McCourt Going, LaRussa Gone

  • Tuesday, November 1, 2011 8:11 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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A 2012 baseball season with neither Frank McCourt nor Tony LaRussa is something to keep me warm all winter.

If I had known LaGenius would have retired, having nothing left to prove after winning the 2011 World Series, I would have rooted for the Cardinals. Now I feel cheap for cheering on the God-fearing Rangers.

There's no denying LaRussa's success. He's among the greatest managers of all time, one of only two to win the World Series in both leagues, and took a 2011 Cardinal team that had no business being in the playoffs past the vaunted Phillies, through the powerful Brewers and over the speedy Rangers. His mix-and-match bullpen philosophy works, and so does whatever it is he does to get the most out of players like Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes, Kyle Lohse and Jeff Weaver. Those guys all have rings, while Roy Halladay does not.

But I won’t be sorry to see him go. Lefty-righty matchups are here to stay, and it seems every manager has embraced the three-pitcher inning. But at least we won't be hearing about what a genius the man is for batting the pitcher eighth, or for pretending he didn't know all along that Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were sticking needles up their butts.

As for Mr. McCourt, the sooner he sells the Dodgers the better. The sooner the Fox TV network can back up a Brinks truck full of money to the new owners and allow them to sign Prince Fielder or some other hitter to protect Matt Kemp in the lineup. The sooner we can talk about Clayton Kershaw defending his Cy Young award. The sooner we can stop talking about injunctions and stays and oxidation of staples in legal agreements. The sooner Jamie McCourt can fade into Georgia Frontiere oblivion.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Incomplete

  • Saturday, July 24, 2010 8:09 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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When the 2005 White Sox won the ALCS over the Los Angeles Angels, they did it with complete games by all four of their stud starting pitchers. That left their bullpen rested and ready for the World Series, which they won in a sweep. Immediately thereafter, baseball fans came to realize that letting your starters go deep into games makes your bullpen that much better. For one, the pen is rested. For another, you only have to use the best relievers. Guys like Brandon McCarthy, Shingo Takatsu and Kevin Walker did not enter a game in those playoffs or the World Series.

Joe Torre must have been sleeping during that series, perhaps because his Yankees were eliminated a week earlier by the Angels in a tight five-game series. Because Torre seems never to have learned the lesson that a slightly tired starting pitcher is still better than a fresh middle reliever.

Friday night’s game against the Mets was exhibit X, Y and Z in the case of whether Torre or a monkey could manage the bullpen better. Torre even came out and admitted to ESPN’s Tony Jackson that he erred in removing Vicente Padilla for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. Padilla had held the Mets to two runs over 77 pitches, and was in a groove. His replacements were not. A parade that began with the Jeff Weaver Marching and Chowder Society and ended after anybody who doesn’t work for the Dodgers stopped watching allowed four runs, and cost the Dodgers the game. The sight of Torre ambling out to the mound three times in a single inning was enough to cause me to turn off the game.

Afterward, Dodger pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told Jackson "right now, we have a lot of different bodies down there, and we need to figure out what their roles are." He even admitted later in the interview: “Really, what your role should be is to make pitches and get people out, no matter when you're brought in to pitch. But we need to figure out when each guy can pitch."

Why pitchers, managers and pitching coaches can’t understand the second half of this quote is beyond me. Your job as a pitcher, whether you’re the ace starter, the closer, the eighth-inning guy, or the mop-up man, is to get outs. Your job as a manager is to use the guys who get the most outs most often.

Would the Dodgers have won the game if Padilla had stayed in, still trailing 2-1? Impossible to say. They didn’t get a sniff off relievers Bobby Parnell or Francisco Rodriguez. But by that time, the game was a 6-1 mountain to climb, not a one-run molehill.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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All-Star Snubs

  • Tuesday, July 13, 2010 8:41 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I tend not to get too worked up about All-Star snubs. For one, the game is only slightly less meaningless than all other sports’ all-star games. Sure, baseball contends “This one counts,” and even assigns home-field advantage to the league that wins. But the players still aren’t going to get hurt in a game that only benefits the ultimate winner of their league. Hence the rule forbidding use of pitchers who threw Sunday.

