There’s an old saying in baseball that a manager can’t win games, but he sure can lose them. Ladies and gentleman, may I present Exhibit A, which was the 9th inning from your favorite bullpen-juggling, zombie-looking, DUI-collecting, Colby Rasmus-hating St. Louis manager, Tony LaRussa. After Chris Carpenter dominated the Dodgers for 8 full innings – and don’t you forget, Carpenter always kills the Dodgers – LaRussa decided it was time to put his mark on the 1-0 game. Sure, you could just let Carpenter finish out the game, having thrown only 99 pitches… orrrr you could use four pitchers for four batters, making even your hometown fans boo you, and insert Rafael Furcal and his injured thumb into the game while losing Lance Berkman for good measure.
How’d that work out? After Carpenter plunked Juan Rivera to lead off the ninth, Arthur Rhodes came in to retire Andre Ethier, because Rhodes has a heartbeat and throws with his left hand. Fernando Salas entered and immediately heralded the end times by allowing Aaron Miles to tie the game with a triple to deep center. (Steve Lyons, on top of his game tonight, immediately chimed in by referring to Miles as a “gritty, tough player, always comes through big in the clutch.”) Jason Motte entered – yes, the fourth pitcher of the inning, despite the Dodgers having managed just one hit in the frame – and got Rod Barajas to ground to Furcal, who bobbled it and threw it past Yadier Molina, allowing the Dodgers to take the lead. But LaRussa was the gift who kept on giving, because instead of Javy Guerra having to face Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Berkman in the 9th, he merely had to face Pujols, Corey Patterson, and Furcal, plus Jon Jay when Furcal reached on a single.
LaRussa’s bumbling, along with Miles’ hit (and Lyons’ ridiculous hysteria aside, Miles deserves all the credit for making it happen), turned a certain loss into the kind of momentum-building win we just haven’t seen that often from this year’s edition of the Dodgers.
Before we got to the 9th inning silliness, 21-year-old rookie Nathan Eovaldi nearly matched Carpenter by allowing just one run (a Berkman dinger) and two hits over five innings. That means that in each of Eovaldi’s first four career starts, he’s made it at least five innings while allowing two earned runs or less, and that’s something that no Los Angeles Dodger in history is able to say. (To clarify, several pitchers have done that in five or six games to start their Dodger careers, but not to start their big-league careers.)
That’s a pretty impressive start to a career, and the hope Eovaldi has provided has been well-timed in the aftermath of Rubby De La Rosa‘s elbow surgery. While that’s wonderful, there’s also some worry about how much of this is smoke-and-mirrors; after striking out seven in his debut in Arizona, he’s now struck out three, two, and one over his last three outings, totaling just six whiffs in 17 innings over the last three games. (Yes, the box score says he had two strikeouts tonight, but one was a foul bunt for strike three by Carpenter.) That’s a .232 BABIP, and that kind of success without missing bats is generally unsustainable. That’s not to take anything away from Eovaldi, of course, who should be thrilled with the way his season has gone; just a reminder to take the “OMG he has a 2.05 ERA” comments you’ll surely hear with the requisite grain of salt.
On the other side of the ball, Don Mattingly tried to shake things up with his lineup, with mixed results. For the first time all season, Andre Ethier (bumped to fifth) and Matt Kemp (moved to third) strayed from their usual 3-4 spots in the lineup, with James Loney moved up to second and Juan Rivera hitting cleanup. KABC’s Joe Block reported that Mattingly did so to get Kemp an extra at-bat and to take some of the pressure off of the struggling Ethier. That all makes sense, and you have to think there was just a bit of “screw it, nothing is working, I have to do something” involved there too. Unfortunately for Mattingly, Kemp and Ethier went 0-8, though Barajas and Loney combined for five of the six Dodger hits. (Speaking of which, today is Barajas’ one-year anniversary as a Dodger. Sure didn’t see that .284 OBP coming, right?)
I shouldn’t have to point out to you who else didn’t get a hit: Eugenio Velez, who added an 0-3 onto his 0-25 season; as Block pointed out, Velez hasn’t managed a hit since June 30 with Albuquerque, a span of nearly two months.
Speaking of Furcal and the Cards, in addition to the ~$1.5m saved when he was dealt in July, the Dodgers also acquired outfielder Alex Castellanos, and while he’s still unlikely to be more than a fourth outfielder, he did win the Southern League Player of the Week award today. He’s hitting .368/.443/.711 in 88 PA for Chattanooga; I doubt we’ll see him in September since Jerry Sands and Jamie Hoffmann rate above him on the depth chart, but he could certainly make a case for himself in camp next season.