About an hour before the first pitch, Matt Kemp was scratched with a sore left hamstring. For 8 1/3 innings, we watched along with him as the Dodger offense, robbed of their main threat, snoozed through another game. After Andre Ethier struck out to start the ninth, the Dodgers had made 25 outs and managed just three hits, two by Dee Gordon. Not that this impending loss was on the offense alone, of course; Chad Billingsley gave up thirteen hits, including seven singles and five runs in the sixth inning alone, and the Dodger defense was generously charged with only two errors.
With none on and one out in the ninth, down six runs, Don Mattingly sent Kemp to the plate. I’ll admit that at the time, I scoffed at the idea of risking Kemp’s health in a lost game, seemingly for the sake of maintaining his MLB-best consecutive games streak. If Kemp is lost for any period of time, a season that’s already in serious trouble – the Dodgers did enter the day in last place, after all – would be all but finished.
Kemp stepped to the plate, an otherwise meaningless at-bat in a long, trying season… and absolutely murdered a baseball. No, really; Kemp crushed this one beyond the left field bleachers. I’ve included a picture of Coors Field at the right here to illustrate just how massive of a blast it takes to do that, and he did it with a sore leg, coming off the bench cold, down six runs. When we look back upon Kemp’s 2011, quickly growing into a season for the ages, we’re going to remember a lot of moments. This is going to be near the top of the list.
Still, with no one on, that merely made the game 6-1, and since Kemp can’t bat in every spot in the order like Bugs Bunny, it seemed clear that his blast would be more of a fun footnote than the start of a great comeback, particularly when Juan Uribe followed James Loney‘s single with a flyout. That put the Dodgers down to their last out, which Dioner Navarro happily squandered by grounding out to third… except that Jim Tracy, looking to rest Todd Helton for the ninth, had rearranged his infield and moved second baseman Chris Nelson to the hot corner. Nelson bounced the throw, new first baseman Ty Wigginton couldn’t handle it, and the Dodgers were still alive.
One by one, the subpar members of the lineup finally woke up, enough to actually allow you to dream. Tony Gwynn doubled, scoring Loney. 6-2. Aaron Miles singled, scoring Navarro and Gwynn. 6-4. Rod Barajas singled, scoring Miles. 6-5. Trent Oeltjen came to the plate as the winning run… and struck out on four pitches, ending the game. The Dodgers remain in last place, but the rally at least forces me to hold off using my Photoshopped “Dodger car hurtling off a cliff” image for one more day.
Appearance alert: tomorrow morning at 11am ET, I’ll be making another appearance on the Baseball Digest radio show on Sirius 210 / XM 87, talking Dodgers. Last time we were able to take some calls – give a ring and get your frustration with the team off your chest.