LOS ANGELES -- Chad Billingsley's winning his first game in more than two years was a nice little story. Many of his former teammates who watched him work his way back from the first arm injury only to be sideswiped by a second one seemed to be genuinely happy for him after he helped the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 Tuesday night.
"It's been a long road for him and, like any pitcher who knows he has more in the tank, he's going to keep working to eventually get back," Adrian Gonzalez said. "We'll see where it takes him."
But the reality was the Dodgers knew Billingsley never should have been carrying a shutout into the sixth inning Tuesday night. They knew they let him off the hook early with baserunning gaffes and fanned the Phillies' offense with some lackluster effort on defense, creating the storyline the media would ask them about after the game. In other words, inside the walls of the Dodgers' clubhouse this was about what they did wrong, not what Billingsley did right.
For whatever reason, the Dodgers traded places with the Phillies on Tuesday, taking on the personality of a last-place team, while the Phillies didn't do much of anything. And the fact that the teams had dragged out Monday night's game to 4 hours, 13 minutes was the last excuse anyone on the Dodgers wanted to hear.
"They played the same game. They didn't make the same mistakes," Gonzalez said.
You wouldn't expect Yasmani Grandal, an All-Star catcher with plenty of skills -- none of which are speed -- trying to go from first to third on a single and making the no-no of all baserunning no-nos, recording the first out at third. But he did, and he was out by 10 feet. You wouldn't expect Justin Turner -- a veteran who spent enough time in college and the minor leagues to pick up the fundamentals of base running -- to lose track of the runner ahead of him, to bunch up at second base and be doubled off first on a line-drive to right caught by the right fielder. But he did that, too.
Sadly, people have come to expect periodic lapses of concentration (or is it interest?) when Yasiel Puig is playing the outfield, and there were another couple of glimpses of that Tuesday, too. Puig took his time gathering Darin Ruf's single, then bobbled it and two runners took extra bases. They both scored. He also appeared to be caught off guard when Cesar Hernandez hit a fourth-inning fly ball to right field, reacting late and nearly circling the ball before catching a routine fly.
"We give some outs away on the bases early and we let some guys advance when we really shouldn’t. Those things are disappointing," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Fatigue is a legitimate excuse for lackluster play even if it sounds lame when the players trot it out, which they haven't done. The Dodgers have played 35 games in the past 37 days, the schedule-maker doing them no favors heading into the All-Star break. But there was also an element of complacency Tuesday. It looked -- and appearances aren't always deceptive -- that the Dodgers thought they could beat the Phillies because they're the Phillies, easily the worst team in baseball, and score off Billingsley because his right elbow has been a mess for two seasons.
Mattingly was asked whether his team thought it could simply throw its gloves on the Dodger Stadium turf and walk away with a win.
"I hope not," he said. "I think you need to respect everyone you play. We just made mistakes early that give them outs, then we give them bases. That cost us runs. You just can’t do it. I don’t care who you’re playing."
The Dodgers still have won eight of their past 13 games, and the rest of their division is doing nothing to make them nervous, so nobody seemed too panicked by one poorly played game. If anything, the issue that could drag them down if they can't fix it is the disintegration of the back of their pitching rotation. Mattingly wanted to jump-start the offense, so he lifted Brett Anderson after five innings in favor of a pinch hitter Tuesday. The Dodgers didn't score, and the bullpen took the brunt of it again. Dodgers relievers had to pitch 15 innings over these past three games.
Reliever Yimi Garcia, one of the few bullpen guys with options, was summoned to Mattingly's office after the game, so a demotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City is a possibility with the Dodgers in need of fresh arms.
This is a team that is huffing and puffing its way to the break and is fortunate the Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers are the last two teams it has to play before its mini-vacation. But Tuesday should have been a pretty stark reminder that any team in the major leagues can embarrass anyone on any given night.