoring position both times up. And both times Hanley Ramirez was walked intentionally so Cardinals relievers could face Young. The double plays came in the 10th on a shallow fly ball with Mark Ellis, who tripled, thrown out at the plate by Beltran (he was everywhere), the other a 12th-inning grounder.

As if managing this scenario wasn't tough enough, Mattingly then had to explain it.

"You've got to shoot your bullet when you get a chance," Mattingly said. "If we don't use him there and the next guy hits a ball in the gap and he doesn't score and we don't score there, we're going to say, 'Why didn't you use Dee?' So it was our opportunity to run him. Obviously, Yasiel swung early and it didn't work out for us. But it's still a situation that I don't think we would -- you get a guy in that inning and you have to take a shot at scoring a run.

"That's what we really brought Dee on the club for, because he gives you a chance every night to steal a bag and win a game. We're trying to win a game tonight, and that's why we used Dee."

Even the players, however, had trouble talking about it.

"Part of the game," Gonzalez said four different times, as wave after wave of reporters sought a second-guess.

There were many parts of this game. Zack Greinke pitched eight innings that would have been scoreless except for Beltran's first big hit, a two-run double in the third inning that wasn't caught by a rusty Andre Ethier, making his first start since Sept. 13, when he was sidelined with a microfracture of his lower left leg. At the plate, he went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts and a walk.

"I should have gotten out of that inning before they scored any runs," said Greinke, blaming himself for having two runners on base in the first place.

Ethier said he knew he had a chance to catch the ball after a long run, "but it was right at the wall and I just missed it by a little bit. Definitely the difference in the game right there."

He rejected using the condition of his leg as an excuse, saying he felt good while knowing he wouldn't look pretty easing his way around the bases and acknowledging the 13 innings left him "a little tired."

That's right, he wasn't eased into action, playing nearly the entire game and winding up in the clubhouse afterward with a trainer. He said he checked out fine, but is probably doubtful for Game 2 on Saturday, when Clayton Kershaw will be asked an even bigger question than to pitch on three days' rest -- to help the Dodgers avoid an 0-2 hole.

Mattingly gave a stronger defense of Ethier on the Beltran double.

"Usually when a guy jumps at a ball at the wall and runs into it at the same time, you don't really call it rust," Mattingly said. "If he catches it, it's a great play. I don't think you can find any fault with him not catching that."

Nobody could find fault in Greinke, the first pitcher to strike out 10 Cardinals in a postseason game since 1944 (Denny Galehouse, St. Louis Browns). Greinke allowed two runs on four hits in eight innings, with his one walk turning into one of the Cardinals' runs.

"Tough game all around," Greinke said.

But the Dodgers' offense was 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 runners, with the only clutch hit coming from NL Division Series Game 4 hero Juan Uribe, who had a two-run single in the third off starter Joe Kelly. The St. Louis bullpen threw seven scoreless innings.

By contrast, Beltran showed the Dodgers postseason clutch hitting, driving in all three Cardinals runs by punishing Greinke and Jansen on 3-1 pitches. Beltran has nine RBIs this postseason

"Yeah, it got a little frustrating, probably one that got away," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "Beltran's built up a resume of being one of the best postseason hitters of all time, and we got ourselves in a box with 3-1 counts that got more of the plate than we'd like."

Ellis heaped even more praise than usual on Greinke.

"Other than that three-batter stretch [in the third inning], that may be the best game I've ever caught in my life," he said. "He was in complete command, with the best curveball I've seen all season long. For me, personally, what hurts is that we weren't able to get the win the way he pitched."

Greinke was followed by four relievers, the last one being Jansen, brought in by Mattingly out of desperation to prevent a loss instead of ensure a win. Chris Withrow started the 13th inning, his second, by allowing pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso a flare to shallow center that Ethier couldn't get to for a single. Matt Carpenter walked and on came Jansen. Beltran worked the count to 3-1 and laced a 92-mph cutter down the right-field line to score Descalso. Beltran had been 0-for-5 lifetime against Jansen.

"Right down the middle," said Beltran. "I don't blame him, because he's trying to make a pitch. But in that case, like I said, I was trying to hit the ball hard."

The Dodgers survived their first significant threat in the first inning when Kelly drilled Ramirez in the ribs with a 95-mph 1-2 fastball. Ramirez appeared to be in pain after catching a first-inning line drive by Matt Holliday, but Mattingly told TBS between innings that "we think he's OK," after watching him swing during a third-inning at-bat.

Greinke's final pitch of the seventh was turned into another double play by right fielder Puig, who made a running catch of David Freese's sinking liner and threw to first to double off Jon Jay, who was running on the 3-2 pitch.

At 13 innings, it was the third-longest NLCS game in history. It lasted four hours and 47 minutes.

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