As hard as it can be to prepare for disappointment, sometimes pleasure catches you off guard as well.
Trepidation sandwiched tonight’s Dodger effort against the Nationals, with Zack Greinke coming off the disabled list to start the game and Brandon League back in action to end it. And in between, there were several meaty layers of runners threatening to score against multiple Dodger relievers.
Each time, pleasure pummeled pain, leading to Los Angeles’ 3-1 victory over Washington, capping the best stretch of Dodger baseball at home since Opening Day.
Greinke danced like Astaire in the first three innings, not only stifling the Nationals on 38 pitches but also driving in the Dodgers’ second run with an unexpected RBI single (when it had been floated earlier this week that Greinke would be too sore to even take the bat off his shoulder). It was the Dodgers’ second two-out, RBI single in the first two innings, following Adrian Gonzalez’s delivery of Matt Kemp in the first.
Scott Van Slyke missed triplicating the feat in the third inning, scorching as hard a line drive I’ve seen from a Dodger this year, only for Ryan Zimmerman to spear it and bail the Nationals out of a bases-loaded jam.
Greinke ran into trouble in a 28-pitch fourth inning, but escaped with only one run’s worth of damage, thanks to Adam La Roche’s solo homer, and there was little of incident before the Dodger righty left the game with the bases empty and one out in the sixth, 83 heartwarming pitches into his first official start since colliding with Carlos Quentin.
Then came the saltiness of the Dodger bullpen.
Immediately after Greinke took a seat, J.P. Howell and Matt Guerrier combined to allow runners to reach first and third, but Danny Espinosa grounded out to end the sixth. Paco Rodriguez issued a two-out walk to Denard Span in the seventh, but Kenley Jansen came in, threw one pitch and watched Span get caught stealing by A.J. Ellis.
This day in baseball: May 15, 2013
Don Mattingly has received a tremendous amount of grief this year, but what he’s done over the past two nights deserves respect.
Mattingly used his best reliever when it counted, regardless of when it counted.
Tuesday, he didn’t fret over the questions he would receive about avoiding Brandon League when it came to preserving Clayton Kershaw’s shutout. He went straight to Kenley Jansen.
Tonight, when modern convention would have dictated saving Jansen for the ninth again, Mattingly struck early. Rather then holding Jansen back for a save situation that might never come, he put the powerful righty into the game in the seventh with the tying run on base, knowing that he could get more than an inning out of Jansen thanks to Thursday’s off day.
You could argue that Mattingly should have gotten two full innings out of Jansen, but this qualifies as a major breakthrough for a manager whose bullpen usage has often been all too thoughtless. I don’t know how long it will last, but for two games, the smokejumper lives.
And now, let’s get back to this one.
As it happened, Jansen ran into his own bit of trouble in the eighth, allowing back-to-back singles to start the inning – illustrating that not even he is perfect. But with the tying run on third and nobody out, Jansen rose to the challenge, retiring La Roche on a soft fly to left (with Van Slyke quickly returning the ball to the infield to thwart any possible attempt to tag up and score), striking out Ian Desmond and then, with the go-ahead run in scoring position, setting down Kurt Suzuki on a fly to right. Stirring.
A bases-loaded Carl Crawford sacrifice fly (pinch-hitting for Van Slyke, rather than for Jansen one batter later, abbreviating the Mattingly honeymoon) gave the Dodgers – and about as importantly, their fans – an extra run of breathing room heading into the ninth and the return of League to the spotlight.
League gave up a leadoff single to Espinosa, one that aroused much more concern than anything Jansen surrendered. After Roger Bernadina grounded out, the batter was none other than pinch-hitter Bryce Harper, in his first appearance since he Wile E. Coyoted the Dodger Stadium right-field wall Monday.
In yet another moment of drama, Harper grounded out, and soon Span did the same, and the Dodgers had won their fourth game out of their past five, pulling within 5 1/2 games of San Francisco.
Enjoy Thursday’s day of rest – you’ve earned it.