There’s a lot of things I love about baseball, and one of them is that you absolutely never ever know what you’re going to see on a given night. Maybe you’ll see a no-hitter, or four homers in a row, or a pinch-hit dinger on a player’s own bobblehead night. Those are all rare and wonderful things, but they exist within the plane of reality; I’m not sure I can say that having two runners steal home on the same play with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning falls under that category.
I barely even know how to talk about it. Sure, it was a gut punch. But we’ve seen blown saves and tough losses before. We know how to get over those. This? This… was on a level I’ve never seen before. The worst part is, Kenley Jansen had battled through a tough inning to get to two strikes and two outs on Alexi Amarista, before turning his back on Everth Cabrera, allowing the tying run to score, and making a poor throw to the plate, allowing the go-ahead run to score. I don’t want to hear a damn word about how Jansen doesn’t know how to close out games – over his last nine games, he had allowed exactly zero hits while striking out 14, making him one of the most dominant closers in the game – but the mental error in a situation like that is just shocking. Given that Jansen threw 26 pitches tonight after 15 yesterday, I’m sure he’ll have a day or two to think about it.
Despite the brutal loss, I don’t want to let that completely overshadow the good vibes we had for most of the night, especially on offense. I’m going to throw a dart at June and randomly come up with the 30th, a Saturday night against the Mets. That was only two weeks ago, but it seems like it could have been months or years. Dee Gordon (1-4) led off that night, with Elian Herrera (0-4) following him. Jerry Hairston (0-4) & Juan Rivera (0-3) followed for an incredibly soft 3-4 punch. Scott Van Slyke (1-3) played right field; Juan Uribe & Adam Kennedy split time at third base and combined for an 0-4 night. As a whole, the Dodgers managed just three singles against Johan Santana as they were shut out for approximately the 73rd time this year.
That was just 14 days ago, and I bring it up because it’s nearly impossible to overstate the difference and importance of a lineup that actually features real, healthy major league hitters like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, & Mark Ellis, who combined for 8 of the 11 Dodger hits tonight. Kemp & Ethier had three apiece, with Ethier driving in four of the six runs mostly thanks to his three-run homer, his first longball in more than a month. As Vin Scully noted, it had been more than two months since his last Dodger Stadium homer, that coming on May 14. (And fine, I guess I can’t ignore that Adam Kennedy had two hits as well.)
Six runs may not seem like an outburst, but for this club it’s practically historic. A month ago tonight, they beat the White Sox 7-5. Since that game, they’ve scored as many as six runs just once, in an 8-3 win over the Mets on July 1. Of course, most of that time was spent without Kemp, Ethier, & Ellis, and with everyone else struggling terrible. For the first time in longer than I care to admit, this team actually looked like it had a major-league quality offense.
As for the Padres, well, some day – perhaps some day very soon – seeing that Chase Headley & Carlos Quentin both homered in Dodger Stadium might be a cause for celebration. Unfortunately for Aaron Harang, they’re still in San Diego uniforms, so while he gave up just four hits in seven innings, two of them were responsible for three runs. Honestly, I would have pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up with men at the corners and two outs, because not only did he not get the run in, he then gave up Headley’s homer immediately after. Those runs loomed large later on, as did the run Ronald Belisario allowed, but no one will ever remember that because of what happened.
What a brutal ending. At least, I suppose, the Giants are doing the best to hand their game away as well. I’m not sure it helps.