ST. LOUIS — The Los Angeles Dodgers found out painfully that October is Carlos Beltran’s favorite month of the year. It’s his Christmas. He feasts off opposing pitchers, who makes game-saving defensive plays, then game-winning hits after midnight.
Beltran put on another stellar postseason show as he singled off Kenley Jansen with one out in the 13th inning to score Daniel Descalso as the Cardinals won Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, 3-2, at Busch Stadium.
Beltran drove in all three runs for St. Louis, whose relievers repeatedly staved off Los Angeles rallies in the late innings. After righthander Chris Withrow allowed a single and a walk with one out, manager Don Mattingly went with his best, Jansen, to face Beltran in a clutch situation.
Beltran laced a 3-and-1 pitch down the right-field line and the Cardinals, a team of scrappy hitters, survived long enough to steal Game 1. Game 2 is scheduled for 4 p.m.
“Once I got into a hitter’s count, I knew he was going to throw me a pitch I was going to be able to hit,” Beltran said. “For me, I try not to keep up with the [historical] numbers. I’m aware what I have done. It’s always great to be able to come through.”
The Dodgers left 11 on base, including in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings. As expected, Beltran was in the middle of the game’s key play in the top of the 10th.
With Mark Ellis on third and one out, Beltran gathered a medium-hit fly from Michael Young, charged and fired home. Yadier Molina gathered the ball on the baseline and held on after a collision, pumping his fists in delight.
The play bailed out Cardinals center fielder John Jay, who took a poor path to Ellis’s sinking liner, allowing Ellis to race to third base.
The Cardinals tried to steal the game in the bottom of the ninth when former Giant Brian Wilson, infamous for his ZZ Top beard, walked two after getting the first two outs of the inning. He was able to get Jay to fly to center field to send the game to extra innings.
“I was going to give those guys credit,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “I mean, we’re down to the final four and you’re looking at two pretty good teams and played a pretty good game tonight with a lot of good pitching. We had a couple of opportunities to get a run in and we didn’t do it.”
The Dodgers entered the series well rested, having eliminated the Braves on Monday, allowing manager Don Mattingly a chance to give No. 2 starter Zack Greinke the nod in Game 1 followed by ace Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 Saturday afternoon.
Greinke allowed two earned runs in six innings in a 4-3 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. He was better Friday, allowing two runs through seven innings, yielding just a two-run double by Beltran in the third.
Greinke began laboring in the seventh, going to a full count on David Freese with John Jay on first and one out. Freese followed with a sinking liner to right that was nabbed by Puig, who then doubled Jay at first to end the frame.
Because the Cardinals exhausted their starting rotation in the Pittsburgh series, using ace Adam Wainwright twice, they started second-year righthander Joe Kelly. Only 15 of Kelly’s 37 appearances in the regular season came as a starter, but he was a sparkling 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA after joining the rotation in July.
He started Game 3 of the NLDS, allowing two earned runs and five hits in 5⅓ innings in a no-decision last Sunday at Pittsburgh. He was wildly effective in the first two innings, pitching in to — and out of — jams.
Kelly began the game by striking out former Red Sox Carl Crawford, but Mark Ellis followed with a single to center, then Kelly hit Hanley Ramirez with a pitch in the rib area. After a wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position, Kelly unleashed his nasty offspeed stuff, striking out Adrian Gonzalez on a curveball and Puig on a wicked slider.
In the third, Kelly allowed a leadoff double into the left-field corner by Crawford, who moved to third on Ellis’s bouncer to second. Kelly then walked Ramirez and Gonzalez to load the bases for Puig, the rookie sensation who has flourished in big-game situations.
Batting with two on for the second time in the game, Puig managed just a bouncer back to the mound, forcing Crawford at home. Juan Uribe prevented the Dodgers from wasting another chance with a two-run single to center, but LA could not squeeze more runs out of two premium opportunities.
The Cardinals thrive from making something out of nothing and their two-run third exemplified that. Greinke retired the first eight batters with ease before Kelly slapped a two-out single to left field. Greinke then walked leadoff hitter Carpenter to set up a RBI opportunity for Beltran.
In typical Beltran postseason form, he laced a deep fly ball to right-center, where Andre Either, who has struggled with a gimpy left ankle for more than a month, whiffed at the ball against the wall, allowing two runs to score.
Beltran entered Friday hitting .345 with 16 homers and 31 RBIs in 39 postseason games and made Greinke pay dearly for walking the struggling Carpenter, who hit .053 in the Pittsburgh series. Besides that glitch, Greinke was nearly flawless, mixing his pitches and keeping the St. Louis lineup off balance.
He didn’t make the same mistake twice, striking out Kelly and Carpenter in the fifth, ensuring Beltran would lead off the sixth inning.
Greinke entered the sixth only having thrown 73 pitches and he didn’t allow a runner to second after Beltran’s double.
Kelly, meanwhile, retired seven of the next eight batters after Uribe’s two-run single and stranded Uribe by inducing an inning-ending fly from Greinke to end the sixth. That would be his last batter.
Kelly allowed six hits and two runs, striking out five and walking two. It wasn’t a masterful performance but it was good enough to keep the Cardinals in a tie ballgame.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.