LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers welcomed some good news starting the second half of the season, as both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier returned to the lineup after stints long and short on the disabled list. And the good news is they won, squeaking by the visiting San Diego Padres Friday night at Dodger Stadium, 2-1.
It wasn't the sort of rollicking, thunderous statement game against a bad team fans might have wanted, but given their slide before the break it's best not to complain about any win for the Blue.
A win is a win is a win.
Matt Kemp is back. It doesn't take a Ph.D candidate to understand his significance. Coming in to Friday's game, with only 121 of the team's 2,845 at-bats, Kemp had 12 of the team's 51 home runs. Despite missing 51 of the Dodgers' 87 games, Kemp was still third on the team in runs scored, with 30. Tonight, Kemp showed what the lineup had been missing. In his first at-bat -- wandering to the plate accompanied by "Return of the Mack" on the Ravine's PA system and soaking in a healthy ovation -- Kemp ripped a 2-2 fastball from Padres starter Clayton Richard to the wall in center. In his second trip, Kemp again hit the ball hard with a line drive single past short.
Clayton Kershaw. It wasn't his most dominant performance, and didn't come as easily as the scoreboard numbers might suggest. Kershaw needed 110 pitches navigating his six innings against a Padres squad posting the National League's lowest run total through the first half of the year. The '27 Yankees they ain't. (Not unless you compare them in the literal sense, since all those guys are dead and therefore a lot less productive than they were back in the day.) He walked three against six K's, and more than a few pitches seemed to squirt away on him. Still, the bottom line is this: San Diego only put one runner across the plate while Kershaw was out there, fueled by a double leading off the second by catcher Yasmani Grandal, and it was enough to get him his seventh win of the year.
The bullpen. The Dodgers rarely give their relievers much wiggle room, and tonight was no exception. But the combination of Javy Guerra, Ronald Bellisario, and Kenley Jansen performed nearly flawlessly following Kershaw to the mound. No walks, only one hit allowed. Jansen finished things in the ninth for his 16th save of the year.
Offense. Second (half) verse, same as the first. The Dodgers managed to squeak out a win, but again by the thinnest of margins, and again with almost no help from the sticks. Credit Tony Gwynn Jr. for laying down a great bunt pinch-hitting for Kershaw in the sixth, and Mark Ellis for capitalizing with his two-run blast to left putting the Dodgers ahead. Credit Kemp for his pair of hits, but in the end the Dodgers still only put six hits on the board, one of which was second inning Uribe grounder up the middle off the glove of shortstop Everth Cabrera that died in center and was generously scored a double. Their 0-for-3 mark with runners in scoring position suffered both for production and lack of opportunity.
The musical tastes of fans. I'm a child of the 80's and recognize the ability of "Livin' on a Prayer" to unite in song a crowd of people (particularly suburban white people like me), whether in the bar or at a baseball game. So when the bottom of the eighth rolled around and the Dodgers faithful had a chance to choose the between innings music, I understand why they went with Bon Jovi. But would it have killed them go away from the obvious and take Earth, Wind, and Fire's "Serpentine Fire?" If the Dodgers are going to succeed in the second half, everyone, players and fans alike, needs to start thinking outside the box.
Bad luck. Point No. 1 in this half of the post still applies, but the Dodgers did run into a little bad luck Friday night. Ellis was robbed on a spectacular diving catch by Cameron Maybin in the fifth inning, and Uribe followed with a hard liner to left (no, seriously) right at Carlos Quentin. In the seventh, after Gwynn started the inning with his bunt single, Jerry Hairston Jr. ripped a ball right back at Richard, who nearly snared it out of the air then forced Gwynn at second. In theory, at least, had the ball gone through the Dodgers would have had two runners on ahead of Ellis' homer. On a different night, maybe some of those balls and a few others find holes, and the Dodgers score a few more. Granted, this can be said of most games, but the bar for the Dodgers is pretty low, offensively.