Last night the Dodgers dropped the second game of their two game series with the New York Yankees at Dodger Stadium. The loss was a rare one for the Dodgers who have only lost six games in the month of July. The Dodgers entered the game in the midst of a historic winning streak, having won 27 of their last 33 games. This has propepelled them into first place in the NL West.
The Dodgers lost last night to the Yankees by a score of 3-0, but the game was a scoreless tie through the first eight innings. The game featured a pitching duel of the ages between Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw, and former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. Both teams were unable to muster anything off of their respective opponents. Each pitcher tossing eight shutout frames, allowing just five hits each.
The Dodger’s chances of winning were stopped dead in their tracks thanks to some truly awful game management from Don Mattingly, sloppy defense, and an ill advised intentional Walk. But perhaps the real reason was the removal of Clayton Kershaw after the eighth inning.
With game still in a scoreless tie, the Dodgers had a man reach base in the bottom of the eighth inning. Kershaw was asked to sacrifice, which he did successfully. But when everyone was expecting for Kershaw to come out for the top of the ninth, were wildly disappointed to see right hander Ronald Belisario start the inning instead. Kershaw had been used as a designated bunter. But why? Was Kershaw getting tired?
After the Dodgers were unable to score a runner from second off of Boone Logan in the bottom of the eighth, the game strategy became clear for the Dodgers. Send Kershaw back out in the top of the ninth, hold the Yankees scoreless and hope the bats could come up with a run in the bottom of the ninth, and or extra innings off of the Yankees bullpen. The Dodgers were NOT scoring at all off of former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda who had mystified the Boys in Blue all night showing them why they should have never ever allowed the hard working Japanese righty to walk in free agency over two years ago.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi had previously shown he was not going to bring in legendary future hall of fame closer Mariano Rivera unless he had a lead. The Dodgers had their best chance of winning by holding the Yankees scoreless in the top of the ninth. Everyone in the free world knew that as soon as Kershaw was removed from the game the Yankees would score. I knew it, everyone knew it. You probably knew it too. Maybe Mattingly knew it, and still looked death in the face? I don’t know, but momentum in Baseball is important, and once Kershaw was removed from the game the momentum instantly changed in the Yankees favor. All they needed was to score once and that would bridge the gap to Mariano Rivera, and a certain defeat for the Dodgers.
So why was Kershaw removed when he had only made 93 pitches? Mattingly had asked him how he felt before Kershaw sacrificed in the bottom of the eighth. Apparently the answer Mattingly received was not the one he was looking for.
“I can always tell,” Mattingly said. “We can tell now with Clayton it’s either ‘I’m good, I got this’ or he gives you a different answer. He won’t ever tell you that he won’t go back out, but I could tell he’d had enough.”
Ok fair enough. But the Dodgers still could have gotten out of the inning without allowing scorage, had there not been such awful Dodger defense and another poor choice from Mattingly. That choice was an intentional walk to the wrong guy at the wrong time, which has been a usual staple of the Don Mattingly school of managing guess work.
Belisario began the frame by walking Derek Jeter. Then there was a botched double play ball by Hanley Ramirez. We’ve seen Hanley do this many times on defense, and while he has arguably been the Dodgers best hitter since this historic streak began, he still struggles on defense occasionally often times seen double clutching throws and messing up easy double plays. You take the incredible goods along with the bad with Hanley. A defensive specialist he is not. So after Robinson Cano’s easy double play ball was muffled leading to a force play at second instead, you could feel the momentum changing again. The Yankees were going to score and it was obvious.
The Dodgers still could have gotten out of it. Another grounder fro Alfonso Soriano advanced the runner to second base with two outs. Here comes the stupid part. Mattingly chose to intentionally walk hundred year old slugger Ichiro Suzuki to pitch to left hander Lyle Overbay with runners at first and second. This made little sense to me.
Ichiro hasn’t been a real threat in years, was ice cold off the bench, and Overbay had homered in the game before. But Mattingly never looks at how guys are playing at the time, and who’s hot and who’s not. He only sees a match-up. So he intentionally walked the crotchety Ichiro, to pitch to Overbay. Knowing full well a mistake would mean a run and certainly the game as Mariano Rivera loomed in the bullpen.
(We are very unaccustomed to this relief perfection from Rivera. According to Stacie, as we are very used to the blown game, or blown games as in plural, more than one blown game. This is true.)
The usually automatic Paco Rodriguez was brought in to face Overbay. Paco had gotten ahead of him before Overbay lined an 0-2 pitch into center field for a base hit to score the run. (There was a borderline questionable check-swing call on Overbay that went against the Dodgers. Mattingly was eventually ejected for arguing) That put the Yankees ahead 1-0. That was it. Once that run scored the game was instantly over. The meltdown was made worse after a pop fly error dropped in between Mark Ellis and Yasiel Puig in shallow right field. It was nothing more than a miscommunication between the two. The gaffe allowed two more Yankee runs to score making the score 3-0 in the ninth.
The error was lame but ultimately meaningless, because the Dodgers were not scoring on Mariano Rivera. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be negative here, and yes I know it’s not over until it’s over and the Dodgers have been comeback kids for over a month now, but it wasn’t happening off of Mariano Rivera.
Nope. No chance. The Dodgers would not be scoring three runs, or two runs, or any runs off of the greatest closer of our generation. Yeah sorry optimists it’s not happening. And well it didn’t. To no one’s surprise. After Rivera had received a humongous fishing pole from the Dodgers in a touching tribute, the 43 year old ageless wonder shut the Dodgers down, pitching a perfect 123 bottom of the ninth to record his 34 save of the season. The Dodgers would lose 3-0.
Lesson learned, don’t pull your ace starter in a scoreless tie when he’s only made 93 pitches, especially when the opposing team has the greatest closer in history looming in the bullpen once they break that tie. Oh and don’t intentionally walk a guy who is a thousand years old, and cold off the bench to pitch to a guy who homered the night before.
Of course it wasn’t all Mattingly’s fault. The Dodger’s defense couldn’t turn an easy double play. Adrian Gonzalez made a huge base running blunder in the seventh inning, and the Dodger bats couldn’t get one timely hit the entire game. What I am trying to point out here is that game management is important, and almost just as important as solid pitching, base running, and timely hitting. The Dodgers would have an extra five wins this year if there was better game management.
In the end, it was Rivera who was the better fisherman. Rivera used his perfect cutter to go fishing for outs. he drops his bait at the right times and knows when to go after the little guppies, and reel in the big fish. But in fact it was Mattingly who went fishing in that fateful top of the ninth inning, but unfortunately he tried to reel in the wrong fish, using the wrong bait. It cost the Dodgers dearly.