But the Dodgers can’t complain. They won four of six games on a weeklong homestand, finished July with a 19-6 record and left for an eight-game road trip with the National League West lead in their grasp.
Not bad for a team that was idling in fifth place as late as July 1.
“We feel great about ourselves,” second baseman Mark Ellis said. “We had a great homestand and we’re playing good baseball. We just didn’t get this one tonight.”
It slipped away after the Yankees scored two unearned runs in the ninth, erasing a scoreless tie built on the pitching of Kershaw, who threw eight scoreless innings, and Yankees right-hander and former Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who shut out the Dodgers over seven innings.
“Great,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said of Kershaw, whose ERA fell to a major-league best 1.87. “He did what he always does. He dominated and gave us a chance to win, but we just didn’t take advantage of it.”
That was because the Dodgers couldn’t escape a ninth inning that was bizarre and unpredictable. Reliever Paco Rodriguez gave up a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay before Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig and Ellis miscommunicated on a pop fly off the bat of Jayson Nix.
Puig apparently called off Ellis on the play, but Ellis didn’t hear him until it was too late. Puig’s glove then appeared to touch Ellis’ arm, causing him to drop the ball. With the runners going on the play, two scored, making it 3-0.
By the time he could hear Puig, Ellis said, “it was too late to get out of the way and I tried to go up and catch it. I dropped the ball. That was it.”
Overbay’s single came after his check swing on a two-strike pitch from Rodriguez was called a ball. When manager Don Mattingly went out to make a pitching change, he was ejected for arguing that Overbay should have been called out on strikes. If he had been, the inning would have been over and the game would have remained scoreless.
It was unclear whether Mattingly was mad at plate umpire C.B. Bucknor or third-base ump Bill Miller, who had ruled a previous pitch a check-swing strike.
“I figured (the umpire) either missed one or missed two,” Mattingly said. “They were both the same swing.”
He wasn’t the only one who was perturbed. Kershaw, who put down a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the eighth, clearly felt he should have been sent out to pitch the ninth. He had thrown just 97 pitches and was ready for another inning.
Mattingly must have asked Kershaw how he felt but didn’t get the answer he wanted.
“I just knew the answer he’d give me,” Mattingly said. “I asked him how he was after that inning. I can always tell now with Clayton. It’s either, ‘I’m good. I’ve got this,’ or he gives you a different answer.
“He won’t ever tell you he won’t go back out. But I could tell he’d had enough — not that he had enough, just that he was running out of gas.”
Kershaw didn’t want to talk about it.
“It was tough,” he said. “I put Donnie in a tough spot. I’m sure he said something about it. We’ll leave it with what he said.”
But the final word was left for Mariano Rivera, the great Yankees closer who is retiring after this season. He was perfect in the ninth, striking out Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier and retiring A.J. Ellis on a grounder for his 34th save.
The loss hurt, but on a night the Dodgers drew 53,013 — including the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who sat in the owners’ box next to Magic Johnson — there was still a feeling that everything is going right.
“It’s a ton of fun right now,” Kershaw said. “We’ve just got to not get caught up in it, because as soon as we start losing it’s not going to be like this. So we need to remember that and keep going and not lose any momentum.”