Without exception there is always a defining moment in every playoff series – that one single moment in time that sets the tone for the remainder of the series and ultimately determines its final outcome. Sometimes it’s a key hit, sometimes it’s a great defensive play and sometime it’s an outstanding pitching performance. But whatever it is, there is always a defining moment.
The defining moment of the NLDS was a no-brainer – it was Juan Uribe’s monster home run in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game-4 that turned a 3-2 deficit (and the unpleasant thought of having to return to Atlanta and their annoying tomahawk chop fans) into a dramatic 4-3 series-clinching win.
But what about the NLCS, what was the defining moment of that series? There wasn’t really a key hit or great play or outstanding pitching performance by any Cardinals player that determined their ultimate success over the Dodgers, not even in Friday night’s 9-0 blowout win. But there was definitely a defining moment in the series and it was monumental. It was a pitch; one single 95 MPH two-seam fastball that hit Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers best hitter, squarely in the ribs. And though nobody knew it at the time, that one pitch would change the dynamics of the entire series.
The pitch was thrown by 25-year-old Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly, a Southern California native no less, and it was not thrown intentionally. The scouting report on Hanley Ramirez was that the best way to try to get him out was to pitch him inside and on an 0-2 count that is exactly what Kelly tried to do – but he missed and nailed Ramirez instead. If the pitch was two inches closer to the plate it would have hit Hanley on the left arm or elbow, if it was two inches farther away from the plate it would have hit Hanley on the back – either of which would have hurt like hell but neither of which would have caused serious injury.
Incredibly, Ramirez remained in the game, a game that went 13 innings, but he was unable to go in Game-2. After returning to L.A. and an off-day, Ramirez was given an MRI and eventually a CAT scan and the results were devastating – they confirmed that Ramirez had a hairline fracture of the eighth rib on his left side.
With the use of an NFL-style flack vest and pain medication Ramirez tried valiantly to play in every remaining game and, in fact, did so, but the damage was done and Hanley ended up going 2 for 15 (.133) with 5 walks (2 intentional) and 5 strikeouts and was visibly in agony with every swing of the bat.
In the end, the defining moment of the 2013 NLCS was not the result of a key hit, or a great defensive play or an outstanding pitching performance. By shear accident and dumb luck the defining moment of the 2013 NLCS was Joe Kelly taking the bat out of the hands of the best Dodger hitter – and it worked to perfection.