Little things loom large, Kershaw takes the hit

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
11:11
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw had an ominous tone in his voice when he talked about the raucous crowds that urged the Los Angeles Dodgers on during this six-game homestand. More than 300,000 people showed up and, for the most part, they were treated to a good time.

"If we start to lose, it's not going to be like that," Kershaw said. "We need to remember that."

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig, Mark Ellis
Harry How/Getty ImagesMark Ellis, right, drops a ninth-inning pop-up as he nearly collides with the onrushing Yasiel Puig.
Those are the kinds of thoughts that start to creep into your head on a night like Wednesday. Kershaw pitched brilliantly, again, but a couple of shaky moments -- one by the manager, one by the second baseman and right fielder -- cost the Dodgers in a 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees.

The little things are hard to see when a team is as hot as the Dodgers have been. When things start to slow down -- and, though the Dodgers have been pulling out some wins, their bats have gone soft lately -- you can't miss the little things.

The trouble began when manager Don Mattingly lifted Kershaw in a scoreless tie after he had just laid down a sacrifice bunt the previous inning -- and after a manageable 97 pitches -- going into the ninth inning.

There was no video evidence of it, but the Yankees must have been dancing for joy inside. Up to that point, Kershaw had limited New York's activity to five baserunners, widely scattered. Mattingly said he made the decision after talking to Kershaw between innings.

He said he has learned to gauge Kershaw's energy level by reading between the lines of his comments.

"It's either, 'I'm good. I've got this,' or he gives you a different answer," Mattingly said. "He won't ever tell you that he won't go back out, but I could tell that he was out of gas."

Kershaw was in no mood to expand on Mattingly's comment or decision.

"That's fine. We'll leave it at that," he said ... twice.

The Dodgers might have been in position for one of their dramatic rallies -- though this time it would have come against the man they honored before the game, Mariano Rivera -- if not for a miscommunication between Puig and Ellis. They converged on a shallow popup and, just as they brushed into each other, Ellis dropped the ball. That gave New York a three-run lead with Rivera warming up. For a man with 642 lifetime saves, that's like a 4-inch tap-in putt.

Puig was charging in and probably should have been more demonstrative in calling for the ball.

"He needs to be the one that's loudest," Mattingly said.

Ellis pinned the blame on himself, but that probably says more about him than it does about the play.

"It's a play we have all the time. I didn't hear him until the very end," Ellis said. "I just dropped the ball. There's not a lot else to say."

In most seasons, on most teams, Kershaw would be cruising toward his second Cy Young. He may still win it, but it shouldn't even be close. He's stuck on 10 wins despite having a 1.87 ERA.

Kershaw looks pretty much the same no matter what's going on around his mound, emphasis on his.

When the pitching coach, catcher or manager visits, Kershaw's body language makes it clear they're just visitors. He still owns it. More often than not, they leave in a timely fashion, by themselves.

He doesn't show a lot of emotion on the mound after a strikeout or in the dugout between innings. Nobody looks particularly eager to talk to him. But when a runner or two gets on, you can feel his anger.

The Yankees made him mad by getting a couple of runners on with two outs in the eighth inning and Kershaw made Brett Gardner pay.

Kershaw came right after him with a couple of fastballs for strikes, then swept another fastball just off the outside corner. He flipped a nasty curveball into the dirt. Gardner fouled off one fastball, but took an unconvinced, feeble swing on another one and sent a lazy fly ball to left field.

He was dominated. Kershaw hit 92 mph on that pitch, the last one he would throw.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Zack Greinke
WINS ERA SO IP
11 2.73 127 118
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .309
HRA. Gonzalez 14
RBIA. Gonzalez 60
RY. Puig 53
OPSY. Puig .915
ERAJ. Beckett 2.26
SOZ. Greinke 127