LOS ANGELES, CA: Pinch hitter Scott Van Slyke #33 the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates with Elian Herrera #37 and Bobby Abreu #23 after all three score on Van Slyke's three run home run in the seventh inning to give the Dodgers the lead against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Just one year ago, he still wasn't on anyone's radar screen.
But in 2011, Van Slyke brutalized Southern League pitchers, and he fared even better this spring in the Pacific Coast League, batting 336/411/623. That earned the 6'5", 250-pound outfielder a promotion to the big club when Juan Rivera went on the Disabled List, and he debuted with the Dodgers on the 9th of May. Still, Van Slyke's started just once and Sunday night's game against the Cardinals was no exception, as he opened the game on the bench.
Ah, but that sly Don Mattingly was merely saving Van Slyke for the perfect moment.
In the bottom of the seventh inning with a couple of runners aboard and the Dodgers down 5-3, the Dodgers' manager sent in Van Slyke as a pinch-hitter against St. Louis left-hander Marc Rzepczynski.
With James Loney on deck -- as everyone this side of Alpha Centauri knows, Loney's terrible against left-handed pitchers -- Rzepczynski was careful with Van Slyke and opened things with three straight pitches out of the strike zone, all of which Van Slyke took for balls.
Don Mattingly lives on this side of Alpha Centauri, too. Which might explain why he gave the "hit away" sign to his third-base coach, who relayed it to Van Slyke, who hit away a three-run home run (video here). That gave the Dodgers a 6-5 lead and their bullpen made it stand up, as Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen both threw perfect innings.
In winning their fourth straight, the Dodgers ran their record to 28-13, the best in the majors. In losing their fourth straight, the Cardinals saw their lead in the National League Central drop to just a half-game over the second-place Reds.