By Jon Weisman
Disappointment infused with a sense of injustice? That’s not an easy way for Dodger fans to go to bed. Here’s a look at Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to San Francisco after a cleansing view of “The Americans” season finale and a night’s sleep …
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The ninth inning
The final inning hinged on the controversial non-call when Gregor Blanco rounded third, started to slow down but collided while still moving forward with third-base coach Roberto Kelly, who had his hands out in “stop” position.
The contact was more than incidental, because why is Kelly so close to third base that he is in the baseline, if he thinks his voice and hand gestures are enough to stop the runner? Even if Kelly lost track of where he was on the field, is that an excuse?
That was my initial take as well, though I’m not sure that Kelly violated the baseball rule that says a baserunner should be out if the coach “physically assists” the runner back to the base. Blanco reacts to Kelly’s stop sign just before he gets to third base, and it was forward momentum while putting on the brakes, not an intent to try to score, that carries Blanco into Kelly.
you had one job pic.twitter.com/GIjHaTtoZ6
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) April 23, 2015
It’s a judgment call, but as Mattingly said, the most frustrating part was that third-base coach Fieldin Culbreth turned his view away from third base far too soon and didn’t see the play so that he could make an informed call. Here’s the explanation Culbreth gave to a pool reporter.
“Don came out and asked me did I see him grab him. I told him no, I did not see him grab him,” Culbreth said. “There ends up being contact but the rule is pretty specific in the fact that he had to touch and physically grab him and assist him in returning to the base. That did not happen. If he doesn’t physically assist him in returning to the base, then there’s no interference.”
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The ninth inning, Part II
Then there’s the question of whether that cost the Dodgers the game. It didn’t help, obviously, but it was preceded by a Buster Posey single and a really painful hit-by-pitch from Chris Hatcher – painful not only because it put the winning run in scoring position, but because it injured A.J. Ellis. (X-rays are being sent to Los Angeles to be examined by team doctors, reports Alex Espinoza of MLB.com.)
Next came the hard single by Brandon Belt off J.P. Howell that advanced Blanco to third base and the no-doubt sacrifice fly by Joe Panik over the five-man infield that won the game. The Dodgers needed a groundball or strikeout in that situation, and unfortunately didn’t get them.
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For a long time it didn’t look like there would even be a bottom of the ninth, until Alex Guerrero came of the bench and blasted a game-tying two-run homer, off Madison Bumgarner no less.
The Dodgers were in their 14th game of the season, and they had three pinch-hits: Guerrero’s homer on April 14 against Seattle, his RBI double at San Francisco on Tuesday, and now this. Guerrero is now seven for 16 with two doubles and three homers (second on the team) in 2015.
You can’t ignore the case he is making for more playing time, though I do believe that most of those making that case place too little emphasis on Juan Uribe’s defense. Perhaps there’s a middle ground here.
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The lone walk
Why were the Dodgers behind in the first place? Clayton Kershaw pitched six innings, and faced the minimum three batters in five of them (four perfect innings, one with an infield single and a caught stealing). Kershaw struck out nine. He walked only one.
And that was the key. I thought Kershaw could have located a bit better, but also that he wasn’t exactly given the benefit of the doubt. On the full-count walk to Brandon Crawford with one on and none out, Kershaw was close on three of the four called balls and extremely close on one of them. The chart below is from Brooks Baseball via McCovey Chronicles.
How much are you gonna blame Kershaw for that walk?
My overall takeaway from Kershaw’s performance was that in the middle innings of this game, he found himself. Speaking to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles after the game, Ellis seemed to agree.
“He got into that old rhythm of the Clayton we saw last year. He had all his pitches working,” Ellis said. “It was great to see his slider kind of evolve throughout the course of the night. I know it’s a pitch he’s been kind of arm wrestling with and, to see him turn a corner with that, was really good to see.”
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After Bumgarner’s sacrifice, the first run of the game scored on a grounder to Jimmy Rollins. Rollins might have thrown home, but that’s a really risky play in the third inning of a scoreless game and might have set up an even worse inning.
The next two defensive moments came from substitutes – Justin Turner failing to throw out Crawford advancing from second to third, and Chris Heisey diving but failing to catch Matt Duffy’s dying quail to center field that scored Crawford. Neither play was remotely automatic, yet inevitably, people on Twitter were sure that Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson were sure to have made both plays. I love both those guys, but considering that Gonzalez made a throwing error and Pederson came up short on his own diving attempt 24 hours earlier, it’s hardly clear that the outcomes would have been different.
The classically trite Weisman conclusion
Second-guessing is inevitable in a game like this, and if maybe one play or decision in a game had gone differently among hundreds of plays and decisions, the Dodgers would have won. But the reverse is also true – one more thing goes the Giants’ way – maybe one less defensive gem by Kershaw or by Rollins or by Yasiel Puig – and the game isn’t as close. I don’t see any grand lessons to be drawn from this defeat.