For the first ten minutes or so of a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, the story of the day seemed like it would be about the inevitable regression back to reality from Ted Lilly, who allowed singles to each of the first four Colorado hitters plus a double steal and left the first inning down 3-0.
Three wild hours later, I’d be surprised if anyone even remembers that Lilly pitched in this game at all.
The fun started in the bottom of the third when Matt Kemp, who had already driven in the first Dodger run on a groundout in the first, bounced out to Troy Tulowitzki but was noticeably limping while trying to beat the throw. He was removed from the game, throwing his glove at the dugout wall out of frustration, clearly still bothered by the sore left hamstring which he first injured last weekend in Chicago. Honestly, I wish he’d have received a day off before this.
On most days, losing Kemp alone would be a death knell for this offense, but amazingly, it nearly ended up being a net positive in just the fifth inning alone. Kemp was replaced in center field by Tony Gwynn, moving over from left, and in the top of the fifth Gwynn turned in a highlight-reel catch off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez – a ball that a hobbled Kemp almost certainly wouldn’t have come close to. In the bottom of the inning, Colorado starter Alex White completely fell apart, loading the bases on a Justin Sellers single and walks to Gwynn & Mark Ellis. Bobby Abreu, batting in Kemp’s spot, stroked a double to the left-center field gap, scoring three and putting the Dodgers up 5-4.
But if losing Kemp wasn’t quite enough, Andre Ethier quickly followed him, getting ejected (along with Don Mattingly) for arguing balls and strikes after getting called out looking immediately after Abreu’s hit. Though Ethier had a case – the strike zone this entire series has been all over the place – generally you’d like your second-best hitter to realize that the team’s main threat just left the game not ten minutes earlier, because then you end up with a lineup that looked, at the time, like this:
Gwynn CF/MEllis 2B/Abreu LF/Van Slyke RF/Loney 1B/AJEllis C/Kennedy 3B/Sellers SS
There might be something that stands out to you about that lineup, and it’s not that it looks Giants-level bad on the surface without the two big guns, or even that we finally got to see Scott Van Slyke actually get into a game (and he was more than impressive with a two-RBI double, a walk, a steal, and a laser of a throw from right field to third base). It’s that A.J. Ellis, conqueror of worlds, god among men, follower of me on Twitter, batted higher in the lineup than his usual eighth spot, and was still productive. I know! I couldn’t believe it either.
It’s greatly shortchanging to merely say Ellis “was productive”, of course. Down 3-1 in the second, he singled to right, scoring James Loney with the second run. In the fourth, he grounded out, but only because Colorado third baseman Chris Nelson made a fantastic play on an Ellis rocket. And in the fifth, the inning that saw the Dodgers score six to go from down 4-2 to up 8-4, Ellis came up to the plate against Colorado reliever Matt Reynolds with two men on. Ellis blasted his third home run of the season to left field, driving in three and setting a career high with four runs batted in. (He would also, of course, walk later in the game, as is custom.)
So that’s where we are, apparently, right now on May 13. The Dodgers have the best record in baseball. A.J. Ellis is hitting .317/.462/.512 on his way to certain enshrinement in Cooperstown. And I’m hoping that Kemp actually takes a few days off to rest his hamstring, because suddenly, the Dodgers have more outfield depth than they know what to do with, as Van Slyke and the castoff Abreu demand playing time.
Just where we thought we’d be in April, right?