The Dodgers beat the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS Monday night to clinch the series and move on to the LCS against either the Cardinals or the Pirates. The outcome of the game didn’t hinge on Clayton Kershaw‘s start on only three days rest, although for a while it looked like it would. The outcome of the game didn’t hinge on the Braves’ sending Freddy Garcia to the mound to try and save their season, although for a while it looked like it would. The outcome of the game didn’t hinge on Adrian Gonzalez‘s poor defense at first base or Freddie Freeman’s phenomenal defense there, although for a while it looked like it would.
Sure, those events played a role. They set the stage for the late-inning heroics that always seem to come from unexpected places in the postseason. Last night, in Los Angeles, the hero was Juan Uribe and his towering two-run home run into the left field bullpen that sent Dodger Stadium into a frenzy in the bottom of the 8th inning and sent the Braves home to Atlanta in defeat. A year ago, that moment would have been impossible to imagine.
Uribe signed a 3-year/$21 million deal with the Dodgers after winning the World Series with the Giants in 2010. Uribe had been a postseason hero in San Francisco: he hit the game-winning sacrifice fly in Game 4 and game-winning home run in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Phillies; and he singled and scored on Edgar Renteria’s three-run home run off Cliff Lee to seal the World Series against the Rangers. The Giants wanted him back, but Dodgers GM Ned Coletti outbid his former boss, Brian Sabean, and Uribe was on his way to Chavez Ravine.
From the start, it looked like a very bad gamble by Coletti.
Uribe’s first two years in Los Angeles were anything but heroic. He labored through a sports hernia for much of the 2011 season and had season-ending surgery for the injury in late July. In 77 games, he batted .204/.264/.293 with four home runs. His 56 wRC+ was the fourth-worst in the National League among players with at least 25o plate appearances. At age 31, he looked all but done. The next season was worse. Uribe battled wrist soreness all season and saw his production drop even more than in 2011. He played just 66 games, and posted a .191/.258/.294 line in 179 plate appearances with just two home runs. His wRC+ dropped to 53. And there was a tumblr to capture all of the Uribe sorrow.
Things have been quite different for Uribe and the Dodgers this season. Chalk it up to better health or his upcoming free-agent status or his burgeoning friendship with Hyun-Jin Ryu. Whatever the cause, Uribe finally gave the Dodgers the kind of production they’ve been expecting since 2011. In 132 games, Uribe hit .278/.331/.438 with 12 home runs, including three in one game against the Diamondbacks in early September, as the Dodgers were pushing to clinch the National League West. Uribe did most of his damage from the sixth, seventh, and eighth spots in the lineup. He didn’t bask in the limelight that enveloped Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez, but he gave the Dodgers productive at-bats at the bottom of the order. And he’s been stellar defensively at third base, prompting a serious campaign for him to win the Gold Glove.
When Uribe came to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning Monday night — with Yasiel Puig on second base after a lead off double and nobody out — Don Mattingly asked Uribe to bunt Puig to third. The Dodgers had used their Kershaw card and were trailing the Braves by one run in the 8th inning, with a Game 5 in Atlanta looking more and more likely. And yet there was the bunt sign for Juan Uribe, who’s had four successful sacrifice bunts in three years with the Dodgers.
Here’s Uribe’s first bunt attempt:
And his second bunt attempt:
Lucky for the Dodgers that Uribe couldn’t lay down the bunt. With the count at two balls and two strikes, Uribe did this to David Carpenter’s hanging breaking ball:
They call him Jazz Hands, for the way he effortlessly flings the bat when he hits a majestic home run. On Monday night, Juan Uribe became the first player in MLB history to hit a game-winning home run in the 8th inning or later in two different series-deciding postseason games. And with that, he wrote a score that would have made John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk smile.