For another, just about anybody who’s deserving of an All-Star spot gets one in the end. There’s fan voting for the final spot, even if it is Yankee-dominated. There are players replaced because of injuries. And because Sunday starters are allowed to attend even if they don’t play, the final roster includes close to 40 players on each side.

That’s true of this year’s game, where Rafael Furcal and Hong-Chih Kuo deservedly joined the NL squad and Anaheim’s Jered Weaver got the last-minute nod to the AL team even though everyone knew he was pitching Sunday. Paul Konerko finally got picked when Joe Mauer begged off with injuries. Joey Votto won the fan vote, righting the wrong by NL Manager Charlie Manuel, who chose his own Ryan Howard over Votto even though Votto’s stats were far superior to Howard’s.

Any time 40 guys get chosen, it’s hard to say somebody got snubbed. You might say Omar Infante doesn’t deserve to be there, but there isn’t anybody who was overlooked at this point.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Glass Half Full

  • Saturday, July 10, 2010 7:12 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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On Monday, Dodgers’ starter John Ely was terrible, yielding six runs in 2.1 innings before giving way to the bullpen, which was stellar. Jeff Weaver threw 3.2 innings of hitless relief, permitting just one baserunner to reach, via a walk. Ronald Belisario was equally good, throwing three innings for the first time ever, and yielding just one hit.

It was all for naught, as the Dodgers couldn’t climb out of Ely’s hole, falling a run short to the Marlins, 6-5.

On Friday, Dodgers’ starter Chad Billingsley was good, pitching into the eighth inning after a shaky second and third inning where he loaded the bases each time, but only surrendered a single run. But the middle relief by George Sherrill and Justin Miller was dreadful. They allowed the Chicago Cubs to climb back from a laugher to necessitate the unleashing of the Broxton. The Ox was pedestrian, allowing a run of his own, and bringing the tying run to the plate before settling down and retiring the final out.

Given a choice between good bullpen and a loss or bad bullpen and a win, I'll take the latter.

Bills showed real resilience Friday night. Earlier in the year, he might have crumbled after being unable to command his pitches. He walked three the bases full in both the second and third innings, and looked like he just couldn’t throw a strike. But both times, he rebounded with strikeouts to end the inning. I’m not sure why Joe Torre allowed him to pitch the 8th inning after he had thrown 115 pitches, but the Dodgers got away with it.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Better Now

  • Sunday, May 23, 2010 7:19 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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With their second straight victory over the Tigers, and their 16th in the past 20 games, the Dodgers are finally playing the way we all thought they could. Maybe even better than they could. During their nine-game win streak May 9-18), starting pitchers took the victory eight times, the lone exception being Jeff Weaver’s opportune entrance into the May 14 game against San Diego right before Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer.

That masked a mediocre performance by Ramon Ortiz, the fifth starter and lone weak spot in the rotation now that John Ely has solidified his hold on the No. 4 spot. Ely was his usual self again Saturday, mixing pitches and speeds to baffle the Detroit lineup for six-plus innings. His streak of 89 batters without a walk ended in the first inning, when he gave up two runs. He scattered hits over the next five innings without giving up another walk or a run to keep the Dodgers in the game, and the offense was up to the task, scoring their usual six runs.

In Andre Ethier’s absence, the load has been shouldered by a variety of players. Saturday, it was Casey Blake with three hits and a standout defensive play to help Jonathan Broxton preserve the lead, James Loney with two hits, Matt Kemp with his first homer in over a week, and Blake Dewitt with a two-RBI triple. We don’t hear much about Ronnie Belliard taking over at 2B these days, as Dewitt has quietly done a good job. Still no homers, but a .359 OBP is impressive enough from a guy who still hasn’t celebrated his 25th birthday.

