Third Time's the Charm for Juan UribeWhen the Los Angeles Dodgers watched Juan Uribe help the San Francisco Giants win the 2010 World Series, they signed him to a three-year, $21-million contract that winter with the hope that he could duplicate more October magic in Los Angeles.
Not only did the Dodgers miss the playoffs in both 2011 and 2012, but Uribe also compiled measly batting averages of .204 and .191 in each of those two seasons. Most wrote him off as a huge bust, but the team was reluctant to cut him because he was still due $8 million in 2013 — the final year of his contract.
Fast forward to Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves on Monday night. With the Dodgers leading the best-of-five series 2-1 but down a run in the eighth inning, Yasiel Puig led off with a double and Uribe was then asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move Puig to third.
He bunted foul on the first pitch, unable to advance the runner with his first chance. The same thing happened on the second pitch. Just like his first two years with the Dodgers, Uribe couldn't get the job done. Down in the count 0-2 to one of baseball's best relievers in David Carpenter, the odds were now suddenly stacked against the veteran third baseman.
Uribe began this season on the bench behind journeyman Luis Cruz, who had snatched the gig after a miraculous second-half performance in 2012 that turned out to be a fluke. Cruz failed to replicate what he had done last summer and was cut before this season's All-Star break. With a vacancy at third base, Uribe was thrust into everyday action and quietly began to give the Dodgers an unexpected boost at the hot corner — both offensively and defensively.
When the Dodgers acquired Michael Young at the end of August, many wondered if the former Texas Rangers hit guru would supplant Uribe in the lineup. But Uribe had proved his worth over the course of the summer and remained the starting third baseman into September, where he would have a three-home run game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Uribe finished the regular season with a solid .278 batting average, 12 home runs, 50 runs batted in and only one error on defense. He had made good in the third year of his contract and was a big part of the Dodgers' surge from last place to first place in the National League West.
But would Uribe be able to make good on his third opportunity to help push across the tying run in a pivotal playoff game? After falling behind 0-2 on the two failed bunt attempts, Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach came down the line to tell Uribe that the sacrifice play was off. It was going to be up to Uribe to fend for himself. He was able to work the count back to even at 2-2, and then Braves catcher Brian McCann called for a low slider, hoping Uribe would chase.
Carpenter left it up, and Uribe sent it up. Up, up and away, deep into the Los Angeles night. When the ball finally landed in the Dodgers' bullpen, the home team had regained the lead 4-3, and seismic activity probably could have been recorded at Dodger Stadium as Uribe trotted around the bases — not because he is a larger fellow, but because of what had just happened. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen struck out three dejected Braves in the next half inning and the Dodgers were on their way to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2009.
With his towering drive, Uribe became the first player ever to hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later of two postseason series-deciding games — the first being his shot against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS as a member of the Giants. He also became the second player in Dodgers history to hit a go-ahead home run with his team trailing in the eighth inning or later in the playoffs. The other? It was Kirk Gibson's famous dinger off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
The Dodgers have not been back to the Fall Classic since then, but have played in two League Championship Series and are heading to a third this weekend. For Uribe, his third season in Dodger blue has been much better than the previous two, his third swing against Carpenter was much better than the previous two, and the Dodgers are hoping that their third trip to the League Championship Series will be much better than the previous two.