“It took a year off my life,” Mattingly said of Kemp’s catch, which extended the Dodgers’ winning streak to a season-high four games.
It’s doubtful that one game — or one Willie Mays-like catch — can turn around a season, but the Dodgers may well see this as a momentum builder. They are still eight games under .500 and remain last in the National League West, but they have cut into their deficit for four consecutive days, and their everyday lineup is finally coming together.
“You see our energy, and we’re on the same page,” Hanley Ramirez said. “It’s good when you have the whole team supporting each other.”
Kemp’s return came at a perfect time. He was 1 for 4 at the plate and scored a run, but the game-saving catch he made on a fly ball to deep center by Marco Scutaro was the play his teammates were talking about later.
The Giants already had two runs in the inning and runners at first and second with two outs when Scutaro drove a pitch from left-hander Paco Rodriguez to center.
Kemp, who was playing shallow in case he had a play at the plate, got a clean break on the ball and ran at full speed toward the fence in dead center. He made a catch over his shoulder, slid on the dirt at the warning track and then slapped the padded wall in triumph.
The first thought that came to him as the ball fell into his glove: “Game over.”
“Yesterday I was getting ground balls in Albuquerque and now I’m in Dodger Stadium,” Kemp said. “I’m just excited to be back and playing on the team.”
It almost didn’t happen. The Dodgers had considered sending Kemp out for a few more rehab games, but he took early batting practice, then met with Mattingly to decide whether he should be activated.
“I had to beg him to play today,” Kemp said. “I’m sick of watching my team play without me. Like I was telling someone earlier, it feels like you’re not a part of the team when you’re on the DL and not playing. I just wanted to get back out there with the guys. But I definitely had to beg him.”
There were other contributors. Mark Ellis hit a third-inning homer, and Ramirez stayed white-hot, delivering a two-run shot to left in the sixth inning that hit the outside of the foul pole and careened into the stands for a 442-foot homer.
Ramirez is on a tear, hitting in eight consecutive games and batting .467 (14 for 30) in that span with two doubles, four homers and 10 RBI.
“Hanley’s dangerous,” Mattingly said. “He hits the ball hard, as hard as anybody. He knows it, too. He can hit.”
Ramirez said he’s striking the ball as well as he did in 2009, when he won the batting title with the Miami Marlins, hitting .342. His big night came when rookie sensation Yasiel Puig went 0 for 4.
But this was a game that was ultimately won with Kemp’s defense. His offense is still a work in progress.
“I haven’t done a good job this first half of the season,” he said. “But there’s a lot of good baseball left, a lot of making up to do, and hopefully that’s something I can do. At the end of the season, when we’re hopefully on top, we can be laughing about this.”