Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Dodgers go down, but with some fight
By Mark Saxon
CINCINNATI -- If you were paying only fleeting attention to the Los Angeles Dodgers' 5-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night -- say clicking back and forth between it and a hockey game -- you'd probably think it had a lot in common with all those listless games this team rolled out on its most recent homestand.
It felt nothing like those games.
Matt Kemp questions a called third strike in the second inning. Moments later, he was ejected while continuing to argue from the dugout.
Where the Dodgers looked divided by individual agendas last week at home, they seemed united in their hostility to the umpiring crew the past two nights, especially Wednesday. Hey, whatever it takes, right?
Where they seemed to go down without much fight at home, they withstood some of the nastiest pitching the National League has seen this season for six innings, drove up an ace's pitch count and then had a chance to rally late.
In the end, they just felt like facing Johnny Cueto was hard enough. Facing Cueto and a young umpire, Seth Buckminster, having a bad night was simply impossible to avoid. Matt Kemp, who continued to argue balls and strikes after striking out, was ejected from the Dodgers' dugout in the second inning, Buckminster yelling, "Get out of here!" as he gave him the thumb.
After the game, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he didn't mind Kemp's tirade, even though it meant he had to field a lineup that was missing five regular players, three on the disabled list, plus Hanley Ramirez, who was a late scratch because of a sore right shoulder.
"Just emotion," Mattingly said. "That's really what you want your guys to be is passionate about playing and trying to have success. Sometimes, it spills over. It was one of those."
It wasn't just Buckminster’s strike zone, though the Dodgers certainly weren't enamored with it. Buckminster called out Yasiel Puig on a checked swing in the first inning without consulting first-base umpire Manny Gonzalez. Twice in the sixth inning, Hyun-Jin Ryu said, he felt catcher Brayan Pena touch his bat while he was trying to bunt (he eventually struck out). Billy Hamilton made contact with Reds third-base coach Steve Smith while scoring in the third inning and the umpires ruled the contact incidental, upholding the run.
In other words, the Dodgers had a lot go against them, a tide they couldn't withstand. This wasn't the effort of a team just letting itself drift, as it sometimes appeared at Dodger Stadium last week.
Kemp seemed mindful of a possible fine after the game and treaded lightly on the topics of his ejection and Buckminster's night.
"It's just frustrating when some pitches you think are balls are called strikes," Kemp said. "I love to play, I love to win. When I feel like something gets in the way of that, it makes me mad. We're playing pretty good, man."
There is that. Wednesday's shutout snapped the Dodgers' three-game winning streak, meaning 41 percent of the way through their season they have yet to win as many as four games in a row. That little enigma endures.
But if they can win behind Zack Greinke on Thursday, they will have gone 5-2 on this trip and, if they can figure out why they can't win at home, there's no reason to consider their momentum to have stalled because of one bad-luck night against arguably the most effective pitcher in the league.
Besides, how they played Wednesday isn't as worrisome as who they played. The Dodgers didn't expect to be going into midseason games against another team's ace with Chone Figgins, Miguel Rojas and Drew Butera taking one-third of their at-bats. If Ramirez is out for a while -- and Kemp had a similar injury that led to a stint on the disabled list last year -- the injuries are starting to mount.
A.J. Ellis could be activated as soon as Thursday, but Carl Crawford and Juan Uribe appear to be at least a week away. The Dodgers need to start eating into the San Francisco Giants' lead -- leaving their fate to the wild card is too big a gamble -- so they have to do more than hold the line with all these injuries. At some point, they have to make a move and, whatever the reasons, Wednesday didn't help that cause.