The immediate focus on possible causes for the Dodgers going down to defeat after Thursday night’s loser-takes-nothing Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Dodgers and the Mets was primarily on the heated exchange that took place in the dugout between player Andre Ethier and coach Don Mattingly.
How very aura- and karma-oriented (aka LA-LA-land) of those who attributed that argument to an increase in negativity that ultimately engulfed and doomed the Blue Crew.
Yes, I have a different point of view. The Dodgers lost the game, not because Ethier was pissed off at whatever he was pissed off at in the bottom of the third inning. They lost in the top of the fourth because that’s when a spell got put on ’em enducing a collective amnesia that let everyone on the field wearing a blue cap forgetting completely and entirely about that little bit of real estate they’re in charge of defensing, commonly known as third base. It’s kind of important.
Let me set it up as best I can. We’ve got a Met player named Daniel Murphy on first base. Another Met named Lucas Duda is at the plate. There’s one out. Pitcher Zack Grienke is on the mound working his magic. The Dodger infield, specifically second baseman Howie Kendrick, shortstop Corey Seager and third baseman Justin Turner have strategically super-shifted to their lefts away from their standard positions to better protect any hits getting through into right centerfield or right field and possibly execute an inning-ending double play. Seager’s moved closer to second base, Kendrick’s moved closer to first base and the most severe relocation of all, Turner stands marooned all the way out in shallow right field.
Duda ultimately draws a walk and in doing so Murphy advances to second base. Dodger catcher Yasmani Grandal tosses the ball back to Grienke. Next batter, right? Wouldn’t that have been nice.
See, here’s were the bell tolled for Los Angeles. Murphy, while on his casual trot to second and who’s apparently known for being one of the dimmest baserunners in the league, sees third base completely w-i-d-e open and simply continues around second until sliding safely into third and standing atop it with what has to be one of most casual steals in the history of Major League Baseball; certainly its postseason. Sure, Murphy broke into a sprint to get there, but he didn’t have to. The Dodgers were so glacially slow on the uptake he could have slowed to a walk. It was sooooo laidback — and the Dodgers soooooo zen-like in their complete lack of awareness — that he could’ve stopped between second and third and lit a cigarette. Or whipped out his cell phone and called his mom.
“Hey mom, guess where I am?”
“Well dear, it looks on the TV that you’re on your way to making the Dodgers look really bush league stupid!”
Only Grandal, yelling helplessly at the plate made an attempt in complete vain to alert his comrades to the theft in progress and they were all, whaaaaa-? Huunh? Ooooooh. Turner started to jog toward third figuring better to react late than never.
So egregious was this Dodger failure of How To Play The Game (committed, mind you, not at the speed of an actual base hit, but rather at that meandering pace of a base on balls) that third base should heretofore be emblazoned with Murphy’s name because he now owns it. Flat out and forever. Mineral and air rights included. It is his. I will never ever be able to look upon it without thinking of him.
I cannot compound the disaster of this fail enough. We’re not talking weekend city softball league, we’re talking about Major League Baseball-caliber skill and play and strategery here. It should go without saying that players and a team that execute a supershift to protect a specific area of the field of play should then damn well unexecute it post haste to re-protect the area they left vulnerable.
Instead the Dodgers abandoned third base like a hockey team might pull a goalie from the net to assist offensively. The prime difference being that in hockey, such an effort is last-ditch, and not done midway through the second period.
Maybe afterward with Murphy camped out on the hot corner, the Dodgers tried to minimize it. Shake it off. Maybe they figured “Let’s just get the next two out and put this behind us.” Good idea. And the fact is they got the next batters out. Trouble is the first batter Travis D’Arnaud hit what’s called a sacrifice fly ball deep enough into right field to allow Murphy on third base to tag up, run home and score. And with that the Dodgers lead of 2-1 disappeared into a 2-2 tie.
At best if the Dodgers had protected third base after Duda’s walk, Murphy would have advanced on D’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly from second to third and been stranded there when the next Mets batter got out and the 2-1 lead would have been preserved.
What also would have been preserved was the Dodgers hopes for winning. But I think in the ensuing innings such an embarrassing and demoralizing failure to accomplish such a basic and fundamental element of their game was just dwelled upon gnawing away their confidence the way a flesh-eating bacterium chews up skin.
In pure poetry it was the same Daniel Murphy in the sixth inning who stroked a solo homerun off Grienke to give the Mets the 3-2 lead and ultimately the win. But to me the game wasn’t decided at the last out of the bottom of the ninth inning. It was written and done waaay back in the fourth.