After the Dodgers fell behind 4-0 in the 4th inning thanks to the Giants ground-ball singling Clayton Kershaw to death (I believe his BABIP last night was somewhere north of eleven billion), I admittedly all but gave up on the chances for a comeback, particularly with Matt Cain throwing a perfect game through four innings and Brian Wilson looming. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that; I imagine the television ratings in the Los Angeles area fell by about 75% between the fourth and sixth innings.
While it didn’t work out in the end – and believe me, we’ll get to two of the worst players in baseball and an indefensible managerial decision in a second – with how dire things have been lately, let’s at least give some small amount of credit for at least crawling back to tie in the 8th inning. Leading off the fifth, Matt Kemp popped his second homer of the week to ruin Cain’s perfecto and get the Dodgers on the board. They got another one in the 7th on a Rod Barajas RBI double, and after Mike MacDougal allowed a fifth run to San Francisco in the top of the 8th, the Dodgers exploded for three runs in the bottom of the frame to tie it up. The Giants used three pitchers against the first four Dodger batters, allowing singles to Jamey Carroll and Kemp, but retiring Aaron Miles and Andre Ethier. In came Brian Wilson, against the two most disappointing Dodger hitters, Juan Uribe and James Loney. Yet Uribe doubled, scoring two, and Loney followed with a single, bringing in Uribe to tie the game.
That sequence alone counts as a minor miracle, and hopefully it’s something to build on, so I’ll take it. Here’s where it fell apart, however. Having exhausted all his pitchers, Don Mattingly was forced to use his “break glass in case of emergency” pitcher, Lance Cormier in a tie game in the 9th. Even before this game, Cormier had been completely putrid, but at least he’d done so in the lowest of low-leverage situations. Of the seven games he’d entered before yesterday, only one ended up being even as close as a four run game. I will absolutely support Tony Jackson’s premise that Cormier’s extremely rare usage (he hadn’t pitched in eight days, and just twice since April 22 – nearly a month) contributed to his poor performance last night, but that doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t gotten the job done all season. Predictably, Cormier couldn’t get through the inning when it actually mattered, allowing two singles before a three-run blast by Cody Ross put the game away.
Cormier’s not very good, and that’s no surprise, but with Vicente Padilla injured and Matt Guerrier & Kenley Jansen both unavailable except for emergency, Mattingly’s choices were obviously limited. But let’s step back to the fifth inning to see how he got into that situation in the first place. Down 4-1 after Kemp’s homer, the Dodgers managed to load the bases on two walks and a hit batter. Barajas flew out, bringing up Kershaw with the bases loaded and one out.
At this point, Mattingly had a decision to make, and you can make a great argument for either side here. He could let Kershaw hit for himself, knowing that unless he grounded into a double play, he’d still have Carroll up with men on and would still have his starter in the game. Since Kershaw hadn’t been hit particularly hard, you never want to take him out that early, particularly in a game where you know your bullpen is shorthanded. Or, as he did, you can figure that the offense has been so awful that you need to take advantage of any run scoring chance you can get, especially when you’re already down a few runs. Mattingly decided to pinch hit for Kershaw, and while I’m not sure I would have done the same thing, I have no problem with his choice.
Here’s where the problem comes in. Mattingly’s choices to hit for Kershaw, assuming you don’t want to waste the backup catcher that early, were Jerry Sands, Russ Mitchell, Tony Gwynn… and Juan Castro. None, I will grant, are great options. The clear choice is Sands, who has at least shown some extra base pop and is third on the team in doubles. You could argue for Gwynn, to get a lefty in there against the righty Cain.
But Mattingly chose Castro, and that’s where things went sideways. Castro is historically, unbelievably, amazingly atrocious. He owns one of the worst bats in major league history, and he’s 39 years old. He’s not even a lefty, which you might possibly have been able to argue. Yet that’s who Mattingly chose to hit with the bases loaded. Castro flew out, Carroll grounded out, and that threat was over. If you’re going to hit for the pitcher, that’s fine, but it’s pointless to waste Kershaw if you’re not even going to replace him with someone appreciably better. It’s no guarantee that Sands or Gwynn would have gotten the job done, but it was all but guaranteed that Castro would not. He didn’t, and with Kershaw gone, that’s how we ended up with Cormier in the ninth.
Still, for a game that seemed all but over in the 4th, at least the Dodgers woke up and showed some effort. After what we’ve seen over the last few weeks, that’s progress, even if it didn’t work out.