ST. LOUIS — Speed kills.

You can ask the Los Angeles Dodgers now. Surely they had nightmares Saturday night of cleats in motion, perpetual motion, dancing off the bases, kicking up dirt, sprinting from first to second, second to third, third to home.

For that’s how St. Louis finally beat them, closing the gap to 2-1 in their playoff series. Not so much with bats and balls, but with the soles of their feet. Everyone knew the Cardinals were the fastest team in baseball. But it took them awhile to show it.

Wait’s over. From Vince Coleman’s opening single Saturday, it was run for your life for as long as it mattered, which was pretty much the first two innings. The Cardinals did all their scoring in those innings — which took nearly an hour to play — and it was less a game than a track meet. We should have brought stopwatches. We should have shot a starter’s pistol and painted a finish line across home plate.

Every time Coleman or fellow gazelle Willie McGee got on base — five times Saturday — the sell-out crowd roared, rose to its feet and waved red flags like a matador in the ring. And the runners would ease out to the farthest border of the first base dirt, and claw at it, scratching their hooves like the bull waiting to charge. The stadium thundered. Run! El Toro!

Speed thrills. Pitchers under the gun

And run they did.

Coleman stole second immediately. McGee walked. And Dodgers pitcher Bob Welch — who, like all the pitchers the Dodgers sent out there, was at least semi-spooked by the threat of Cardinals runners — threw wild on a pickoff attempt at second. Coleman raced home. McGee raced to third. Tommy Herr walked and he stole second. When the first inning had ended, the Cardinals had two runs on one hit and the pattern had been set for the rest of the game.

“You wanna see this game?” asked Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda afterward.
“Look at who scored three out of their four runs and you’ll see this game.”

Coleman and McGee.

No. They can’t take all the credit. For one thing, if the Cardinals won the sprinting events in this track meet, then the Dodgers won the stand-in-one-place events. They stranded base runners as if they were earning coupons for each one. Every inning they put a man on base — seven in total — they left at least one there for the third out.

But what hurt them most were the Cardinals’ larcenous legs. The threat a steal was bad enough. What pitcher wouldn’t be disturbed when every time he set, he saw some dancing waterbug out of the corner of his eye, just teasing him, tempting him. Come on. Try me.

“Sometimes you think about them more than you’d like to,” said Welch, who may have set a record for throws to first base. You half-expected the umpire there to start calling balls and strikes. But can you blame him? The minute a Coleman or McGee gets aboard, they get under your skin. It’s like the guy who walks into a bank with his hand in his pocket and says he’s got a gun. If he’s

mean-looking enough, you won’t ask for proof. You’ll just start worrying.

Like the Dodgers, who no doubt lost some of the warm confidence they had collected in Games 1 and 2, played out in the California sunshine.

Speed chills. Cards could steal this series

Still, you can’t really call this an exciting series so far, unless maybe you’re from St. Louis or LA or you don’t get out much. But at least it’s predictable. The Dodgers pitch. The Cardinals run. In Games 1 and 2, St. Louis totaled three runs off Dodgers pitching. The Dodgers won both. Saturday, the Cardinals stole bases, forced throwing errors. They won.

“We’ve got a job to do,” McGee said. “When we’re on base, pitchers have to pitch our hitters differently. They have to concentrate on us.”

The Cardinals live by Lou Brock’s old credo, “First base is nowhere.” They parlay first base into second, third, home. They get fielders nervous, causing them to throw wild or long — as several Dodgers did Saturday. If they keep pulling it off, they’ll win. If the Dodgers keep them off base, it’s theirs.

Load the gun. Bring out the blocks. Might as well ask Carl Lewis to show up.

The Dodgers now know the agony of de feet. The Cardinals got sole. They needed a victory desperately. And they got it.

Speed kills, speed thrills. And, for this game, anyhow, speed fulfills.

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