October 1, 2007
That's 19 straight if you're counting, but first things first. The 2007 Dodgers failure was not about injuries. And to the degree that injuries played a part, it was pretty much their own fault.
I use the collective "their" in this case, because while it was Grady Little who accounted for most of the ill-conceived, if not downright bizarre decision making, others contributed.
The trend was set way back in Spring Training, when Jason Schmidt barely had the arm strength to carry the monster-sized contract he'd been signed to by Ned Colletti, who apparently was convinced that since the man could actually sign the damn thing, he must be healthy enough to pitch. Wrong.
The Dodgers trotted the obviously-hurting Schmidt to the mound through the spring and into the season, hoping against hope that he'd be fine. They shut him down, brought him back, and finally shut him down a second time for good, opting for surgery. What Little, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and trainer Stan Conte were thinking while this was going on, I have no idea.
Though the mismanagement of Schmidt can really be categorized as more than one gigantic error in judgment, let's just dub it season-changing mistake number one.
Independent of the Schmidt situation, Little, in his infinite wisdom, made it clear from the second week of March that he preferred Brett Tomko as a starting pitcher over Chad Billingsley. Wrong. What Little, Honeycutt and Colletti were thinking while this was going on, I have no idea. Season-changing mistake number two.
Tomko goes into the season as the number five, is eventually replaced by Mark Hendrickson, who appears to be useful caddying for Schmidt, and the whole thing blows up in the Dodgers face, faster than you can say "Jack Robinson." Billingsley finally takes his rightful place in the rotation June 21. June 21! Season-changing mistakes number three and four? Ya think?
Tomko takes to the pen like a fish to land, recording a glittering June ERA of 6.35. During one stretch, from June 17 to July 6, Tomko allows 14 runs in 13 2/3 innings, which of course, earns him an immediate promotion back into the rotation. Season-changing mistake number five.
Meanwhile, after Randy Wolf struggles in June and into July, the Dodgers admit that their original number four starter has been pitching with a sore arm for a month. Like they did with Schmidt earlier, and with Hong-Chih Kuo and Chin-hui Tsao throughout the season, the Dodgers gambled with a pitcher's health for reasons known only to them, and lost. Since this is really just one problem repeated over and over again, let's just categorize it as a single mistake, and call it season-changing mistake number six.
Yhency Brazoban, by the way, was brought back at less than 100% just the one time in 2007, and if he was paying attention, would almost have to consider it a moral victory for himself.
While I hesitate to point to one ballgame as a season-changer, and blame the whole thing on the skipper, June 6 at San Diego comes pretty damn close.
With the game in hand, 5-1, the Dodgers having driven Jake Peavy from the box, and then-relief pitcher Chad Billingsley cruising to a three-inning save in the eighth, Little goes to Joe Beimel for an out. OK, fine; it wasn’t necessary, but he got the out.
Greedy with a four-run lead, Little opts for a hitter, doesn't get the extra tally, and with Takashi Saito unavailable, hands the ball to Jonathan Broxton. The Pads score five in the ninth, handing the Dodgers their worst loss of the season…to that point anyway, and sweep.
June 17. Unsatisfied with inexperienced outfielder Wilson Betemit spelling Matt Kemp in right field, Little puts inexperienced outfielder James Loney out there in the late innings of a day game, to deal with the setting sun at Dodger Stadium for the first time in his career. Loney crashes into the previously-padded wall where Kemp had hurt himself in April, gets carted off after an inside-the-park-homer by Gary Matthews, Jr., but avoids serious injury.
June 24. Dodgers drop a series to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, actually losing to former mate Edwin Jackson, who wins for the first time in two years.
June 30. Dodgers lose a mass of blown opportunities when Little throws in the towel in the 12th inning. Tomko coughs up two and the Padres win a gut-wrencher, 3-1.
July 17. Russell Martin gets his first day off since July 3, which was his first since June 17, which was his first since April 30.
July 17: Dodgers lose 15-3 to Philadelphia, beginning a 7-18 stretch, in which their record falls from 53-41 to 60-59.
August 10. Shea Hillenbrand becomes a Dodger.
August 12. After having demoted long-man Houtlon two days prior, Little gives Hendrickson another start, and he proceeds to give up eight in two innings, as the Dodgers lose to the Cards, 12-2.
