Tagged: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Romo-Kemp Battle of Wills

Romo-Kemp Battle

The talk of last night’s 2-1 Giants win over the Dodgers was, of course, Buster Posey’s bottom of the ninth inning walk-off home run, a line drive hammered into the left field stands. Believe it or not, it was Posey’s first MLB career walk-off hit. Not just his first walk-off home run, but his first walk-off hit, period. It was a thrilling, satisfying end (if you were a Giants fan) to a tense, strange game that saw Giants pitchers put the lead runner on base seven of the nine innings and Dodgers hitters unable to bring them home. The Dodgers had 11 hits in the game, but scored only one run. The only Dodger to cross home plate last night was pitcher Clayton Kershaw, which was also the case during Kershaw’s first outing against the Giants this season at Dodgers Stadium, a game the Dodgers won.

Yet for all the excitement of Posey’s home run, the most compelling moment last night, as far as I’m concerned, was Sergio Romo’s ninth inning, nine pitch battle against Matt Kemp. Kemp ultimately prevailed with a line drive single to right field. Still, the match-up was a thing of baseball beauty.

Put away your pitchforks. I’m no turncoat. But the Romo-Kemp struggle was what major league baseball is all about, with two talented players facing off in a war of wills: Romo, painting both sides of the plate with fastballs and sliders against the powerful Dodger right hander; Kemp, fighting off close, tricky pitches with foul balls, fouling one particularly meaty pitch, offering at another way out of the strike zone, spitting at still others, and seeing at least one–the first pitch of the at bat, a fastball inside–get called a strike.

That first pitch strike came at an interesting time. Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto, who led off the inning, had just got called out looking on a slider from Romo that hit almost the same spot on the right side of the plate (viewed from the pitcher’s mound). The left-handed Punto thought it was outside, and argued furiously with home plate umpire Joe West. With a dismissive wave of the finger, West silently warned Punto to head back to the Dodgers dugout.

Reviewing the replay, it’s clear the pitch was outside.

The first pitch to Kemp hit nearly the same spot, yet this one caught part of the plate. Kemp appeared to disagree. Unlike Punto, however, he kept his thoughts to himself, choosing instead to stare in disbelief into the stands along the first base line (was he staring at the scoreboard there to confirm the pitch got registered as a strike?). After all, it was the first pitch of the at bat, not the last. Still, Dodgers hitters must have been confused at the end of a game in which Joe West, throughout most of it, had stuck to an unbelievably tight strike zone. All of a sudden, in the ninth inning, that zone expanded.

Which is perhaps part of what set up the battle between Romo and Kemp.

Something interesting happened after that first strike. Kemp stepped back into the batter’s box, took a practice swing, then signaled time out to West before stepping back out.

Then he did it again.

Was he trying to get the bad taste of that first called strike out of his mouth? Or was he attempting to throw off Romo’s timing? Perhaps a bit of both. Both times, Romo went into the stretch, only to have to start over and set up again. Before Kemp stepped back into the box a third time, Romo went into his stretch, as if he were going to quick-pitch Kemp. West was having none of it. He stepped out from behind home plate to warn Romo. Romo threw out his arms, as if to say, “What did I do?” Giants fans started screaming at West.

On the next pitch, Romo threw Kemp a slider that curled and fell away from the plate outside. Kemp swung and missed it by a mile. The count was 0-2.

Kemp bounced the next pitch foul off to his left. Then Romo threw a cutter outside that Kemp spit on. The count was 1-2.

The crowd started chanting, “Beat LA! Beat LA!”

Kemp fouled another pitch into the stands off first base. Romo was lucky this time. He had hung a fastball over the heart of the plate. Kemp next took a low slider inside that was called a ball. The count was 2-2. Romo went back inside with a front door slider but missed. Barely. The count was 3-2.

Seven pitches had been thrown in the at bat.

Kemp fouled off the next pitch, a fastball in on his hands.

The ninth and final pitch of the at bat was a fastball on the outside edge of the plate. Kemp reached out and punched a line drive into right field.

Battle over. Kemp won.

But Romo would go on to win the war. After falling behind Dodgers shortstop Justin Sellers, 2-1, Romo got Sellers to foul off the next pitch. He then struck Sellers out swinging with a wicked slider that broke off the plate out of the reach of Sellers’ bat.

