First, the good news: Hyun-jin Ryu was outstanding, really, pitching a complete game two-hitter, even though he’ll take the loss here. At one point, Ryu retired 19 consecutive Diamondbacks, and the only real mistake he made was allowing a first-inning Paul Goldschmidt homer, and how can we really harp on that? Goldschmidt always kills the Dodgers.
(Hold on, I’m getting to it.)
The Dodgers, unfortunately, couldn’t take advantage, as their tattered lineup managed only four hits themselves — half by Nick Punto, believe it or not — off Trevor Cahill and the Arizona bullpen. Since Cahill walked four, that means the Dodgers left eight men on base, with a particular sore spot being the top of the sixth inning when they loaded the bases with none out and scored only a lone run on a Yasiel Puig walk.
(It’s coming, don’t worry.)
The inability to make things happen showed up again in the eighth, when pinch-runner Dee Gordon was desperate to steal second, but could never get it to happen as Adrian Gonzalez kept fouling off pitches, eventually flying out on a clear ball four. Gonzalez really just had a brutal game, and when we look back on why the Dodgers couldn’t capitalize on Ryu’s gem, the continued struggles of the offense (in addition to a still-injured roster missing Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, & Andre Ethier) is why.
So all that out of the way….
What the hell, Don Mattingly? I mean… what the hell. I generally try to defend the manager, because we’ve been over so many times how a manager really has so much less influence on the outcome of a game than people think. He wasn’t an awful manager was the team was in last place in May; he wasn’t suddenly a great one when the team was historically hot in July and August.
So while I try to keep that in mind, remain rational, and know that there’s so many other reasons why the team lost tonight… it’s really, truly difficult to look at that ninth inning as anything but a gift to the opposition. Michael Young hit for the struggling A.J. Ellis and singled, then moved to second when Skip Schumaker singled just past the shortstop.
At this point, things are lined up wonderfully because Juan Uribe is walking to the plate, and while Uribe was 0-3 tonight at that point, he’s actually been phenomenal lately. Over the last 30 days, he’s been a better hitter than Puig, believe it or not.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this, because it’s Mattingly, and that’s the unforgivable sin he always, always falls into. The thing is, there’s actually a somewhat-okay argument to be made for the bunt in that situation, because if you move the man on second to third with one out, you can score on a sac fly, without needing a hit. I certainly wouldn’t have done it, but it’s not the worst strategy in the world.
Except, it is the worst strategy in the world when you are A) taking the bat out of the hands of one of your hottest hitters B) asking Uribe to do something he’s done four times successfully in the last four seasons and C) doing so to pass the bat to Chili Buss, who shouldn’t even be in the big leagues.
Uribe, after showing bunt and taking, then bunting foul, got the ball down… right to pitcher Brad Ziegler, who nailed Young at third, and that’s the problem with this whole thing. Even if it works perfectly, it’s still barely worth the effort… but you can’t guarantee it’s even going to work. That left it up to Buss to ground out, pushing the runners to second and third with two outs, and Mattingly sent Kemp up to the plate.
Kemp stuck out, he looked bad doing it, and the cavemen on Twitter are just killing him over it, much moreso than they are Mattingly. It’s his first game in nearly two months, and to put him in that spot… well, I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised that he was wildly overeager, swinging at the first pitch and a strike three that was far off the plate.
If the job of the manager is to put his players into the best situations to win, that ninth inning was a clinic on how not to do that. You don’t ask Uribe to bunt there. You don’t let Buss hit there. You probably do send Kemp up, I suppose, but you can’t be surprised at what happened. Like I said, there’s plenty of other reasons why the Dodgers dropped another game, far beyond anything that Kemp or Mattingly had control over. But when you look back on this one, that’s what you’re going to remember… and there’s not a lot I can say to refute it, at least as far as Mattingly goes. That one hurts. Just awful.