September 6 to September 19. The running into the ground of Jonathan Broxton. Actually, the running into the ground was a full season thing, which only Little can explain (or not), but the culmination of that running into the ground occurred during these dates, and literally cost the Dodgers their entire season.
And we go to Chicago. With the Dodgers having just taken a 2-1 lead in the seventh, Broxton gives up a back-breaking three-run home run to Alfonso Soriano, to make it 4-2 Cubs. Andre Ethier answers with a three-run shot of his own in the ninth, and the club escapes with a win.
The next evening in San Francisco, minutes after a dramatic ninth inning homer by James Loney to tie, Broxton allows a walk-off job to Dan Ortmeier.
Two days later, on September 9, with the Dodgers having just taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth, Broxton allows a back-breaking three-run pinch-hit home run to Ray Durham, and the team loses 4-2.
September 9 is also the game in which Brad Penny is lifted after allowing a double to Kevin Frandsen to start the eighth. He'd thrown all of 82 pitches to that point, and Little eventually admits he blew the game.
A week later, this time with the Dodgers down 4-1 in the ninth, Little goes to Broxton, who allows two runs on two hits and a walk, but doesn't surrender a homer.
Two days later, in the second game of a doubleheader at Colorado, with the Dodgers leading 7-4 in the eighth, Broxton allows a near-back-breaking two-run homer to Ryan Spilborghs. Saito gives up Todd Helton's two-out, two-run homer in the ninth, giving the Rockies a day-night, twin-bill sweep.
The next night, September 19, with the Dodgers leading 5-4 in the eighth, Broxton allows a two-run homer to Brad Hawpe, and the Rocks win 6-5. Not a man watching is surprised.
Season-changing mistakes seven, eight, nine and 10, or seven through 13, depending on your how you do the math.
L.A. loses all four at Coors, as both the team and the season implode completely. Jeff Kent goes ape-wire in the media, the "kids" respond in kind, selfishness is in vogue throughout, and the Dodgers are toast.
September 30. After winning the first two games of the final series of the season, with a chance to finish on a high note, the Dodgers conclude with 11-2 mess of a game against the Giants. As perfectly fitting a finale as is humanly possible.
Eric Stults starting and losing the final game is fitting as well. The Dodgers gave Stults five starts, scattered throughout the season, and it's safe to say, know by now what he's capable of.
D.J. Houlton, the most successful and experienced starter at Las Vegas prior to being promoted to the big club the first time on July 1, ostensibly to start in place of Tomko or Hendrickson or Wolf, failed to make a single start during the major league season. Not a one.
The phrase I hear most these days is "I like Grady, but," as in "I like Grady, but c'mon, gimme a break," or "I like Grady, but he's just not a good enough manager." That's my feeling too.
Little has presided over consecutive post-All Star break free falls, at least one clubhouse cave in, the destruction of several precious arms, and has proven the critics (in two cities) of his in-game maneuvering and misuse of pitching staffs to be genius-like in their assessments.
Throw in his almost sadistic over-working of the team's most precious resource, Russell Martin, and a fourth place finish in 2007, and what we have on our hands here is a serious need for a change. Unfortunately, Frank McCourt has already stated that both the manager and GM will return next season. I take solace in knowing that we've heard that line before…
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Media Savvy: Props to Prime Ticket for another great season of "Dodgers Live." Kevin Kennedy continues as the best analyst in baseball, by far, and maybe the best in Los Angeles broadcast history. He does his job with a genuine enthusiasm and sense of humor, and his devotion to the Dodgers comes through on a nightly basis.
Say what you will about Steve Lyons; he does a damn good job...even if he can't say "damn" anymore. He's knowledgeable and funny, and a perfect match for Kennedy, talking about baseball. Patrick O'Neal and Jim Watson are great too. OK, Watson is a bit of a geek, but he's entitled. Probably comes from spending too much time in Orange County. I love the show…
Award Time: National League Cy Young Award: Jake Peavy.
NL MVP: Matt Holliday.
NL Rookie of the Year: Troy Tulowitzki.
NL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin.
NL Executive of the Year: Pat Gillick.
AL Cy: Josh Beckett.
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez.
AL Rookie: Dustin Pedroia.
AL Manager: Eric Wedge.
AL Executive: Mark Shapiro…
Statue for Sandy: The Koufax in bronze campaign continues. Please Vote “Yes on 32.” And tell a friend…
Remember, glove conquers all….
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