It was a scenario straight out of “Casey at the Bat”: a screaming crowd, ninth inning, two outs, two men on base, the home team down by two runs, the slugger striding to the plate with a chance to win the game.
The slugger on Monday night in Dodger Stadium was Joc Pederson, a hotshot prospect for Los Angeles recalled that day from the minor leagues.
Pederson, who is Jewish, was about to bat for the first time in the major leagues. He had enjoyed a stellar campaign for the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes, garnering the Most Valuable Player award in the Pacific Coast League on the strength of his 33 home runs, 78 runs batted in, a .303 batting average and 30 stolen bases.
His Dodgers were trailing the Washington Nationals, 6-4, in a battle between the two best teams in the National League as he came up to pinch-hit. The 22-year-old outfielder squared off against the Nats’ veteran closer, Rafael Soriano, trying to extend a two-out rally – and win the game with one swat.
It nearly happened. On a 2-0 pitch, the air was “shattered,” as Ernest Thayer penned in his 1887 poem about the excitement of a pitcher-batter showdown, “by the force of Casey’s blow” – make that Pederson’s blow. Fans leapt to their feet as the pulled ball headed on a line to right field. But it was clearly foul.
Pederson fouled off another one. Soriano then bounced a slider to run the count full.
Soriano’s 3-2 pitch came in high. Pederson dropped his bat, turning toward first base, figuring he had walked to load the bases.
Except the breaking pitch had dropped into the high-outside portion of the strike zone, as the umpire saw it. Game over. The Nationals celebrated at the mound and Pederson walked slowly to the dugout.
There was no joy in Chavez Ravine; the mighty Joc had struck out.