Dodgers suffer lesson in humility
Inability to secure a victory against Yankees underscores the work L.A. has yet to do
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers learned first-hand Sunday night why the New York Yankees are who they are, why they have accomplished what they have and why -- no matter how big a lead you might have on them and no matter how late in the game it might be -- the one thing you can never, ever do against them is feel secure.
Learned it the hard way, in fact.
The Dodgers suffered far more than an 8-6, 10-inning loss to the Yankees in front of a sellout crowd of 56,000 at Dodger Stadium. Along with it, they suffered a nationally televised lesson in humility which convincingly drove home the point that no matter how hard the Dodgers' marketing department tried to manufacture a rivalry between them and the Yankees, these two teams not only play in separate leagues, they play in different worlds.
The Dodgers had the Yankees right where they wanted them, or so they thought: They had lit up the indomitable Andy Pettitte for five runs over five innings, they had gotten another stellar performance from their own ace left-hander, Clayton Kershaw, and they had built what felt like a cushy four-run lead heading to the ninth inning.
That was when Jonathan Broxton came in.
On Saturday, Dodgers manager Joe Torre had reluctantly brought in Broxton to get the final four outs with a five-run lead, his rationale being that there is no such thing as a non-save situation against the Yankees. Broxton had responded by retiring four of the five batters he faced, issuing one walk and throwing a fairly manageable 19 pitches.
As such, Torre felt fairly comfortable bringing Broxton back a day later, this time for the final three outs. But after Mark Teixeira began the inning by taking a called third strike and Alex Rodriguez pulled a single through the left side, the Yankees started working over the visibly tiring Broxton.
Robinson Cano saw four pitches before driving in Rodriguez with a double. Jorge Posada then saw an astounding 10 pitches, fouling off five of them, before lining a single to right. Curtis Granderson worked Broxton for eight pitches before drawing a walk, loading the bases with one out. And after Chad Huffman singled in two more runs on only three pitches, cutting the Dodgers' lead to 6-5, Colin Curtis had another 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off six of them, before tying the game with a run-scoring groundout.
Broxton wound up throwing 48 pitches before finally getting out of the inning. But at least he wasn't charged with a blown save, as the Dodgers had such a big lead at the start of the inning that it wasn't even a save situation. But really, to reiterate Torre's point from the previous day, there is no such thing as a non-save situation against the Yankees.
"You are never comfortable against this team," said Torre, who, as their manager for 14 years, is the guy who basically installed the offensive philosophy whereby the Yankees routinely go so deep in counts, foul off so many pitches and generally drive opposing pitchers nuts. "Broxton has been very solid for me, but it just wasn't his night. I thought he could have gotten a call on Curtis, because that 0-2 pitch looked pretty good. But they're deep, and they just keep coming at you."
If Broxton wasn't tired from the day before, he clearly was running on fumes by the end of the inning. His fastball might have been a mile-an-hour or two off as a result, which might have been the reason Posada, Granderson and Curtis were able to just get a piece of so many pitches and foul them off.
After the Dodgers (40-35) dutifully went down in order against Mariano Rivera in their half of the ninth, the inevitable came in the form of a leadoff single by Teixeira off Ramon Troncoso (1-2) and a two-run homer by Cano off George Sherrill.
"It's frustrating to be in a position like that, in a position to win and beat a good team two out of three, and not get it done," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "But the fact we came that close to beating them and that close to winning the series, you can take a little bit from that. Hopefully, [the loss] will be water off a duck's back."
For all the hype that accompanied the Yankees' rare visit, the Dodgers' next series will be even bigger, albeit without the hype. They play their next six games within the National League West, where they remain in third place and now face their biggest deficit -- five games behind division-leading San Diego -- since May 13. The Dodgers begin a three-game set against the second-place San Francisco Giants, whom they trail by just a half-game, on Monday night at AT&T Park.
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Games within the division effectively count as two games in the standings because one team wins and the other loses. In that sense, games against the Yankees aren't nearly as important. But strictly from a psychological standpoint, coming that close to taking two of three from the defending World Series champions and failing to actually do so could be a difficult thing for the Dodgers to shake.
Even if they need to shake it very quickly.
"Good teams have to do that," Torre said. "You have to put on that uniform and get back out there ready to play tomorrow. This is a tough game to rebound from, but if you want to be a special team, that is what you have to do."
The Dodgers aren't a special team yet. But at least now they know what a special team looks like, up close and personal.
It was a split-second decision, and it proved costly for the Dodgers.
With one out and Yankees runners on first and third, and the Dodgers still clinging to a one-run lead in the ninth, Curtis hit the 10th pitch he saw from Broxton on one hop to first baseman James Loney, who was standing right next to the bag and felt that he could get a game-ending double play by stepping on the base and throwing home. But Loney's throw was to the wrong side of the plate, and Granderson slid home with the tying run before catcher Russell Martin could turn around and tag him.
