Joe Torre preaches patience to team
Still mired in a horrible slump, the Dodgers' manager says emotions can get in the way
LOS ANGELES -- The time for yelling has passed. Joe Torre is too old for that and it's never been his style anyway.
These Dodgers, his Dodgers, know the right way to play and what they should be doing to get themselves out of what's become a particularly foul funk of late. So when Torre addressed the team in a closed-door meeting before Monday's 10-5 loss to the San Diego Padres, he preached patience and poise in the most temperate tone he could muster.
"They're frustrated," Torre said. "Which to me is an emotion that doesn't really get you anywhere. I'm satisfied with the effort. To me it's more than effort. It's about patience. It's the grind that you have to go through. You really can't allow yourself the luxury of frustration."
He said it softly and calmly in the presence of the entire team and general manager Ned Colletti, who was present, but silent, for the meeting.
But what Torre was really saying comes through loud and clear: This team needs to grow up.
The time for pouting over line drives that go right at someone has passed. The time for lamenting the Dodgers' ownership's lack of resources and the de facto handcuffs on the front office is over. Baserunning mistakes and defensive lapses are beyond old.
Even frustration, Torre explained, is self-indulgent and immature.
Monday's loss, which dropped the Dodgers nine games back of the Padres in the National League West, was just the latest lesson this team should've learned a long time ago.
This time it was Matt Kemp and James Loney aiming the gun at the Dodgers' feet. With two outs in the first inning, Kemp stroked the first of his five hits on the night up the middle, advanced to second on Loney's base hit and should've scored on Casey Blake's two-out blooper to center.
Only Kemp didn't get a big enough lead with the count 3-2, didn't get a great jump on contact, and didn't hustle around third.
He crossed the plate a split second after Loney was tagged out making an ill-advised attempt to take third on the play and the run was waved off.
"You make your own breaks," Torre said, sounding a lot like he did about six weeks ago, when Kemp and Russell Martin ran the Dodgers out of the game in a 2-1 loss to the Angels.
"We have to start doing more things right and fewer things wrong. We had a situation where one runner didn't run fast enough and the other ran too fast. They were both at fault."
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To his credit, Kemp stood in front of his locker after the game after both of his costly baserunning gaffes and acknowledged his mistakes.
This time the apology went something like this:
"I think I probably should've just ran a little bit harder and we wouldn't be talking about that right now," Kemp said.
But this isn't about one play or one decision. It's about character, and right now the Dodgers aren't displaying much of it right now.
It's a shame that after a game in which he had a career-high five hits, including a towering homer to center in the eighth, Kemp had to answer any questions about whether he hustled around third fast enough.
It's also not a coincidence that Kemp is becoming the walking symbol for what's gone wrong with the Dodgers this season: All the talent in the world, not enough of it coming together.
Instead of celebrating Kemp's five-tool athletic gifts, we are talking about why they aren't translating into wins.
Instead of asking how he helped the team break out of its hitting slump (the Dodgers had 14 hits Monday after collecting just 20 hits in their past four games), Kemp was left to answer how his big night Monday might help the team turn things around the next day.
"It's really not wasted when I can take it into my approach tomorrow and see I can make something good out of it," Kemp said. "We're still confident. We've been in this situation before. We've just got to battle and keep fighting."
Colletti said before the game that he still believed this team could contend for the playoffs.
"If we didn't have confidence in the group we wouldn't have done that," Colletti said, referencing the Dodgers' four acquisitions at the trading deadline. "We don't make moves just to make moves."
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The Dodgers are now in fourth place in the NL West. But on paper, would you trade rosters with any of the team's ahead of them? Probably not.
But would you trade character?
That's becoming the uncomfortable question the Dodgers may have to answer.
Ted Lilly (3-8, 3.69 ERA) will make his Dodgers debut Tuesday night after being acquired from the Cubs on Saturday. He'll be opposed by right-hander Mat Latos (11-4, 2.45 ERA), who helped beat the Dodgers Thursday in San Diego, giving up two hits and two runs (one earned) his last time out. The Padres have won in each of Latos' last eight starts.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.