SAN FRANCISCO -- It felt an awful lot like a playoff game.
Cool night air, tense moments, raucous crowd, hostile chants.
And, frankly, it might be the closest thing to a playoff game these Los Angeles Dodgers are going to get. They continued to fumble their way through the early part of this pennant race, losing 5-2 to the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Friday night to slip 5 1/2 games back in the National League West.
Vintage Beckett ... for a while. For six innings, Josh Beckett looked like that guy from all those masterful playoff and World Series games, rising to an occasion. He cruised early and pitched out of some trouble in the middle, but generally kept the Dodgers poised to pull out a narrow victory, the only kind they can seem to manage these days. It's not that Beckett has pitched poorly for the Dodgers. You just wonder whether they're putting too much faith in him with Chad Billingsley down. Maybe the question is, what choice do they have? It unraveled late, but he at least gave glimpses that he could be a stable No. 2 starter.
Cape Kennedy. Don Mattingly benched Luis Cruz in favor of Adam Kennedy for a few reasons: Kennedy's good numbers against Tim Lincecum, Cruz's 0-for-2 against Lincecum and ... a hunch. After all, this isn't Kennedy's first rodeo. Meaningful baseball seems to bring out his power. He shocked the crowd and broke a 1-all tie in the sixth inning by launching a home run narrowly over the right-field wall. Kennedy has added life to the lineup lately when he plays, batting .343 since July 21.
The Ellises. It's really the role players, rather than the stars, who have been carrying the offense most nights. Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis have been having the most consistently good at-bats on the team. Mark Ellis has adjusted to the leadoff spot after hitting second much of the season. He was on base three times, scored the Dodgers' first run and played his usual solid defense. A.J. Ellis wears down pitchers with his relentless patience. He was on base four times.
Too much faith? It's a measure of how much the Dodgers are counting on Beckett that Mattingly went to the mound and left him in the game in the seventh inning, even after he had loaded the bases. Are they forgetting about the guy with the 5-plus ERA in Boston? It wasn't long before Mattingly made the trip again, after Marco Scutaro blooped a two-run single to right field. Beckett seemed to be wearing down at that point, but he pitched six strong innings before that. Mattingly probably shouldn't have listened to Beckett's lobbying at that point.
Gone-zo. Mattingly stuck with Adrian Gonzalez at first base despite Gonzalez's woeful numbers against Lincecum (8-for-39). They're even more woeful now. The Dodgers' No. 3 hitter just can't get it going. He grounded out in three of his four at-bats. Other than a couple of dramatic moments, his first few weeks as a Dodger have been eminently forgettable, and it's imperiling the team's season.
Kemp. Who cares whether Matt Kemp is hurt or healthy? At this point, it's about production. He's playing, which means he and the Dodgers think he's better, even banged up, than anybody else they could throw out there. The results aren't so convincing lately. Kemp's slump has created a major void in the middle of the order, especially tied to Gonzalez's soft hitting. Since he hit the wall in Colorado, Kemp's average has hit the wall: 3-for-29 (.103).