With an off day Monday, the Dodgers don’t have to worry about a fifth starter until Saturday, May 29 at Colorado. I’d love to see Carlos Monasterios get another shot. He might not give you six innings, the way the rest of the rotation has been doing of late. But if he can go four or even five, the bullpen has been getting plenty of rest, and should be able to carry things the rest of the way.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Just What the Blogger Ordered

  • Monday, April 19, 2010 7:13 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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No, I’m not going to take credit for the fine performance put on Sunday by the 2010 Dodgers. But I’m going to enjoy it. Great pitching (on both sides) and some extremely timely hitting from Manny Ramirez, who seems to have a flair for the dramatic, in case you haven’t noticed, contributed to a thrilling 2-1 victory over the visiting Giants.

If only Clayton Kershaw could have gotten the win. The 22-year-old lefty has a talent for pitching brilliantly, only to see the game decided after he departs. Can’t blame him for Sunday’s game: he gave the Dodgers 7 strong innings, and maybe went a batter too far when he gave up a home run to Juan Uribe. Ramon Troncos snuck off with the victory, as he was the last of the four FOUR! Pitchers Torre used in the 8th inning to get three outs.

As if to underline the point I made yesterday, Jonathan Broxton got his first opportunity 12 games into the season. Thankfully, he converted it with six strikes on eight pitches.

Day off today means the nobody in the bullpen will have to work consecutive days for a bit. They’ll need the rest: the Dodgers play 13 games in a row until their next off day May 3. Prepare for a lot of Jeff Weaver. Those games are against the Reds, Nationals, Mets, and Pirates. They need to make hay against the underbelly of their schedule if they’re going to compete this year.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Everyday Weaver

  • Friday, April 16, 2010 5:56 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Now playing the role of Scott Proctor: Jeff Weaver. The guy has pitched in nine of the last eight games. Yet when the Dodgers clawed their way back into a 3-3 game, who does Joe Torre bring in to pitch the 8th? George Sherrill, the man who is supposed to be the 8th-inning guy? Ramon Troncoso, the guy who was the 8th inning guy until Sherill took over that role in late 2009?

No, instead he brings in Jeff Weaver. I understand that there isn’t really an arm out there that Torre trusts right now. But why not go straight to Troncoso in that situation? Ramon had pitched all of 1/3 of an inning the night before, tossing just five pitches. That’s hardly an appearance. Play last night’s game as though you expect to win and maybe you don’t have to go into extra innings. Instead, Torre mapped out the game as if he planned to use at least one Ortiz and that’s exactly what he got. He also had to use Broxton for the third straight night, effectively eliminating his chances to pitch Friday night.

Weaver’s failure -- he immediately gave up a tie-breaking homer to Justin Upton -- was compounded an inning later by another tomato can outing by Sherrill. Had the Dodgers not rallied in the ninth, aided by Stephen Drew’s Mat Hollidayesque error on what should have been the last out of the game, that’s all we’d be talking about today.

Luckily for Torre, Andre Ethier was up to his old tricks again, delivering his first game-winning hit of 2010, much like his first of 2009: with a simple single.

The rest of the game was a dishonor to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier 63 years ago last night. The Dodgers played a distracted game throughout. Matt Kemp failed to find a lazy fly to center (before he atoned with his fourth homer in five games). Starter Hiroki Kuroda went seven strong, but brain farted in the second inning when he went into a full windup, allowing Chris Young to steal third without a throw. Rafael Furcal followed a terrific stop with a throwing error that allowed Arizona’s second run to score.

Still, it’s a W, something the Dodgers aren’t likely to see tonight unless Vicente Padilla rights his ship against the streaking Giants. Charlie Haeger takes on Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum on Saturday afternoon, and Barry Zito takes on a Dodger starter TBA (no word yet on why it’s not Clayton Kershaw).

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

L.A. Is Pierreville No More

  • Tuesday, December 15, 2009 8:09 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Au Revoir, Juan Pierre.

A year ago, I might have said good riddance (save for the fact that I don’t know how to say that in French). But after the 2009 that Pierre put up, I’m a bit more melancholy about his departure.

Sure, Pierre had no arm. Sure, he couldn’t hit for power. Sure, he failed to ignite the offense because he didn’t get on base enough. Sure, his blind devotion to his consecutive games streak stood in the way of the development of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the two cornerstones of the 2010 Dodger offense.

