Runners were on first and second with none out in a tie game in the top of the ninth when Javy Guerra threw a pitch so far inside that it nearly hit Don Mattingly in the Dodger dugout.
Jesus Guzman, attempting to bunt, tried to get out of the way, but instead of turning his back and earning a trip to first base the hard way, he kept his bat out – and the ball found a spot in between his hands on the wood. It landed on the dirt just behind home plate, and as umpire Dale Scott began gesticulating, it rolled fair.
The most underrated player in baseball in 2012, A.J. Ellis, picked up the ball the moment it went fair and fired it down to Juan Uribe at third base, starting an around-the-horn triple play that showed, with incredible authority, that Guerra absolutely has the stuff to dominate the ninth inning.
It also kept the Dodgers alive on an afternoon in which Clayton Kershaw had some rare struggles, alive long enough for Dee Gordon to single in the game-winning run with two out in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-4 victory over the Padres.
The Dodgers have won six games in a row and still have baseball’s best record at 9-1. (Milwaukee lost today, ensuring that the Dodgers will go at least another three games before playing a team whose record is above .500. )
Matt Kemp hit his sixth homer in the season’s first 10 games and had hits in his first three at-bats to raise his batting average at one point to .500. Andre Ethier drove in his 15th run of the season, and Juan Rivera had two RBI. Thanks largely to their contributions, the Dodgers led 4-1 after three innings.
But Kershaw wasn’t his untouchable self today, allowing seven hits in the first five innings (and an unearned run thanks to a third-inning Gordon error) before walking the bases loaded in the sixth. A one-out, RBI single by Orlando Hudson ended Kershaw’s day, and a two-run single by Jeremy Hermida off Josh Lindblom handed the defending Cy Young Award winner his third straight no-decision to start 2012.
Los Angeles, which ultimately left 15 runners on base – including the three celebrating the victory after Gordon’s hit – nearly scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning (when Ethier struck out with two on), seventh inning (when Gordon struck out with three on) and eighth inning (when Kemp’s no-out near-single was turned into a double play by Hudson, who was covering second because Mark Ellis was running).
Gordon hadn’t exactly been having the best day, though he had stolen two bases (giving him an MLB-high seven on the year) and made a fine running catch in left-center in the eighth. But he went with the last pitch he saw in the ninth and hit it sharply into left field, ending all the drama except for whether his small frame would survive the mammoth Kemp-led dogpile.
Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen and Guerra combined for three shutout innings to keep the Dodgers close after their lead went away.
A.J. Ellis went 0 for 2 but walked three times to give him eight on the season (in eight games), tied for fourth in the National League. And he also had the presence of mind to start the game-saving triplet-killing.
I was at the game for the Dodgers’ last triple play at Dodger Stadium, on June 13, 1998, and that also came on an attempted bunt and was just about as bizarre. From 100 Things Dodgers:
Kurt Abbott of Colorado popped up a bunt attempt – enough to freeze teammates Jamey Wright and Neifi Perez on first and second base (the infield fly rule can’t be called on bunts). Pitcher Darrren Dreifort let the ball drop, and then the throws went from Dreifort to shortstop Jose Vizcaino to force Perez, then to Eric Young at first base to retire Abbott, and finally across the diamond to Bobby Bonilla at third base to tag out Wright. The ol’ 1-6-4-5.