I was going write another story about how fantastic (or lousy, because it applies to either) starting pitching was being wasted by a completely atrocious offense, “led” by the appallingly bad exploits of James Loney and Juan Uribe, but obviously that’s no longer the main story here. Still, coming off of a streak of several poor starts by his rotation mates, the Dodgers badly needed a good outing by Chad Billingsley, and he was beyond fantastic, striking out 11 over 8 scoreless innings. (Obligatory: 11 K’s, 8 shutout innings, and no win. This is why he’s going to end up 13-11 and people are going to say he was just okay this year.) Other than Matt Holliday, who reached base three times against him, the only other Cardinal to reach against Billingsley was his opposite number Chris Carpenter, who drew a walk in the 3rd inning before promptly being erased in a double play. By Game Score, this was the best start of Billingsley’s career, topping a shutout victory of San Francisco in 2008, and the Cardinals are no pushovers, as the first three games of the series certainly showed – they’d scored six or more runs in seven consecutive games.
Not to shortchange Billingsley, but let’s get right to the 9th inning, because that’s all anyone’s going to want to talk about. Don Mattingly brought in Jonathan Broxton to start the 9th with the game still scoreless, a move I found interesting but generally liked. After striking out Colby Rasmus and getting Albert Pujols to line out, Broxton allowed Holliday to double to right field. Obviously, that’s not good, but since Holliday was the only guy to touch Billingsley and actually has a higher OBP than Matt Kemp this season, that hardly seemed like a tragedy.
With two outs, Mattingly then ordered an intentional walk to Lance Berkman, a call which made all the sense in the world. Berkman is lefty and his being on first would set up a force at any base but home, and Berkman’s only slugging .692 this season. David Freese came to the plate and poked the first pitch very softly into right field, just beyond the reach of second baseman Aaron Miles, and the Cardinals had the first run.
It was at this point, on Twitter, that I worried about how this turn of events was going to get the Broxton-haters going:
Oh good lord. One hit to Holliday, an IBB, and a bloop, and this is going to start the Broxton “heart” shitstorm again.
And, I mean, seriously. He set down Rasmus and Pujols, who are only two of the most dangerous hitters in the game. As I said, Holliday’s been insanely hot, so it’s hardly a crime to give up a hit to him, and then he was asked to issue an IBB and allowed a soft bloop on a good pitch. Yet I actually had people telling me “he looked awful” and “well, his WHIP was 3.00″. Come on. Really? I hate to even acknowledge such ridiculousness. Broxton then ended the inning by getting Yadier Molina to hit basically the exact same bloop, though this time Miles was able to track it down with a very nice over-the-shoulder grab.
Now down a run in the bottom of the 9th, Andre Ethier started it off with a double off of lefty Trever Miller, which by itself is an extraordinary event that shouldn’t be forgotten, though it probably will. With Ethier on second and Tony LaRussa coming out to wave in Ryan Franklin, I said this:
No pressure, Kemp, but you either hit a walkoff homer here or the Dodgers lose. Just sayin’.
I was joking, but only kind of. Following Kemp were Loney and Uribe, who combined to go 1-6 with three whiffs, further pushing them up next to the McCourts on the public enemy lists of Dodger fans. After them, it was Rod Barajas, whose .188 is by far the best of the three.
So you can pitch those three guys, none of whom are acting like major league hitters right now, or you can pitch to Kemp, who’s only hitting like Mickey Mantle times Roy Hobbs multiplied by Ted Williams with a splash of Darryl Strawberry in the softball episode of “The Simpsons” that gives this blog its name. I get that you don’t generally want to intentionally put the winning run on base, but I also don’t see how you can let Franklin – who, with today’s loss, has now tied the record for most blown saves in a team’s first 16 games – pitch to the hottest player in baseball, as opposed to three of the worst hitters in baseball.
Franklin’s final pitch ended up in the stands, and the Dodgers avoid the sweep as the legend of Matt Kemp continues to grow.
As usual, Vin Scully put it best:
“They pitched to the one guy who could beat them, and he does.”
And how. Matt Kemp, I think I love you.
On the continuing subject of the Dodger attendance woes, today’s numbers were startling. A gorgeous Sunday afternoon, with one of your top starters up against a quality opponent with a large fanbase, should be an easy draw. But Molly Knight explains otherwise, in a pair of tweets:
How bad is Dodger attendance right now? Every home game last year had 30K+ paid attendance. Today, on a Sunday vs. a good team, was just 27K
27K sold. I’m guessing less than 20 showed up. Uninspiring numbers.
I’ve seen in a few places people suggesting that fans are simply boycotting Frank McCourt, but I think it’s more than that. As Eric Stephen alluded to earlier, this really is the “perfect storm” of problems as far as attendance goes. Beyond the horrible PR around McCourt, you’ve got a team that’s losing and can’t hit – i.e., “boring” to the average fan – and a stadium that has been in the news for all of the wrong reasons lately. You could also argue the economy plays a part, though I would say that the economy was pretty bad last year too, and the crowds weren’t nearly as sparse.
With McCourt obviously so badly in trouble that he’s calling in loans to meet expenses, this could have larger ramifications than simply the embarrassment of seeing empty seats on television. Empty seats don’t pay for parking, they don’t buy beers and hot dogs, and they don’t buy jerseys and pennants. Regardless of what the reasons are, if this is a trend that doesn’t turn around, it could make more of an impact on the situation than anything Bud Selig does or doesn’t do.