LOS ANGELES — This is what Don Mattingly wanted to avoid.
As much as everyone tried to talk about fighting and feuding Wednesday afternoon, the Dodgers manager wanted to discuss baseball.
But at the end of a long, laborious night at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers didn’t have enough baseball in them. They lost a lead, a game in 12 innings and another contest to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.
It’s agonizing for Mattingly, who called this series important but saw his team fall 8-6 and drift 8½ games out of first place. His only hope is that the players who are injured – shortstop Hanley Ramirez, center fielder Matt Kemp, left fielder Carl Crawford and pitcher Chris Capuano – get back and provide the team with a renewed energy.
“We’ve got to keep treading water, keep fighting and hoping that Friday we get Hanley back, that we start getting pieces back and maybe we’ll put some games together,” he said.
Ramirez almost started Wednesday night, but the Dodgers opted to give him another day to get his sore hamstring back in order. He pinch-hit in the ninth inning and grounded into a double play, but he’s expected to start Friday when the Dodgers open a nine-game road trip with stops in Pittsburgh, New York and San Diego.
That was encouraging, and so was Yasiel Puig, who had a strained right shoulder — presumably as a result of Tuesday night’s brawl with the Diamondbacks — and was a late scratch from the starting lineup.
Puig grabbed a batting helmet and a bat late in the game and seemed ready to pinch-hit, prompting Mattingly to say, “I had to ask the interpreter what he was doing. He was just excited.” Then he finally entered in the 12th as part of a double-switch, going to right field during a pitching change.
Even at that late stage, he was still impressive. He showed that his arm was fine, launching a throw from right field to catcher Ramon Hernandez and keeping a runner from scoring, then lining a single to right in the bottom of the 12th when the Dodgers scored two belated runs.
“They worked on him the whole game, and obviously, to see that throw, it was pretty good,” Mattingly said. “I guess (the training staff) figured there was nothing wrong, maybe it was just something sore. They figured he could work through that.”
But the Dodgers fell short after giving up four runs to the Diamondbacks in the top of the 12th. They have now lost seven of nine games this season to Arizona and 11 of the past 14 at Dodger Stadium.
That’s no way to catch a first-place team.
“You can tell our guys are not going to stop playing,” Mattingly said. “We’ve just got to keep fighting and treading water and getting our wins and hopefully get our lineup back together and put some runs on the board consistently.”
Dodgers struggled to get back in the game after starter Hyun-Jin Ryu looked less than his best, giving up 11 hits in six innings and needing three double plays to keep the Diamondbacks from breaking open the game.
They even took a 4-3 lead in the fifth, but then gave back a run when rookie pitcher Chris Withrow, making his major-league debut, struggled in the seventh after retiring the first two batters.
But a loss is a loss, and now the Dodgers take to the road after going 5-5 at home and doing little to cut into first-place Arizona’s lead in the West. Maybe things will change when Ramirez returns and when Kemp comes off the disabled list.
At some point, however, the Dodgers will have to put together a surge or realize that it just won’t happen this season, despite their overblown payroll.
“I really feel like we’re going to be OK,” Mattingly said. “We’ve got to continue at this point to keep fighting to put wins on the board and get our guys back. Then we can get on a roll.”