Los Angeles Dodgers Don Mattingly yanks Clayton Kershaw October Moment

If the Los Angeles Dodgers hadn’t scored a single run Friday night — which they did, in the bottom of the eighth inning  — then I promise you this column would not exist. If they’d lost 3-0 rather than 3-1, there would be no point in second-guessing Don Mattingly; instead, we would simply doff our caps to Jacob deGrom and his bullpen friends.

But the Dodgers did score, and they did lose 3-1, and the Mets’ second and third runs did score just after Mattingly removed Baseball’s Best Pitcher from the contest. And so the second-guessers are having a field day.

Let’s set the scene, then.

Entering the seventh inning, Clayton Kershaw had given up just one run, on Daniel Murphy’s no-doubt homer in the fourth.  Otherwise, he’d struck out 11 Mets and walked just one.  Not quite as dominant as deGrom, but close.

In the seventh, though, somehow Kershaw walked the bases loaded, with the three walks sandwiching — or more accurately, Big Macking — a ground-out and deGrom’s sacrifice bunt. It was the first time Kershaw walked three batters in one inning in nearly two-and-a-half years.

To that point, Kershaw had thrown 113 pitches. Which is a fair number of pitches. But perhaps just as relevantly, he’d thrown 25 pitches in the seventh inning alone.

With David Wright coming up.

Again, Kershaw is Baseball’s Best Pitcher. All things being equal. In this situation, all things were not equal. Kershaw was presumably fatigued, and David Wright’s a Hall of Fame-caliber player who’s absolutely destroyed left-handed pitchers in his career.

So Mattingly yanked Kershaw and called upon righty Pedro Baez to retire Wright.

Baez looked great during the regular season, with 60 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 51 innings. In his short career, Baez has held right-handed hitters to a .232/.271/.362 batting line. Which is obviously very, very good.

Mattingly does have one better righty in his bullpen: Kenley Jansen, and at least a few Twitter wags said Mattingly should have instead summoned Jansen to face Wright.

Well, sure. But on which planet? There’s not a manager in the majors, or for that matter the minors, who would use his closer in that situation. Maybe with two outs in the eighth inning, but in the seventh? No way, no how.

In any event, Baez fell behind Wright 2-and-0, battled back to a full count, then threw a fastball — a 99-mph fastball, mind you — down the middle that Wright lined into center field to drive in a couple of runs. In case you missed it:

Welcome to Baseball, folks.

After the game in the TV studio, Dusty Baker and Gary Sheffield said they would have left Kershaw in the game.

Also after the game, somebody asked Mattingly about removing Kershaw. He nailed the answer, citing Kershaw’s pitch count, and the penalty for a pitcher facing a lineup for the fourth time, and Wright’s history against lefties generally.

Second-guessing’s just what we do, every October. Because we have to do something, and few of us are lyrical enough to well describe Jacob deGrom’s wizardry. 

But the truth is that managers are smarter and better-informed than ever before, and second-guessing becomes less and less fruitful with each passing autumn.