With two on and the Dodgers down 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Andre Ethier struck out for the second out of the inning. Rather than send up veteran Adam Kennedy, who’d already reached base twice in the game, Don Mattingly identified that Cardinal pitcher Marc Rzepczynski is death on lefties, and dipped into his bench to call on rookie outfielder Scott Van Slyke. Let’s call that, “surprising decision number one”. Rzepczynski quickly fell behind 3-0, the kind of situation where just about every rookie would have the bat glued to his shoulder.
But in his second surprising – and I say that not in a negative way, just in that these were not decisions I would normally have expected Mattingly to make – decision of the at-bat, Mattingly gave Van Slyke the green light on 3-0. One pitch deposited into the left field bleachers later, the Dodgers had a 6-5 lead, Van Slyke had his first career home run, and the Dodgers had continued their streak of what seems to be a new hero every single night.
That blast was dearly needed, because it was the only extra-base hit the Dodgers had among their 14 hits on the day – no, that’s not a typo, as you can probably guess – which meant that despite all the runners they had on base, they’d managed a mere three runs, not enough to overcome a somewhat backwards Chad Billingsley start. When he struggled to begin the game tonight, he kept the runs off the board. When he was making better pitches, he got victimized for five runs. Baseball is just a ridiculous sport sometimes.
Facing ten St. Louis batters over the first two innings, Billingsley allowed four singles and three walks, including loading the bases with no outs in the top of the second. He managed to escape the first inning in part to a K/CS double play, then ended the mess in the second by getting Rafael Furcal to bounce into a 1-2-3 double play; he then set down the Cardinals in order in the third & fourth, including strikeouts of Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, & David Freese, and it looked like he’d found the groove.
Yet in the fifth, the Cards scored three in an inning fueled mainly by Billingsley’s error before allowing a Skip Schumaker triple; in the sixth, he allowed two more on three of the bloopiest bloops that ever BABIP’d. That’s not to excuse his entire performance, of course, because he was consistently missing spots, just that between the tight zone, defensive miscues, and well-placed balls, this was a Billingsley start which required far more than just reading the final stat line.
Then again, tonight was a night of miscues all around. Cory Blaser’s strike zone behind the plate was about the size of a thimble, affecting both pitchers but seemingly focusing more on Billingsley. Beyond Billingsley’s own error, Justin Sellers‘ error leading off the sixth wasn’t directly responsible for runs, but got the only other inning in which the Cardinals scored off to the wrong foot. At least two St. Louis outs on the bases – Furcal trying to steal in the first & Yadier Molina attempting to advance to third in the sixth – were incorrectly called. And then perhaps the funniest of all, Kennedy stroked a single to right field in the bottom of the sixth, which Beltran played as though it was a chemical weapon – yet instead of the single + error it should have been, it’ll go into the books as a triple for Kennedy.
Still, for the first Dodger game on national TV this year, it was an unqualified success. Elian Herrera & Bobby Abreu each had three hits, while Andre Ethier & James Loney each had two – and don’t look now, but Loney has been very good recently. In relief of Billingsley, Javy Guerra, Josh Lindblom, & Kenley Jansen pitched three flawless innings. About the only thing that didn’t go perfectly was A.J. Ellis failing to get on base for the first time in over a month, ending his consecutive games streak one short of the Dodger record for catchers. You should probably vote him for All-Star anyway, just to console him.
With the sweep of the division-leading Cardinals, the Dodgers should hopefully have made a statement. They’re 28-13, the best record in baseball. I can’t believe just about anything that’s happening right now, but I love it.