But in 2009, he stopped pouting about playing time, largely because he got some. It took Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension for using banned substances to get Pierre in the lineup on an everyday basis, but given the chance, he performed admirably. Pierre put up Dodger career highs in average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. I criticized him for his poor .655 OPS in 2008; in

2009, he raised it by 100 points. A .757 OPS still isn’t terrific, but for a fourth outfielder, it’s not awful.

With the White Sox, Pierre will have an opportunity to start every day -- at least until Chicago realizes he’s not much better than the parade of losers they’ve thrown out there: Scott Podsednik, Brian Anderson and Dewayne Wise (although he gets a pass for saving Mark Buehrle’s perfecto).

The Dodgers will get two players to be named later, thus debunking the myth that the PTBNL is always the same person. But this deal wasn’t about equal value. It was addition by subtraction. The Dodgers will eat about half of the remaining $18 million on Pierre’s contract, giving them about $4.5 million per year to spend on another player.

With Xavier Paul, Jason Repko or any number of minor leaguers ready to step in as the fourth outfielder in 2010, I suspect the Dodgers will use this money to upgrade the pitching staff. No, they won’t be signing any John Lackeys or Roy Halladays. They’ll look for bargains like they did with Randy Wolf last year. Like last year, they’ll wait until the scraps are left behind the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox. Then they’ll sign a parade of horribles like Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton, Claudio Vargas, et al.

Ned Colletti has maintained that despite Frank and Jamie McCourt’s marital difficulties, the team will be business as usual. Sadly, that’s true.

So long, Juan Pierre. If you hadn’t been so grossly overpaid, we might have loved you here in Los Angeles. At $4.5 million a year, you’re a decent option for Chicago. Maybe they’ll love you there.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Handicapping The Second Half

  • Tuesday, July 14, 2009 1:17 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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At the All-Star break, the Dodgers are 56-32, the best team in baseball. It’s safe to say nobody expected them to be here, especially after the guy who was supposed to carry them to the promised land got his ass suspended for 50 games for taking a female fertility drug that can mask steroid use.

But here they are anyway, despite a pitching staff that lost its Opening Day starter on Day 2, and has gotten wins out of pitchers like Eric Milton and Jeff Weaver, and the team’s only shutout from Eric Stults. Milton looks to be out for the rest of the s eason, and the saga of Stults seems never to end, leaving only Weaver and James McDonald to compete for the fifth starter position the rest of the way.

Or does it. There have been Jason Schmidt sightings in Albuquerque, and the Dodgers might bring him up just to see if they can squeeze a nickel out of that obscene contract they tendered him in 2007. Roy Halladay is also on the horizon. Toronto has said it will listen to offers for arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Speculation says Toronto might take Canada’s favorite son Russell Martin plus a few prospects in exchange.

A year ago, I never would have parted with Martin, who appeared to be the leader of the team. His struggles in the first half have changed my opinion. I don’t think he’s as bad as he has been so far (.258/.373 2HR 27 RBI) but I think we may have seen his ceiling. Plus any time you have the opportunity to get one of the top 5 players in baseball without giving up a cornerstone of your franchise, you need to pull the plug.

The other reason to get Halladay: to make sure the Phillies don’t get him. Even without Halladay, the Dodgers have the talent to beat Philadelphia. But if the world champs add Halladay to Hamels, they’d quickly become the favorites.

Closer Jonathan Broxton’s toe is a concern, but there aren’t exactly a lot of All-Star closers available on the open market. If he can’t go the rest of the way, the Dodgers will have to fill that role from within.

I don’t see a lot of holes in the lineup. The starting infield has been consistently good, with Rafael Furcal showing renewed energy in the last two weeks, and Orlando Hudson regaining his power stroke, if only for a game. All three starting outfielders could have been All-Stars, though Andre Ethier has forgotten how to take a walk.

