Welcome Back, Matt Kemp

In the bottom of the ninth, Matt Kemp walked to the plate in a tie game with a man on and a chance to win it. Facing Antonio Bastardo, he struck out and the Dodgers failed to score.

Bad…

In the bottom of the tenth, Kemp came up with men on the corners and the Dodgers down one, after Javy Guerra imploded in the top of the inning. With two out, he grounded to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, a play which would have ended the game had Kemp not motored down the line to beat the throw by a whisker. Bobby Abreu scored, and the Dodgers had tied the score against Jonathan Papelbon to keep the game alive.

Better…

In the bottom of the twelfth, Kemp came up with one out and one on after Josh Lindblom & Jamey Wright each tossed scoreless innings. After taking ball one from Philadelphia reliever Jake Diekman, Kemp crushed the next ball over the right-center field fence, giving the Dodgers a walkoff win and avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Phillies.

Great!

If there’s any chance the Dodgers are going to succeed this season – any at all, as unlikely as that seems right now – a healthy, productive Kemp is an absolute necessity. We saw what this team missed when he was injured, and we saw what seemed to be a tentative, unsure version of Kemp in the few games since he’d returned. Even with him, it might not be enough, but this afternoon we saw just what it means to this team to have him around and contributing. Not to put undue importance on one game, yet if there was ever a time to look behind the stat sheet of a generally uninspiring team, it’s when you’re facing a sweep and about to face a cross-country flight. I can’t imagine what that trip would have been like had they wasted a Kershaw start and taken the broom from the Phillies; I’m guessing that heading out after a walkoff in front of the home crowd makes that just a little bit sweeter.

Of course, to focus on Kemp ignores how effective Clayton Kershaw was in striking out seven over eight one-run, zero-walk innings. It ignores that Luis Cruz had two doubles after the ninth inning, and that Abreu had a crucial stolen base ahead of Kemp’s infield single in the tenth. It ignores that Juan Uribe & James Loney somehow looked worse than they usually do, combining to go 0-5 with three strikeouts, an error, and zero runs out of coming up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

Those were all immensely important events in the story of today’s game, and they shouldn’t be overlooked. But I can’t think of anything more relevant to the success of this team than the return of Matt Kemp, megastar. Good to have you back.

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