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Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Crazy finish for struggling Dodgers

By Tony Jackson
ESPNLosAngeles.com


LOS ANGELES -- Apparently not content to lose in the traditional sense, the Dodgers got creative on Tuesday night. The result was that they lost in a way no one who was there to see it will forget anytime soon.

Whatever way it happened, they still lost, for the sixth game in a row, 7-5 to the San Francisco Giants before 53,381 at Dodger Stadium.

The insanity came to a head in the ninth inning, when closer Jonathan Broxton appeared on the verge of blowing a save for the second time in three days but was saved from doing so by something no one could have seen coming. With the Dodgers leading 5-4, the Giants had the bases loaded and one out following an intentional walk to pinch hitter Aubrey Huff.

It was here that Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly went to the mound to confer with the infielders about how they would align with speedy switch hitter Andres Torres coming to the plate. Mattingly was managing the Dodgers at this point because manager Joe Torre and bench coach Bob Schaefer were long gone by that time, having been ejected at separate points in the game and for separate reasons.

"We were going to play back [for the double play], but knowing Torres could run, the guys on the corners were going to be [throwing] home," Mattingly said. "After I told them that, I turned to walk away."

That was when Dodgers first baseman James Loney called after Mattingly to ask him one last question. By this time, Mattingly had taken about a step and a half onto the grass surrounding the pitcher's mound. Mattingly turned to listen to what Loney had to say and walked toward him to hear him better.

"I kind of turned around, and he asked me what depth I wanted him to play," Mattingly said. "I didn't really realize I had been off the dirt. But obviously, I was."

Mattingly said as he turned and walked back toward Loney, he heard plate umpire Adrian Johnson yelling "no, no, no," at which point Mattingly realized his mistake and left the field. He figured at that point, he had caught himself, and the whole matter was over. But as soon as Mattingly got back to his dugout, Giants manager Bruce Bochy came out of his and headed straight for Johnson.

"I kind of had a little bit of a feeling [what that was about]," Mattingly said.

Rule 8.06(d) of the Major League Baseball rulebook states that only one visit can be made to the mound per inning by a manager or coach without removing the pitcher. Two visits to the same pitcher in the same inning means that pitcher automatically has to be taken out. The rule goes on to state that "a manager or coach is considered to have concluded his visit when he leaves the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher's rubber."

Thus, by stepping off the dirt and onto the grass, then stepping back onto the dirt, Mattingly had made a second visit. After Bochy approached him, Johnson walked Bochy toward first-base umpire and crew chief Tim McClelland, who conferred momentarily, then walked toward the Dodgers dugout with two fingers extended.

At that point, it was clear that Broxton was done. But that was where it got even crazier.

Matt Kemp
Tim Lincecum throwing at Matt Kemp in the fifth inning was just the beginning of what turned into a crazy, unpredictable finish in the Dodgers' loss to the Giants.

When it became evident that Broxton would have to be replaced, Dodgers reliever George Sherrill was ordered to start warming up immediately. Sherrill later said he had time to throw two pitches in the bullpen before he had to enter the game.

Upon leaving the bullpen and arriving on the game mound, by rule, pitchers are given as much time as they desire to warm up following an injury to, or the ejection of, the previous pitcher. While that rule doesn't apply when the previous pitcher has been removed by manager's decision -- which, technically, was the case with Broxton -- the umpire can exercise discretion in such cases, and Mattingly said McClelland did use discretion in this case.

"That was why I asked Tim McClelland, 'Can [Sherrill] warm up?"' Mattingly said. "He said, 'Yeah, I'm not going to do that to him. I'm not going to take a chance on an injury."'

Apparently, though, McClelland never communicated that to Johnson, who allowed Sherrill only the customary eight tosses after he got to the game mound. That meant Sherrill, who said he normally takes about 25 warm-up tosses in the bullpen plus the eight from the mound, got a total of 10.

"After the seventh one [from the mound], the umpire signaled 'one more,' and then he called for the hitter," Sherrill said. "So I guess it was go get 'em."

Mattingly said he was talking with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt while Sherrill was warming up and thus didn't know that Sherrill had been allowed to throw only eight warm-up pitches. At any rate, Sherrill then gave up a two-run double to Torres, turning the Dodgers' 5-4 lead into a 6-5 deficit and dooming them to another defeat.

Sherrill said after the game he wasn't properly warmed up.

"Not even close," he said. "I'm still not loose."

Mattingly then replaced Sherrill with Travis Schlichting, who gave up an RBI single later in the inning to Buster Posey.

It all added up to another defeat for the fourth-place Dodgers (49-45), who remain six games behind division-leading San Diego in the National League West. And it also added up to an embarrassing evening for Mattingly, who remains the heir apparent to succeed Torre as the Dodgers manager when Torre retires, presumably either after this season or next season.

