It's cliche, but it's especially true when the calendar flips to October. It's the little things — sometimes simple and seemingly routine — that instantly change the outlook of a playoff game, and often times separate the winners from the losers. All it takes is one miscommunication or a split second lapse in concentration, and the result is the opponent gaining the most important 90 feet of the game.
Unfortunately, that's what happened to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis on Saturday. His passed ball in the fifth inning gave away those critical 90 feet, and ultimately led to the only run in the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0 victory in Game 2 of the NLCS.
It was a pitch Ellis catches 999 times out of 1,000, probably with his eyes closed. He was positioned on the outside corner when Clayton Kershaw's four-seam fastball to Matt Adams ended up tailing back over the plate. It wasn't that far off the mark, requiring only a slight adjustment on Ellis' part. But, inexplicably, he whiffed on the catch.
The glove was there. The ball was there. They just never connected, and then the ball bounced slowly to the backstop as Ellis chased helplessly after.
"Aww, it was a ball right down the middle; I just missed it," Ellis said after the game.
David Freese, who led off the inning with a double, advanced to third with nobody out. It was the exact same situation Kershaw dealt with and overcame in the first inning after Matt Carpenter led off the game with a triple. But the free 90 feet in the fifth proved too much to overcome. After Kershaw came back from a 3-0 count to strike out Adams, Jon Jay popped a fly ball into medium left field that scored Freese easily from third.
Without the passed ball, Freese probably stands at second for the entire inning. That's not a guarantee, of course, but Kershaw was at his absolute best in Game 2 when runners were in scoring position. As it is, Freese is the only man to touch home, and the Dodgers are in an 0-2 series hole despite getting gems from both Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
It's a worst-case scenario, and the ultimate frustration for the NL's hottest team since June.
"Frustration’s a good word, too," Ellis added. "We let two phenomenal starts get away from us. We can’t waste starts like that from our 1-2 guys and walk out of here without even a split. It’s pretty disheartening. We’ve got to regroup, use the off day to kind of get away from it, get back in front of our home fans and start to mount a big comeback."
"The way that our pitching performances went, it hurts to be down 0-2 after the way those guys threw the ball."
Waiting for them Monday in L.A.? That would be Adam Wainwright.
It doesn't get any easier, especially with the status of Hanley Ramirez or Andre Ethier up in the air, but the Dodgers shouldn't be written off, either. They've showed plenty of resilience themselves this season, but they'll have to play much closer to perfect baseball at home if they hope to see the Gateway Arch again next week. Beating St. Louis in the postseason requires as much.