Rubby De La Rosa probably didn’t need any more pressure coming into tonight, his first major league start. Sure, he claims that he doesn’t feel pressure playing baseball because he grew up on the streets, but this wasn’t any ordinary game, or even an ordinary first career start, if there are such things. This was on the road in Philadelphia, home of the best team in baseball, and on a sweltering night, to boot. His opponent was Roy Oswalt, a veteran building a borderline Hall of Fame case. His leadoff hitter and shortstop, Dee Gordon, was also making his first start, and is regarded by most to be here before his time. (Uh, more on that one in a second). And he was backed by a lineup that seemed disinterested in being completely shut down the night before.
Under the circumstances, de la Rosa needed to be all but perfect. He wasn’t, not by a longshot. In fact, his first two innings toed the line of ‘total disaster’. And it didn’t matter. Thanks to some timely hitting from the top of the lineup, a less-than-dominant Oswalt, some hilariously bad defense from the Phillies, de la Rosa’s ability to survive a tough start, and some good old fashioned excellent luck, Rubby’s walking away with his first win as a starter.
The worries started early with de la Rosa, who missed the strike zone with each of his first six pitches, allowing Shane Victorino to walk and steal before he managed to finally find the plate with a pitch. Juan Uribe took some of the pressure off with a nice play to nab Victorino at third on a Placido Polanco bouncer that went off de la Rosa’s glove, but Rubby threw four more balls to Chase Utley to put two on. Ryan Howard foolishly came up hacking at the first two pitches, fouling both off, before sending another grounder to Uribe, who forced Utley at second. Raul Ibanez grounded out to the pitcher, and de la Rosa had escaped despite throwing 11 of his 19 pitches for balls.
The second didn’t start off much better. Carlos Ruiz walked on five pitches. Domonic Brown followed with the same, and after starting off Wilson Valdez with three balls, de la Rosa allowed him to single to center, loading the bases with none out. If you weren’t worried before, now was the time. The Phillies were going to blow this open right then and there. De la Rosa wouldn’t make it out of the second inning, and he’d look back on his first start as a disaster.
Except… for once, the fates smiled upon the Dodgers. Oswalt struck out, and Shane Victorino grounded back to the mound, with de la Rosa making a nice play to force Ruiz at the plate. He walked Polanco to force in a run – can’t live on the edge forever, you know – but ended the threat by getting Chase Utley to fly out to center. Of the 30 pitches in the second, 15 missed the plate. He’d walked five of the first eleven over the first two innings.
De la Rosa had managed to get through the first two innings while allowing just one run, but it’d hardly been smooth. In the third, he didn’t walk anyone – this is progress – but did allow three singles, avoiding damage only when Andre Ethier nailed Ibanez at the plate to end the inning. (It was a nice throw by Ethier, but Steve Lyons’ continued insistence that Ethier is one of the best defensive right fielders in the league made my brain want to melt out of my ears.) But progress is progress, and de la Rosa kept it up through his remaining two innings, retiring all six with little trouble. It was a stunning turnaround after walking five in the first two innings; of the 96 pitches he threw, 50 missed the plate.
On the offensive side, we have to start with Dee Gordon, but there were a lot of heroes tonight. Gordon singled in each of his first three at-bats, becoming the first Dodger to do so in his first start since Mike Piazza in 1992, according to KCAL, and easily stole second base on his only chance. He fielded his position without issue, and had the highest WPA of any of tonight’s participants.
I don’t want to shortchange Gordon – he was great tonight – but we have a lot to get to. Matt Kemp doubled and homered again, putting him on pace for approximately 129 this year. Uribe doubled and made several excellent defensive plays, prompting me to point out on Twitter that he’s underrated with the glove and to ask if he and Gordon have the largest weight differential of any double-play combo in history. Casey Blake reached based twice, but got caught stealing and foolishly sacrifice bunted Gordon from scoring position (2nd) and no outs into scoring position (3rd) and one out.
And then there were the Phillies, who were a circus unto themselves in the first few innings. I wish that I’d had time to grab animated .gifs of all of these and set them to “Yakety Sax”, because their mistakes combined with de la Rosa’s wildness made for an entertaining sequence. In the 2nd, Kemp doubled but was doubled off on Uribe’s liner to Utley… or should I say, would have been doubled off had Utley not thrown the ball away. But we’re just getting started, because in the 3rd, Oswalt tried to pick Blake off first, missing the minor detail that Ryan Howard was not holding Blake on. Gordon scored from second, Blake went to third, and I could hear Phillies fan cringing from here. That was followed two batters later by Kemp grounding into a sure double play, if not for Utley throwing it wide again.
Blake Hawksworth, Matt Guerrier, Scott Elbert, and Javy Guerra followed by allowing one run over four innings. Despite what you heard repeatedly from Lyons, Guerra is not the closer based on his finishing off tonight’s game in a non-save situation. Until the Padillas, Broxtons, Jansens, and Kuos of the world return, this is strictly a bullpen-by-committee situation. (Good news on that front, however, as both Kuo and Jansen are to begin rehab assignments on Thursday, and Broxton is throwing bullpen sessions.)
Hey, look – it’s Casey Blake in 2035.
Courtesy of twitter fan “Willers”, that’s former major leaguer Tom Gordon (Dee’s father, of course) sitting with Casey’s father. Eerie, isn’t it?