If Loney had thrown home without taking the half-second it took him to step on the bag, he might have gotten Granderson.
"You have to run the scenario through your head before the play, and I ran it through my head," Loney said. "I just needed to make a better throw. I was going that way, and the base was close enough where I could step on it and still be able to make a good throw home."
Torre said Loney had two better options than the one he took.
"He can go straight to the plate, or he can go for the double play [by throwing to second]," Torre said. "One or the other. Unfortunately, once he stepped on the bag, he lost his momentum toward the plate. It was just one of those things. I thought we played very well in the series, but that certainly was a bad decision."
Lost in the shuffle
Dodgers outfielder Garret Anderson, who had just entered the game in left in the top of the ninth, and catcher Russell Martin were ejected by plate umpire Chris Guccione in the ninth and 10th innings, respectively.
Anderson took what he thought was ball four on a 3-1 pitch from Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth, but Guccione called it strike two. Anderson then flied out to left, and as he jogged off the field he must have yelled something at Guccione, because the umpire stared at him for a few seconds and then threw him out. Torre reacted by charging onto the field and arguing with Guccione for a couple of minutes before crew chief Jerry Crawford guided Torre back to the dugout.
"I'm not talking about it," Anderson said after the game.
Then, with Loney on first and nobody out in the 10th, Martin took what he thought was ball four on a 3-2 pitch from Rivera, only to have Guccione ring him up. Martin responded by slamming his bat to the ground, causing it to splinter, and Guccione ran him immediately. Torre came onto the field again, but this time only to guide Martin back to the dugout so that he didn't argue to the point of drawing a suspension.
Back in the sixth inning, Guccione had shown remarkable restraint in not ejecting Andre Ethier after Ethier struck out swinging against Damaso Marte and then lit into Guccione for several seconds over a 1-1 slider Guccione had called for strike two.
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"I think the umpire overreacted [by ejecting Anderson]," Torre said. "I had complimented him earlier on letting Ethier vent and not doing anything about it. I thought he should have ignored Garret or just turned around. With Russell, he slammed the bat, and it sort of got [Guccione's] attention, I guess. It's an emotional game. That is what Guccione said to me, that it's an emotional game. Unfortunately, he got a little bit quick, I thought, maybe not with Russell but with Garret."
By the numbers
3: Three-hit games this season for Reed Johnson, the Dodgers' seldom-used fourth outfielder, who started in place of slumping center fielder Matt Kemp and doubled off Pettitte in both the third and fourth innings, scoring both times. Johnson then beat out an infield single in the sixth, crossing the bag just ahead of Derek Jeter's throw after the Yankees shortstop made one of his patented, lunging-to-his-right plays to spear a ball in the hole. It was Johnson's first game this season with more than one extra-base hit.
Johnson, who is hitting .306 in limited action this season, also had three hits April 8 at Pittsburgh and May 21 against Detroit.
As expected, rookie reliever Jon Link became the odd man out when Chad Billingsley was activated from the disabled list after the game. Link was in the majors for the third time this season after being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque on Friday, and this time he didn't even appear in a game before being optioned back to the Isotopes. He basically was promoted to be an extra body in the 'pen after the Dodgers needed seven pitchers to get through Thursday night's win over the Los Angeles Angels.
Quote of the day
"Let's move on, and let's get back to the National League." -- Casey Blake, who probably didn't mean to imply that the Dodgers can't hang with American League teams, but whose comment perfectly illustrated the team's frustration with interleague play. The Dodgers wound up going 4-11 against the Angels, Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox.
While it's true that they faced an unusually tough interleague schedule (and a far tougher interleague schedule than that of the Padres, whom the Dodgers are trying to catch in the NL West), the fact remains that if the Dodgers wish to be considered one of the best teams in baseball and a team with a legitimate shot at winning a World Series, they need to prove to the world, but mostly to themselves, that they are actually capable of beating a top-level AL team -- which, of course, is exactly what they'll run into if they actually do make it to the World Series.
Billingsley (6-4, 4.34), whose strained right groin proved sound when he pitched a simulated game earlier this week, will make his first start since June 11, when he gave up a career-high seven earned runs over 5 2/3 innings in a loss to the Angels. He will be opposed by veteran lefty and former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito (7-4, 3.45), who held the Dodgers to a run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings on April 18 at Dodger Stadium but was matched by Clayton Kershaw in a pitchers' duel that the Dodgers eventually won on a two-run, pinch-hit homer by Manny Ramirez off Sergio Romo in the bottom of the eighth.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com