LOS ANGELES – Don Mattingly walked slowly to the mound in the ninth inning Monday night, and the crowd at Dodger Stadium booed.
How strange. Since they turned around their season two months ago, the Dodgers have been one long love affair. Cheers and standing ovations are standard fare.
But at the thought that Mattingly, the Dodgers manager, might pull starting pitcher Zack Greinke from the game – just one out away from a shutout – the fans let him know they didn’t approve.
Greinke stayed in, but he didn’t get his shutout or a complete game. He did, however, get credit for a 6-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs that ended the Dodgers’ two-game losing streak.
“It was a fun game,” Greinke said.
The weekend had been kind of a bummer for the Dodgers with back-to-back losses to the Boston Red Sox. But they put their season back on track against the Cubs, who have been their foils this season, losing all five games this season to L.A. and seven in a row since last year.
“This was kind of what we needed,” Mattingly said. “Zack throwing zeros early gave us a chance to shake the cobwebs out from the last series.”
The Dodgers have come to rely on their top two starters, Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, to keep them from losing streaks. Greinke, who tied a season high with nine strikeouts Monday, is now 5-0 in August with a 1.23 ERA.
If nothing else, he’s fueled by a competition with Kershaw, whose 13 victories match Greinke for most on the team, although Kershaw is clearly the leading contender for the National League Cy Young Award with a 1.72 ERA.
“Those guys are so competitive,” catcher A.J. Ellis said, “but it’s a healthy competition. There’s no jealousy. They’re two of the most competitive pitchers I’ve ever caught.”
More important, they’re driven to set a standard for each other. Kershaw’s turn comes Tuesday night when he faces Chicago’s Travis Wood.
“I think they’re good for each other,” Mattingly said. “Kersh pushes him, he pushes Kersh and really, hopefully, they all push each other.”
More than anything, Greinke wanted to finish the game Monday night. He had a sizable cushion – helping himself with a run-scoring single in the fourth and getting home runs later from Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig – and he made certainly Mattingly knew he planned to pitch the ninth.
“I’ve been getting on him the last couple of starts, trying to get him to let me pitch more, and then he does and I don’t do the job,” Greinke said. “I felt like I made some good pitches, but they’re professional hitters.”
Greinke got the first two outs of the ninth before Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo lined a double to the gap in right-center. Mattingly came out, told him that he would let him pitch to one more batter, then went back to the dugout.
But when Greinke got a pitch up and in to Nate Schierholtz and hit him on the arm, Mattingly decided to let him remain.
“We had talked the inning before, and I know he really wanted to stay in the game,” the manager said. “Knowing he’s got an extra day next time out (the Dodgers have an off day Thursday) helps me a little bit.
“I’m a little torn with it, honestly. I wanted to keep him at 115 (pitches) and not let him get past that, but he earns that right to go for it.”
So he did. But after Brian Bogusevic drove in two runs with a double, Greinke was pulled. He had thrown 122 pitches.
Brian Wilson came in, struck out Donnie Murphy, and the win was preserved.
Asked if he was more frustrated losing the shutout or the complete game, Greinke said, “Right now, neither bothers me. I’m probably more frustrating that I couldn’t get (Rizzo) out.”
His hitting, though, was a more pleasant topic. Greinke is batting .340 (16 for 47) and has four RBI.
“It’s fun,” he said. “Pitching is more like a business. Hitting is the fun part.”