ST. LOUIS -- This was not exactly Kirk Gibson limping to home plate.
But on the 25th anniversary of Gibson's iconic home run sailing into the night air at Dodger Stadium in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, 5-foot-9 Cardinals reserve Shane Robinson came off the opposite bench to hit a homer that will take its own small place in postseason history. A little guy and one big bounce in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
"I guess Shane did his best Gibson impersonation tonight," said Cards infielder Daniel Descalso.
Robinson was 0-for-10 in his previous career postseason at-bats before connecting in the seventh inning against J.P. Howell, a left-handed Dodgers reliever who surrendered only two homers in 62 regular-season innings. The baseball bounced off the top of the left-field wall and settled into a sea of disappointed Dodgers fans, giving the Cardinals critical insurance in what had been a one-run game.
Robinson's homer capped the scoring in the Cards' 4-2 win. St. Louis leads the best-of-seven NLCS, 3-1, and has a chance to secure a trip to the World Series with a win on Wednesday (3 p.m. CT on TBS).
"I think the big hit in the game tonight was Shane Robinson coming from the bench," said right fielder Carlos Beltran, who has hit 16 postseason home runs in his career. "That was huge. It's a completely different ballgame when the closer comes in with two runs."
Where did the homer rank on Robinson's list of big moments?
"It's up there," Robinson said. "Marriage and childbirth are a little bit above it, but it's up there.
Here's to you, Mr. Robinson
"It's just gratifying to help my team. There's not many opportunities with the one lefty in [the Dodgers' bullpen], so being able to come up and get a great swing on a ball and actually put it out is good."
"It's huge," third baseman David Freese said. "'Sug' [short for Robinson's nickname, Sugar Shane] can flat-out play. He's a guy that I got to face in college the year he got Player of the Year, and he's battled his way ever since to be a big leaguer. He's a big part of our team."
Freese was referring to 2005, when Robinson played at Florida State and had a 40-game hitting streak, stole 49 bases and batted .427 to win Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year honors, the first Seminole to win that award since J.D. Drew in 1997.
Robinson's professional career has been quieter. He hit 22 home runs in 1,545 Minor League at-bats, and before Tuesday, he had hit five homers in 352 at-bats in the Major Leagues, including the postseason. In the Majors, Robinson has mostly served off a Cardinals bench that was not considered a particular strength coming into this postseason. That did not bother the Game 4 hero.
"It's not a feared bench, we've got a lot of young guys coming up," Robinson said. "But every one of those guys on the bench can contribute, whether it be baserunning, defense, clutch hits, things like that. It was good for us tonight. I think it helped the team realize that some of these guys can perform off the bench."
Take Descalso. He was on the bench for the first three games of the series, but started Game 4 at shortstop because manager Mike Matheny was seeking a jolt of offense.
Descalso delivered in his first at-bat when he hit a rally-starting single to lead off the third inning. Cards starter Lance Lynn bunted him over to second, and Matt Carpenter drove him home with an RBI double for a 1-0 lead. Two batters later, Matt Holliday hammered a long two-run home run.
"You want to score first and maybe score in bunches," Descalso said. "That was a big swing by Matty. … We've been looking for that big hit the last three days and just haven't been able to get it. Matty gave us a real big hit right there."
Four innings later, it was Robinson's turn.
"When you look back at that pitch he hit out tonight, you're not supposed to hit that ball out," Freese said of Howell's down-and-away changeup. "He did what he had to do to send it, and it was a big run for us."
Off the bat, nobody knew if it was enough.
Across the outfield, in the visitors' bullpen, Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal watched and hoped. On the bench, Beltran thought Robinson would have a double over left fielder Carl Crawford's head, and he marveled that the baseball continued to carry. On the bench, Freese did his part.
"You start screaming," he said. "You try to blow it out."
Shelby Miller looked down at his cleats. Robinson joked before the game that if he was wearing the same cleats as Miller, who has yet to find his way into this series, they must be bad luck. So Robinson removed his road cleats and put on the home ones instead, "just to mess with" Miller.
Will he wear them again Wednesday?
"Yeah, I probably will," Robinson said.
He shrugged off the comparison to Gibson.
"It's nice," Robinson said. "I'm going to be happy about it tonight, and then tomorrow, [I'll] forget about it and try to help the team again."