"Not great," Mattingly said when asked how he felt after the game. "We had a chance to win the game. Even though the bases were loaded, with Brox in the game, we felt like we had a chance to get out of that. So obviously, it's not good."

Much of what happened up to that point wasn't good, either.

The long-standing rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants devolved into a mini-beanball war that resulted in the ejections of Torre, Schaefer and pitcher Clayton Kershaw. But it all started when Giants starter Tim Lincecum -- the two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner who was having a rare off night (five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings) -- knocked down Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp in the fifth inning with a pitch that was high and tight, then hit Kemp in the back with his next pitch.

An obviously angry Kemp took two steps toward the mound, then veered back toward first base as Johnson walked up the line with him to prevent him from charging Lincecum. Johnson then warned both benches, meaning any further mayhem would result in automatic ejections. At that point, both Schaefer and Mattingly started yelling in protest from the Dodgers bench, and McClelland ordered both of them to pipe down, which they did.

When Russell Martin came to the plate to the lead off the sixth, Giants reliever Denny Bautista threw a couple of inside pitches to him, as well. Although Martin never came close to charging Bautista, Schaefer started yelling from the bench again, and Johnson ejected him.

Predictably, Kershaw retaliated by hitting Aaron Rowand with his first pitch in the seventh. With the warning having been issued earlier, that resulted in automatic ejections for Kershaw and Torre.

"In our judgement, Kershaw hit the center fielder on purpose," McClelland said.

Torre told reporters after the game that he believed the pitches to Kemp that started the whole back-and-forth were in retaliation for Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla hitting Rowand in the face with a pitch in an April 16 game at Dodger Stadium, breaking Rowand's left cheek and resulting in his spending two weeks on the disabled list.

But that suggestion by Torre begs the question of why the Dodgers played a subsequent three-game series in San Francisco June 28-30 without incident.

In the end, though, none of that really mattered. All that mattered was that the Dodgers, in the most unusual of ways, had lost again.

Looking Ahead

Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley (7-5, 4.61) will start Wednesday and is coming off his worst start of the season on Friday night at St. Louis: seven earned runs, 10 hits, no strikeouts in four-plus innings. Giants lefty Barry Zito (8-4, 3.51), who played collegiately at USC, is by contrast coming off his best performance of the season. He pitched eight shutout innings against the New York Mets on Friday night, holding them to two hits while striking out 10 in a 1-0 Giants victory.

Ausmus activated

The Dodgers activated catcher Brad Ausmus barely three months after he underwent major back surgery. Ausmus took the roster spot of left fielder Manny Ramirez, who went back onto the 15-day disabled list with a right-calf strain, but the Dodgers won't carry three catchers for more than one day.

Torre said the Ramirez news happened so late in the day that the Dodgers didn't have time to get another outfielder here from the minors, so that move will be made on Tuesday. A.J. Ellis, who has served as the team's backup catcher since Ausmus was sidelined the first week of the season, presumably will go back to Triple-A Albuquerque.

Although Ausmus was activated from the 60-day disabled list, that still leaves three open spots on the 40-man roster. The most likely candidate for a call-up is Albuquerque outfielder Jay Gibbons, a major league veteran who isn't on the 40-man but could easily be added to one of those open spots.

Gibbons, 33, entered Monday night's game at Nashville hitting .322 for the Isotopes, with 24 doubles, 15 homers and 65 RBIs. A former Cal State-Los Angeles player, he spent seven seasons in the majors, all with Baltimore, the last in 2007. He has a career big league batting average of .260. He hit a career-high 28 homers for the Orioles in 2002 and drove in a career-high 100 runs in 2003.

The only outfielder on the 40-man roster who isn't currently in the majors or on the major league disabled list is Trayvon Robinson, and he has never played above Double-A.

Meanwhile, Torre gushed about Ausmus, 41; when he initially had surgery, he was far from guaranteed to come back at all.

"That is pretty remarkable, but he was pretty well determined he was going to do this," Torre said. "When you have surgery like that, you have to be thinking, 'It has been a great run, I'll see you later.' For him to have the energy and the determination to [come back], it's pretty special. He is a quality young man, and he is a pleasure to be around."

McDonald to go?

A day after James McDonald gave up four runs over five innings in his first major league start in more than a year, Torre remained noncommittal on whether McDonald will get the ball again when his rotation spot comes up on Saturday against the New York Mets.

"We haven't made that decision yet," Torre said. "I liked his stuff [Monday night]. I just want to make sure I'm not jumping the gun just in case something else pops up."

By "something else," Torre presumably was referring to the possibility the Dodgers could acquire a starting pitcher sometime this week. Various news reports have had them inquiring about Houston's Roy Oswalt, Arizona's Dan Haren, Cleveland's Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona, the Chicago Cubs' Ted Lilly and Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.