Matt Kemp was quite proud to ruin the party for the Cincinnati Reds Friday night when he stroked a two-run single that gave the Los Angeles Dodgers’ a 3-1 victory. The Reds were on the verge of clinching the National League Central Division title, but the loss meant they had to wait.
“I’m trying to get to the playoffs myself,” said Kemp, who had three singles in the pitching dominated game.
Exactly. They are hustling and clawing and scratching and hoping, but the Dodgers still have prospects of reaching the post-season. Kemp, the star outfielder, and his non-hitting brethren are seeking to grab the last wild-card spot in the NL over the St. Louis Cardinals and the suddenly-in-the-picture Milwaukee Brewers and amazingly, the Philadelphia Phillies. Friday was a good day for LA. St. Louis lost and the Dodgers won.
So after Friday’s play the Cardinals stood at 80-71, Milwaukee was 78-72, the Dodgers were 78-73 and the Phillies were 77-74. At 86-65, the Atlanta Braves pretty much have the other wild-card slot sewed up.
Whether they make it or not, the Dodgers are going to feel as if they were in the post-season. Manager Don Mattingly is managing as if every game down the home stretch of the regular season is a playoff game. Against the Reds, right-hander Joe Blanton was cruising along with only one run surrendered and 95 pitches thrown after 5 1/3 innings and Mattingly yanked him for one of what became a series of five relievers.
“I’m sure some of the starters are getting frustrated with me,” Mattingly said of how he has decided to play things. He is making lefty-right switches, trying to eliminate risks in close games and maximize the array of talent in the bullpen. “I just trust those guys out in the pen.”
Blanton said he would have preferred to stay on the mound.
“Always,” he said. “If it was up to me I’d never come out. (But) they did a great job in the bullpen.”
Mattingly employed Randy Choate, Shawn Tolleson, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisaro, and Brandon League in a tag-team operation to edge the Reds, but no one was more impressive than Belisaro, who showed up in the eighth and during his six-out appearance struck out five hitters. He was smoking.
Belisario, who is called “Belly” by his teammates, has had an adventurous year. A native of Venezuela, Belisario had trouble getting a visa to come to the United States after being caught with cocaine. Then he was suspended for violating the Major League drug policy and his season didn’t start until May. Now he is 8-1 with a 2.25 earned run average.
“My pitches were doing what I wanted,” Belisario said, and then he pronounced what the Dodgers’ future holds as far as the playoffs go. “We’re going to make it.”
Kemp was less certain, but allowed as how winning after the Cardinals lost was beneficial.
“We got a big one,” he said. “We’ve definitely got a long ways to go. St. Louis is not going to stop playing.”
Neither are the Dodgers. Mattingly will be juggling his pitchers like a mad scientist, and Kemp, who has overcome injury to hit .307, will keep trying to dig down for the big hit and carry LA one step closer to the playoffs.