Holding the top spot at midseason is no guarantee of anything. A year ago, the Cubs and Angels were running away with their respective leagues and looked destined for a World Series date. Neither got out of the first round of the playoffs. That’s not to say t hat will happen to the Dodgers. But there’s a lot of baseball between now and October. With summer nights finally here in Los Angeles, that’s a happy thought.
--- John Rosenthal.

Two Losses in One Day

  • Sunday, July 12, 2009 7:28 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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The Dodgers lost a game to the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday, but they also lost Jon Broxton to the toe injury that has plagued their All-Star closer all season. The injury won’t keep the Ox from going to his first midsummer classic in St. Louis on Tuesday, but it will keep him from participating in the game. Trevor Hoffman, who saved last Saturday’s game for the Brewers, appropriately enough will take Broxton’s place.

It’s too early to say how long Broxton will be out, but the fact that the Dodgers have not put him on the disabled list has to be a little encouraging. Unless you’re Blake DeWitt, that is, who was sent back down to Albuquerque to make room for another pitcher, Scott Elbert.

Elbert pitched well in his return to the big league club, holding the Brewers hitless over 2.2 innings. So did starter Jeff Weaver, for that matter, who gave up two unearned runs in the first on Rafael Furcal’s error, and two more in the fourth of his own making. The Dodgers, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to get it together against journeyman starter Mike Burns, who kept them off the board until Furcal and Andre Ethier went back-to-back in the fifth. The Brewers quickly got him out of there and relied on their bullpen to finish things up, which it did nicely.

Todd Coffey, the massive -- he’s listed at 241, but he looks more like 261 -- righty flamethrower was particularly devastating. He struck out the heart of the Dodger order -- Ethier, Manny and Casey Blake -- in the eighth inning on just 13 pitches. None of the Dodger hitters looked like they were even close to making contact, swinging and missing by as much as a foot on some of Coffey’s pitches. --- John Rosenthal.

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Dodgers At Midseason: Part 1, The Pitching

  • Tuesday, July 7, 2009 7:45 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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It’s one game past the midpoint of the 2009 season, so the travel day offers an opportunity to reflect on the team thus far.

I was sure that pitching was going to be the Achilles’ heel of this team after they failed to sign a big name free agent and let go of Takashi Saito, Derek Lowe, Chan Ho Park and Joe Beimel, guys who were responsible for a significant portion of the team’s innings in 2008.

Well, color me contrite. Not Robert McNamara contrite, but certainly pleasantly surprised at the performances the Dodgers have gotten out of unlikely candidates.

Surprise #1: Ronald Belisario. Who had ever heard of this guy until the final week of spring training? Not even the most dedicated fan. Yet he’s been so good that Joe Torre has felt compelled to use him 43 times in the first 82 games. That earns him the nickname “El Diario.” At what point will the 26-year-old Venezuelan hit the innings wall that seems to plague so many pitchers making the jump to the big leagues? For Jonathan Broxton, it came around 70 innings. Belisario is at 48 already.

Surprise #2: Ramon Troncoso. He’s clearly learned how to manipulate that sinker ball of his. His WHIP and BAA are little different from 2008, but his ERA is down by more than two runs from the 4.26 he logged last year. He’s finally getting guys to hit into groundouts and double plays.

Surprise #3: Brent Leach. The 26-year-old rookie looked destined for mop-up duty when he was recalled on May 6. But after getting battered around a few times, he settled into the role of lefty specialist after Will Ohman went down. Leach has given up just one run since June 2, usually pitching to just one or two batters at a time.

Surprise #4 Jeff Weaver. What made the Dodgers think that Spicoli was ready for a comeback at age 31? Was it that brilliant performance in the World Series for St. Louis in 2006? Was it the year away from baseball entirely? Not once in his career did Weaver put up the kind of numbers he’s spun for the Dodgers in 2009. Shuttling between the rotation and the bullpen, he’s posted a 3.32 ERA and been the guy Joe Torre turns to when extra innings threaten to go long and ugly.

Surprise #5: Randy Wolf. Haven’t we seen this act before? I thought so, in 2007, when Wolf went 9-6 with a 4.73 ERA in 18 starts before getting injured. He was a serviceable guy who kept you in games long enough to lose them half the time. But in 2009, Wolf has had arguably his best year. His 12 no-decisions don’t reflect how good he has been, but his 3.49 ERA and 1.15 WHIP do. He’s given up one earned run or less in nine of his 18 starts this year.

