Rethinking Mark Ellis' base-running gaffe

LOS ANGELES -- It's over now. Nothing to do but kick themselves all winter. To relive the plays they could've made and lament the ones they wish they wouldn't have.

For Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis, that's going to be harder than most. His base-running gaffe in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants, the game that put the final nail on the Dodgers' season, is probably going to go down as the play that ended the Dodgers' postseason chances even though there were a handful of other plays that were equally as damaging in that game (Matt Kemp's strikeout in the seventh with a runner at third comes to mind).

Afterward, Ellis took responsibility. Said it "was the wrong play" and beat himself up all the way home.

Manager Don Mattingly seemed to agree, saying "I think he just got excited" when he saw Giants' center fielder Angel Pagan take a bad angle to a ball in the gap, allowing the ball to roll all the way to the wall, and giving Ellis reason to think about stretching a sure double into a triple.

It didn't work out, of course. Ellis was thrown out by a mile. And when the next batter, Shane Victorino, tripled down the right-field line, a hit that easy would've scored Ellis from second and tied the score 4-4, fans across the land collectively shook their heads in disbelief at how such a heady player could make such a costly mistake.

Third base coach Tim Wallach had the stop sign on, but Ellis never looked at him. His eyes were on Pagan the whole way, the decision was entirely his. Even if his intentions were good -- trying to put pressure on the defense and create an offensive spark -- it was the wrong one. He knew it better than anyone.

But afterward in the Dodgers' clubhouse, several of his teammates came to his defense with another explanation. And not just the kind of explanation good teammates give to take the heat off a friend.

"It's a great baseball play," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "There's one out, you've got to get to third if you've got any chance at all. I know he's killing himself. But you never know what happens. If he stays at second, maybe they pitch Shane differently. You can play the what-if game all night long or all season long too.

"He made a really good aggressive play, he was trying to keep the momentum going. We always try to get to third base with one out."

Andre Ethier went even further, saying while what Mark Ellis tried to do on that play was risky, it was also the type of play the Dodgers had been making during the six-game winning streak that got them back into the playoff hunt.

"We've been playing aggressive baseball," Ethier said. "I think that's how we got out of the funk we were in.

"We'd been standing back on our heels too much. Lately we started being more aggressive. The first good strike you see in the strike zone, if you think you can put a good swing on it, be aggressive. That's our mentality. Don't have the bat on your shoulder and hope for a good pitch. And the same on the basepaths, defense, everything. We're going to go out and be aggressive, not just expect people to lay over in front of us."

All of that is just analysis now. The Dodgers' season is over. It's going to be another long winter. Mark Ellis will probably be kicking himself about that play into January. I'm sure there's a part of him that prefers to put it behind him and never think about it again. But it's important to note the Dodgers did end the season on something of a run, winning seven on their last eight games and playing the kind of aggressive, inspired baseball that would've made them dangerous in the playoffs.

At the very least, it's something to build off of.

"This last section for me was really good for us," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It's not momentum like last year. But I feel like this little section of time is going to fuel us.

"There's going to be big expectations next year for us. that's good. We have to accept that and play up to it and be ready to go. I think this section of time, it doesn't feel that good right now, but it has a chance to be good for us. I think the guys found out what they can do together. This is what we're capable of, now we gotta work."