It Was A Blue Monday
The normal blue sunny skies that give Dodger Stadium its almost supernatural glow were instead dark and gray today. After the tragedy in Boston it's hard to think about baseball, but here it was with the Dodgers losing to the Padres 6-3.
The Los Angeles Police Department said they were going to increase security at Dodger Stadium, and that was more than evident. Helicopters were patrolling the airspace when I arrived just after 3 p.m., and several unmarked police vehicles also entered when I arrived each going to different levels of the park.
You wanted Jackie Robinson Day and all of the festivities to transcend the pall of grief and sadness, but unfortunately it just couldn't. Sure there was the 17-member gospel choir from Magic Johnson's church West Angeles Church of God in Christ singing the National Anthem. Sure there was Harrison Ford throwing the ceremonial first pitch, a bouncer he admitted to Dodger manager Don Mattingly would earn him some teasing from his children. Sure there was the field full of "42"s to gawk at. Sure there was the residual animosity between the Dodgers and the Padres stemming from Thursday's kerfluffle.
Despite all of that, everything was muted at the Stadium.
"Anything like that takes precedent," Dodger manager Don Mattingly said about the events in Boston before the game.
Even the lusty boos that were envisioned when the Padres lineup was announced had all the conviction of a local community theater production. Even when the Dodgers loaded the bases in the first inning, they had to be prompted by Dwight Howard via the videoboard to cheer.
Things got real quiet when Chad Billingsley gave up a three-run homer to former Dodger starter Eric Stults in the second inning, his first Major League home run.
"He hits well," Billingsley said of Stults remembering their days as teammates through the Dodgers organization. "It was just a fastball that took off on me."
Although that was the lone mistake that cost Billingsley, Mattingly didn't think he improved from his last start. "Bills battled tonight," Mattingly said. "He didn't seem as sharp as last time."
Nonetheless it would be what is termed a "quality start" for Billingsley going six innings and giving up the three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out three.
Actually not everything was muted: the damned speakers found a way to pierce through your eardrums causing your brainmeats to vibrate at unnatural frequencies threatening a cranial explosion a la Mars Attacks.
The Dodgers actually managed to tie the game with runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings exciting the soldout crowd of 52,136. Perhaps most remarkable was the fact that the runners that scored were each in scoring position, a source of trouble for the Dodgers this season.
Too bad it went for naught. Ronald Belisario relieved Billingsley in the seventh inning and loaded the bases with a single sandwiched between walks. A bases loaded walk to Chris Denorfia by Paco Rodriguez followed by a double play to Yonder Alonzo gave the Padres the 5-3 lead.
But no close NL West game is complete without the sacrifice bunt, non-pitcher version. After A.J. Ellis and Andre Ethier led off the eighth inning with a single and a walk respectively, Mattingly had Luis Cruz lay down a sacrifice bunt. Skip Schumaker hit a grounder back to the box for the easy out. A.J. Ellis didn't help things with a TOOTBLAN (thrown out of the basepaths like a nincumpoop) — he tried to score from third base only to get thrown out by a country mile at the plate after hesitating a bit.
A.J. Ellis, for his part, admitted his faux pas.
"I got caught in no-man's-land," Ellis said saying where the ball had landed gave him pause. "I've got to make a decision one way or another. What I did was the worst situation possible."
And that, kids, is reason no. 1,203 why you don't bunt unless you're a pitcher.
More than bunting and Belisario, what has troubled Mattingly early this season has been the lack of run production. "I'm not happy with the bottom line with what's been going on," he admitted. But he does see a silver lining out there with all of the hit that they're getting.
"I keep saying it over and over again," Mattingly said. "If we get that much traffic, we'll score plenty of runs." That was something he repeated to us last season.
One of the big culprits at the plate has been Cruz. Now batting .111, he seems to be inching back towards something resembling his onslaught last season. He hit a single in the fourth inning and scored the run while also laying down that bunt in the eighth inning.
"I felt a lot better," Cruz said about his at-bats. He said he was able to see the ball a lot better and that getting a lot of work in has been helping. While the batting average might not be evidence of the work, the wrapping around his right wrist was.
"It doesn't bother me," Cruz said.
Cruz did get philosophical at one point. "At the beginning [of the season] I was trying to get hits rather than hitting the ball."
It's been a trying day making baseball insignificant in the bigger scope of things. So let's end it with Vin Scully telling a story about interviewing for the job with Branch Rickey.
By the way, he repeated the story to us in the elevator after the game. His facial expressions sold the story even better.