Surprise #6: Eric Milton. See Jeff Weaver.

Surprise #7: Jonathan Broxton. I never doubted the Ox’s stuff, which is filthy. Opponents are batting just .132 against him. But I wasn’t sure he had the temperament to be a closer, as he tended to melt down in some situations. I’m still not convinced he isn’t Armando Benitez in waiting, but we won’t know that until playoff time.

Not every performance has been surprising. Here are some that were thoroughly anticipated:

No Surprise #1. Remember how Hong-Chih Kuo was going to be the Dodgers’ setup man, barring injury? After seven games, Kuo was back on the 60-day DL.

No Surprise #2. Chad Billingsley’s off-season broken leg did little to sideline the development of the Dodgers’ 24-year-old ace. His ERA is exactly the same as it was last year (3.14). His BAA and WHIP are both down slightly. And he’s on pace to increase his innings total from the 200 he logged in 2008. The only thing left for him to prove is whether he can win in the playoffs. It looks like he’ll get another chance this year.

No Surprise #3: Guillermo Mota. Mota has been both better and worse than expected. On average, though, he’s exactly what the Dodgers thought they were getting: an aging reliever who can be called on to get tough outs. His ERA, WHIP and BAA are almost identical to his career numbers.

Incomplete: Hiroki Kuroda, Eric Stults and Will Ohman have been on the DL too often for anybody to know what their first-half contributions mean, or what they herald for the second half.

Disappointments: James McDonald and Cory Wade haven’t lived up to the lofty expectations each set in 2008. Wade quietly ensconced himself as the seventh-inning guy in Joe Torre’s 2008 bullpen, but faltered in that role in 2009. McDonald was slotted for the fifth starter’s job, but bridled. Both may still play big roles in the second half of 2009. They certainly did in 2008. --- John Rosenthal.

A Familiar Ring

  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009 5:26 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Monday’s 13-inning, 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies had a familiar ring to it. Not just that the game went 13 innings, much like the contest against the Chicago White Sox five days earlier (the Dodgers lost that one).

Not just that Andre Ethier hit his fourth home run in four days, or that he hit his second walk-off homer in the month of June. Not just that Colorado batters struck out so often (17 times!) that the sight of the umpire raising his left hand became commonplace.

Not just that Randy Wolf got his 11th No Decision of the year. Not just that Joe Torre pulled his starter after six innings and 96 pitches. Not just that Ronald Belisario pitched the seventh inning (the guy appears in so many ballgames that his nickname needs to be El Diario). Not just that Torre used his entire bullpen and not just that the bullpen was dominant. Seven relievers pitched one inning apiece, and none was blemished for a run. Jeff Weaver gave up the only two hits allowed by Dodger relievers, and he rebounded to strike out the side.

On the other hand, the game featured, as games often do, something I’ve never seen before: A balk caused by a batter asking for time. Normally, you see the umpire grant time and the pitcher stops his motion. That’s clearly what Ubaldo Jimenez was thinking when he saw Randy Wolf put up his hand. But Bruce Dreckman never called time out. Remember, players ask for time out, but only umpires can grant it. Wolf then made Jimenez pay by singling home the two runners who had advanced on the balk. Frankly, if I had been Jimenez, I might have put the next pitch up and inside Wolf’s kitchen for that little charade.

What made the game feel familiar, however, was how tiresome it was. Normally, I love a good 2-2 game, especially one that goes extras. But last night’s contest didn’t feel like great pitchers battling deep into the night. It felt like two tired offenses having an ineptitude contest. The Rockies barely mustered a baserunner (just three runners reached base after Wolf’s departure, while 13 whiffed). The Dodgers put runners on in every inning except the 11th, but couldn’t convert until Ethier’s home run erased all the small-ball failures.

In a long season, the games all blend together, and a week from now, this one will be remembered only as a win. --- John Rosenthal.

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