Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Scioscia pays for thin bullpen on Scioscia Night

Between traffic and their own play, Mike Scioscia Bobblehead night Tuesday was shaping up as a fiasco for the Dodgers. But Scioscia's Angels entered the game with a depleted bullpen and paid for it when Angels outcast Juan Rivera belted a three-run homer in the eighth, sending Dodger Stadium into an eruption. Wednesday night, the Dodgers will aim for their first series win at home against the Angels since 2008.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles


The ending to Mike Scioscia Bobblehead Night at Dodger Stadium Tuesday had one wondering if it weren't also bubblehead night for the Angels manager, who left his starter in for two pitches too long and thereby brought about a 5-2 loss to the Dodgers.

Such an awful way to lose on your own bobblehead night, especially the way Scioscia has dominated this Freeway Series. After catching more games than anyone else in Dodgers history, Scioscia set up his own shop in the burbs and won while the Dodgers tried. The Angels are up, 21-11, in the Freeway Series since 2006.

But Whitey Herzog said the manager is only as good as his bullpen, so Scioscia didn't start the night in good shape. Ernesto Frieri had worked three straight days. After the game, Scioscia told reporters that his other closer, left hander Scott Downs, couldn't go because of pains in his left side.

Thus, Scioscia had neither of the pitchers who have taken him through the late innings. He knew going in that he had a problem.

So, Downs didn't pitch to left-handed Andre Ethier with two out in the eighth as the Dodgers had runners on first and second while the Angels held a 2-1 lead. Scioscia apparently didn't consider left hander Hisanori Takahashi after the reliever threw 30 pitches Monday night.

Angels starter Jerome Williams pitched well Tuesday, though he was starting to falter with two walks in the eighth. But if you're Scioscia, which right hander do you bring from your bullpen to face Ethier? So, Scioscia took a chance on Williams and paid for it.

Ethier hit a sharp single to right, driving in Dee Gordon and moving A.J. Ellis to third, tying the game at 2-2. And on the very next pitch, a high fastball, Juan Rivera blew up Dodger Stadium with a deep home run to left field, giving the Dodgers a 5-2 lead and almost certain victory.

The eruption in Dodger Stadium was a night of frustration for Dodgers fans brought to thrilling resolution with one big swing of the bat. The crowd in honor of Scioscia was announced at 55,279. Many, of course, arrived late. At 8:30 p.m., the gates to the parking lot at Dodger Stadium were still thick with cars trying to crawl in for a bobblehead as the sixth inning approached. Those who were lucky enough to be in the stadium all night were treated to a dreadful performance for seven innings by the Dodgers, who let in two runs with two remarkable infield errors.

About 9:30 p.m., the whole vibe changed as Rivera rounded the bases. Whether you caught an hour or sat through the whole thing, the night was vindicated. Certainly, though, in that traffic, some people missed all of it. For those who caught the end, not even the long crawl out of the parking lot could ruin it.

In a world where no one is wronged, the story of the game is Aaron Harang, the backbone of this Dodger victory. We would be talking about his seven (or more) shutout innings, albeit a little bit labored with six hits and four walks. Harang put hitters on, but his infielders weren't helping. When that became clear, Harang dialed up two big outs to minimize the damage.

In the third inning, the Angels had the bases loaded and two out when Kendrys Morales hit a bouncer towards second baseman Adam Kennedy. As we see a lot now, the Dodgers had their second baseman positioned in short right field towards first base against the left-handed pull hitter. The new positioning puts the second baseman right in front of the ground ball and saves a hit to right field.

But it also gives the second baseman two new calculations to make. First, he has to deal with a grass hop following a dirt hop. Second, the infield has to decide if the best two-out play on that grounder with a runner on first is the force at second or the batter at first. Both of those puzzled Dodgers infielders Tuesday night.

On the ground ball by Morales, Kennedy just didn't play the hop, which isn't a common hop for a second baseman. Dirt hops following grass hops happen all the time. Grass hops following dirt hops are new with playing the second baseman in the outfield. The ball hit by Morales appeared to hit the edge of the grass off the infield dirt. It just ate Kennedy up. A run scored, the bases remained loaded, and the Angels led, 1-0.

In the sixth, with the bases loaded and two out, Williams hit a ground ball to Kennedy, who fielded it cleanly from a standard position and went to second for the force. But the shortstop, Gordon, had a long run to the bag, which isn't a problem for him, anyway. For whatever reason, then, Gordon apparently believed Kennedy's play was at first base, and was thereafter unable to hold a throw from Kennedy that hit him squarely in his glove. A run scored, the bases remained loaded, and the Angels led, 2-1.

Right off the first misplay, Harang had to deal with Mark Trumbo, a very dangerous power hitter, and got him to hit a standard power hitter's fly out to right, ending the inning.

Right off the miscue in the sixth, Harang faced Mike Trout, the hottest player on the field. Right before the miscue in the sixth, Angels catcher Hank Conger reached when Harang and Rivera couldn't work out the arrangement on a slow grounder towards first. The way the Dodgers were botching their infield, a lot was riding on whether Trout merely put the ball in play. But Harang got Trout swinging at a 3-2 slider, another lid on another disaster.

The Dodgers are 40-23. Imagine the Dodgers going a month without Matt Kemp and hitting 40-23. It's because of pitching such as Harang tossed Tuesday night.

The Angels are accustomed to similar pitching  from left hander C.J. Wilson (7-4, 2.39), their starter Wednesday night. The Dodgers counter with right hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-2, 1.93), who has produced three solid starts since replacing injured Ted Lilly in the rotation.

The series, tied 1-1, ends with this game. The Dodgers haven’t won a series with the Angels since taking two of three games in Anaheim June 19-21, 2009. The last time the Dodgers did it at Dodger Stadium was June 27-29, 2008, when they won two of three.

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