Win or lose, Sunday was going to be the continuation of an emotional weekend for the Dodgers and their manager, Don Mattingly.
When talking about Matt Kemp’s game-saving throw Saturday from center field to nail Yadier Molina at third and set the stage for a 4-3 wild card-tying comeback win, Donnie Baseball was moved to tears. “It’s totally not wanting to lose,” he said. “It choked me up. It’s one of the best plays I’ve seen; that’s greatness.”
But on Sunday it was emotion of a different variety — the Dodgers’ second-year manager had to scratch Clayton Kershaw from his start, and made it clear that 2011’s National League Cy Young Award winner may be done for the rest of 2012.
Kershaw has been dealing with right-hip inflammation, and a cortisone shot allowed him a good start against the Diamondbacks Tuesday in Arizona, taking a 1-0 loss against Ian Kennedy. But the pain returned, severely enough that Kershaw didn’t argue when Mattingly told him he was out until he sees hip specialist Dr. Bryan Kelly in New York this Tuesday. If Kelly shuts him down for the rest of the season — and that was the word going around among Dodger personnel Sunday — Mattingly said someone will have to step up and do the job. If Kershaw is ruled out for any length of time, “he won’t pitch. I promise that,” Mattingly said.
In Sunday’s series finale against the Cardinals — with the lead for the second wild card on the line — it was right-hander Stephen Fife starring in the role of savior.
After giving up two first-inning runs to the Cards and leaving two on base while throwing 31 pitches, Fife took control, throwing 67 pitches over the next four frames and striking out nine. He left the game after five in a 2-2 tie brought about by Andre Ethier’s two-run homer off Adam Wainwright in the third inning. It was Ethier’s 19th blast of the season.
The game remained tied until — eight relievers later in the top of the 12th — John Jay doubled off John Ely with two out to break the tie and push St. Louis to a 5-2 win over the Dodgers. The Cardinals ended up loading the bases and a sloppy defensive play by shortstop Hanley Ramirez allowed Jay to score the second run. Ely then walked Molina to force in Carlos Beltran for the final 5-2 lead.
Jason Motte — who gave up the winning run Saturday night — came in and got his 35th save, preserving Shelby Miller’s first career victory. Ely is 0-2 on the season and 4-13 in his brief Dodger career. (The Dodgers used a franchise-record 10 pitchers; the Cardinals five.)
Jay being responsible for the fatal damage was somewhat unexpected. He was 1-for-17 in the four-game series up to that point, and was in a hole against Ely with a 0-2 count when he connected for the game-winner.
Los Angeles is now a game behind St. Louis for the second wild card, and the Dodgers head out on the road to Washington, Cincinnati and San Diego for a three-game series in each. They come home to finish the regular season with three versus Colorado and three against San Francisco, but the regular season may be finished for them long before that.
The much-ballyhooed trades the Dodgers made have been a mixed bag. Hanley Ramirez has been outstanding, while Joe Blanton and Adrian Gonzalez have been inconsistent. Josh Beckett is 1-3 while Brandon League and Randy Choate have done pretty well out of the bullpen. With Chad Billingsley and probably Kershaw finished in 2012, they need Beckett to become a rotation leader — now. And they need some power from Gonzalez, who hasn’t gone yard since his first Dodger at-bat on August 25. But it’s the Dodgers who’ve been on the roster since spring training who must rise to the occasion — especially Matt Kemp.
Preseason MVP favorite Kemp has continually battled injuries all over his body and is mired in a slump that has seen his average dive from .355 to .302 in the last 30 days. For the month of September he’s hitting a nearly invisible .114, going 5-44 with one home run and two RBI. His defense has remained outstanding, but they need his bat now much more than his glove. And if Kershaw has to take the rest of the season off and possibly undergo surgery on his ailing hip, it means the team will be without its top two players and top two pitchers — Billingsley already has been shut down with arm problems.
This is where they need Beckett, Blanton, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang to do what the Dodgers signed them for — to win games with the season on the line. They’re all highly paid veterans; Beckett and Blanton own three World Series rings between them.
Mattingly acknowledged his team’s struggles, but said after the game that it’s no time to quit.
“This is playoff-type baseball,” Mattingly said, “and momentum scrambles every day with the playoffs. When you win, you’re feeling good and when you lose, the mood drops. Every game is important, so you wake up and go again.”
Nine of the Dodgers’ final 15 games are against teams which lead their divisions by large margins. Washington is 89-59 with a 6.5-game lead over Atlanta; the Reds are 88-59 and lead the NL Central by 11 over the Cardinals; and the Giants have a 7.5-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. The Padres are 19-6 in their last 25 games.
Six of the Cardinals’ last 15 are against the hapless Astros, with three more against a Cubs team that is 30 games under .500. They do finish at home against Washington and Cincinnati; nonetheless, the Cardinals have a much easier schedule than do the Dodgers.