With two outs in the ninth inning, I had written a whole post about how tonight had gone almost perfectly. Don Mattingly had made out what looked to be my favorite lineup of the year, with Jerry Sands hitting second and in at first base against the lefty, pushing Aaron Miles to 8th. Ted Lilly allowed just one run over six innings, and Andre Ethier kept his hitting streak alive with a 5th inning double. Matt Kemp and Juan Uribe each homered, and the much-maligned infield chipped in with seven hits, three of which came off the bat of Miles. Even the defense turned four double plays, and featured exciting back-to-back diving catches by Kemp and Ethier in the seventh inning. It wasn’t all roses – Sands went 0-4, and while he did reach via walk, he almost immediately was picked off – but with Broxton looking great while retiring the first two Padres, it looked like this was a game that would be a nice kickoff to the short homestand, despite the presence of Frank McCourt trying to gladhand in the right field bleachers.
And then Will Venable singled to right. And Orlando Hudson singled to left. And Chase Headley singled to right, and all of a sudden it was a one-run game with the tying run on third, before a crowd growing restless. None of the balls were particularly hard-hit, and at least two of the three would have been easy outs had they not been perfectly placed grounders, but still, Broxton was on the precipice there.
Nick Hundley stepped up to the plate, and ripped a liner to left, and you can’t possibly imagine all of the thoughts that were going through my head in that millisecond. (Actually, you probably can.) That ball was going to land, the Padres would tie (or conceivably take the lead, had it gotten past the diving left fielder), and all hell was going to break loose. That’s what would have happened… had that diving outfielder been anyone but Tony Gwynn, completing the outfield trifecta of diving plays in the biggest spot possible. The defensive specialist had essentially lost his job when Sands was recalled, getting just nine plate appearances in the preceding seven days, but reminded all of us what his value on this team can be. (And kudos to Mattingly for ensuring that he was out there in the 9th in the first place.)
As for Broxton, nothing’s changed for me. He actually looked good in that his velocity seemed up, and the hits weren’t hit that hard – except the one that landed not on the grass, but in Gwynn’s glove. I’d still have no objection to a superior option usurping him in the 9th, and I still don’t see that the Dodgers have one, particularly since Vicente Padilla was less than impressive in walking two in the 8th. I think it’s safe to assume that none of those facts are going to stop the continued public outcry, of course.