Dodgers fans fair to ques­tion Car­di­nals

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - Bill.plaschke@latimes.com Twit­ter: @billplaschke

Af­ter watch­ing the planet’s best pitcher en­dure two unimag­in­able melt­downs in the same sit­u­a­tion to the same team in con­sec­u­tive Octobers, some Dodgers fans be­gan to won­der.

Were the St. Louis Car­di­nals cheat­ing?

Maybe not, but now fed­eral author­i­ties think they may be cheaters.

Just call them the New Eng­land Car­di­nals … or maybe the St. Louis Pa­tri­ots … or maybe just call them phonies in the wake of a New York Times re­port

that they are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the FBI for hack­ing com­puter net­works and steal­ing in­for­ma­tion about the Hous­ton Astros.

The Car­di­nals have long pro­moted them­selves as keep­ers of base­ball’s old-fash­ioned flame, the cu­ra­tors of smart and self­less play, the ar­chi­tects of what they proudly call, “The Car­di­nal Way.”

Yet the FBI be­lieves that “way” de­toured into a dark place in which em­ploy­ees gained ac­cess to the Astros’ data­base with pass­words Astros Gen­eral Man­ager Jeff Luh­now used when he worked for the Car­di­nals. He worked for St. Louis for eight years un­til he went to Hous­ton af­ter the 2011 sea­son.

With that ac­cess, the Car­di­nals al­legedly ob­tained in­for­ma­tion on ev­ery­thing from player eval­u­a­tions to trade talks.

There is no ev­i­dence the Car­di­nals’ al­leged spy­ing in­volved any team other than the Astros. When asked Tues­day, the Dodgers pub­licly dis­missed spec­u­la­tion their post­sea­son losses in­volved any sort of dig­i­tal es­pi­onage.

Yet, just as any NFL team can raise their eye­brows af­ter the Pa­tri­ots’ Delfate­gate and Spy­gate, so too can Dodgers fans now rea­son­ably won­der.

If the Car­di­nals would sneak into an op­po­nent’s com­puter, which is a fed­eral crime and far worse than de­flat­ing a few foot­balls, what else would they do to gain an edge? If they would cheat against a long-strug­gling team such as the Astros, why wouldn’t they cheat to beat the rich­est team in base­ball and their Cy Young Award win­ner Clay­ton Ker­shaw?

It was al­ways as­sumed the Car­di­nals de­feated the Dodgers in both the Na­tional League di­vi­sion se­ries and Cham­pi­onship Se­ries be­cause sub­stance beats style. But so much of the Car­di­nals suc­cess was so eerie, Dodgers fans won­dered whether this so-called model fran­chise was ac­tu­ally a model of de­ceit.

The FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion doesn’t ad­dress those fears but it cer­tainly val­i­dates them. Two years’ worth of com­plaints now seem less like sour grapes and more like com­mon sense.

Start with the fourth pitch to the third bat­ter of their first game in the 2013 NLCS. Joe Kelly sent a fast­ball into Han­ley Ramirez’s side, frac­tur­ing one of his ribs and dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing the se­ries al­most be­fore it started.

At the time, Ramirez was the Dodgers’ hottest play­off hitter, bat­ting .500 in the first round of the di­vi­sion se­ries against the At­lanta Braves with four dou­bles, a triple, a homer and six RBIs in just four games. Af­ter the plunk­ing, Ramirez could never fully swing again, bat­ting .133 in the se­ries with one RBI and no ex­tra­base hits.

Many gave Kelly and the Car­di­nals the ben­e­fit of the doubt, be­liev­ing they wouldn’t so bla­tantly di­rect a cheap shot at the Dodgers so early in the se­ries. That ben­e­fit is now gone. Does any­body not be­lieve that hit was in­ten­tional? Be­cause it oc­curred in the first half in­ning of the se­ries, would it be so sur­pris­ing if it was or­ga­ni­za­tion­ally planned and or­dered?

Then there was the cu­ri­ous case of Ker­shaw, who was mostly un­touch­able dur­ing Cy Young Award-win­ning sea­sons in 2013 and 2014, but com­pletely fell apart when fac­ing the Car­di­nals un­der pres­sure each of those years. Same hit­ters, same sit­u­a­tions, same re­sults, con­sec­u­tive post­sea­son col­lapses by base­ball’s best pitcher un­der very un­usual cir­cum­stances with ab­so­lutely no warn­ing signs.

In 2013, Ker­shaw pitched two bril­liant games against the Braves in the di­vi­sion se­ries, giv­ing up one run in 13 in­nings. In Game 2 of the NLCS against the Car­di­nals he was just as pow­er­ful, al­low­ing no earned runs and two hits in six in­nings. Noth­ing in­di­cated what would hap­pen next, when, in Game 6, he gave up seven runs in four in­nings in a 9-0, se­ries-end­ing loss. He was so bad, throw­ing a ca­reer-high 48 pitches in the third in­ning, that it looked as if the Car­di­nals hit­ters knew ex­actly what was com­ing.

Turns out, maybe they did. Three of the Car­di­nals’ four run­scor­ing hits oc­curred with a Car­di­nal stand­ing on sec­ond base peer­ing into catcher A.J. El­lis’ glove. Steal­ing signs by sim­ply look­ing at the catcher is part of the game — if you don’t like it, change your signs — but who knows if that’s all the Car­di­nals were do­ing?

Ker­shaw was asked Tues­day whether he thought the Car­di­nals could have used any­thing against him.

“No,” he said, then picked up a stack of sta­tis­ti­cal notes and his re­search while not­ing it was avail­able to ev­ery­one.

“I don’t know any­thing, but if the FBI’s in­volved it’s a crim­i­nal act,” he said of the Car­di­nals. “Steal­ing pitches isn’t a crim­i­nal act, it’s part of the game.”

Dur­ing Ker­shaw’s sev­en­thin­ning dis­in­te­gra­tion in the se­ries opener, he blew a 6-2 lead by giv­ing up three run-scor­ing hits each time with Car­di­nal run­ners on sec­ond base. He even­tu­ally gave up eight runs in 6 2/3 in­ning in a 10-9 loss.

Then there was Game 4, a 3-2 loss in which Ker­shaw al­lowed all three runs in the sev­enth in­ning on ar­guably the most un­usual home run of the sea­son. Matt Adams went deep on a Ker­shaw curve­ball for the first homer by a left-handed hitter against the pitcher all sea­son. It was also the first home run by a left-handed hitter on a curve­ball in Ker­shaw’s seven-year ca­reer. And, what a sur­prise, there was a Car­di­nal on sec­ond base.

El­lis said Tues­day the team’s pitch­ing plan was not kept dig­i­tally and would be im­pos­si­ble to steal. He said there was noth­ing that would make him worry about the Car­di­nals in the fu­ture.

But still … were the Dodgers beaten by the Car­di­nal Way, or the Car­di­nal Con? It might be un­fair to reach that con­clu­sion, but it is now fair to ask that ques­tion.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

DODGERS’ Han­ley Ramirez, left, gri­maces af­ter be­ing hit by a pitch from Car­di­nals’ Joe Kelly in the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries in 2013. St. Louis was given ben­e­fit of the doubt in the in­ci­dent.

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