A.J. Ellis came up next and popped up the third pitch slider to Joaquin Arias at short for the third out.

Posey would lead off the ninth inning. But you already know how this story ends.

The Marichal-Roseboro Brawl

Did you know footage exists of the Marichal-Roseboro brawl? I didn’t. See the above clip. The video freezes in a couple of places, so be patient.

For those not familiar with this famous brawl: It took place August 22, 1965, at Candlestick Park. There had been some heated words between Dodger catcher John Roseboro and several Giants players during the previous game. Juan Marichal was pitching the next afternoon for the Giants, and he threw a couple of brush back pitches that forced Dodger hitters Maury Wills and Ron Fairly to hit the deck. Sandy Koufax refused to intentionally hit any Giants batters in retaliation, so when Marichal came to the plate, Roseboro dropped a pitch behind him, picked it up, and threw the ball back to Koufax, brushing Marichal’s ear. This led to a heated argument between Marichal and Roseboro. To the shock of everyone in the stadium, Marichal suddenly hit Roseboro on the head with his bat several times, opening a gash in Roseboro’s head that would require 14 stitches. The Dodgers and Giants dugouts emptied onto the field. Koufax attempted to intervene. In the video footage, you can see the home plate umpire finally get a hold of Marichal and pull him onto the ground.

The Giant with jersey number 26 who is also brandishing a bat is shortstop Tito Fuentes. Thankfully, Fuentes didn’t end up using the bat.

Toward the end of the footage, Roseboro charges Marichal but is stopped by Dodgers players.

Unfortunately, the throw back from Roseboro that clipped Marichal’s ear has been edited out of the footage.

Roseboro sued Marichal over the incident. The case was settled out of court. Many years later, Marichal and Roseboro would patch up their differences and become friends.

Who won the game? The Giants, 4-3. However, the Dodgers would get their revenge. They won the pennant that year.

The Dodgers vs. the Swamp Giants

Maury Wills

With the Dodgers coming to AT&T Park today for the start of a three-game series against the Giants, I thought I would relate one of my favorite Dodgers-Giants rivalry stories. It took place in August of 1962, as the Dodgers and Giants played a three-game series at Candlestick Park.

The Dodgers were in first place in the National League as the series started, five games ahead of the Giants. (In 1962, there were no separate divisions in baseball, and therefore, no formal playoff series. Whichever team finished first in each league won the pennant.)

The Dodgers’ running game was a big part of their success that year. It was the year base-stealing great Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen base record of 96. Wills stole 104 bases.

Giants manager Alvin Dark asked the head groundskeeper at Candlestick, Matty Schwab, if there were anything he could do to help slow Wills down. Schwab had an idea. He and his son went out early the morning of the first game of the series. Sports Illustrated writer Noel Hynd describes what they did:

Working by torchlight, the Schwabs dug up and removed the topsoil where Maury Wills would take his lead off first base. Down in its place went a squishy swamp of sand, peat moss and water. Then they covered their chicanery with an inch of normal infield soil, making the 5- by 15-foot quagmire visually indistinguishable from the rest of the base path.

By the time the Dodgers took batting practice that afternoon, however, the wet, loose soil became noticeable. When Dodgers coach Leo Durocher saw it, he got down on his knees and dug through the topsoil.

“What the hell is this?” he asked.

The Dodgers brought it to the attention of the umpires, who forced the Giants’ grounds crew to remove the soil or forfeit the game. The grounds crew complied, carting out several wheelbarrows of the stuff. But instead of replacing it with the regular infield soil, they carted back the peat moss mixture and laid it down again, then watered down the area. Now the soil was looser than before, and wetter. Yet, for some reason, the umpires approved it.

Back on the field, the Dodgers started making duck calls. “What time does the tide come in?” Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly asked Alvin Dark. Dark shrugged. Fairly built an impromptu sand castle.

“What could you do?” asked Dodgers left fielder Tommy Davis. “It was their park. They were going to get away with anything.”

The swamp did its job, slowing down the Dodgers’ otherwise superior running game. At one point, center fielder Willie Davis rounded first on a base hit, slipped, and was thrown out. After arguing with the umpire, he was tossed from the game.

Wills stole no bases that game, nor did any Dodger. The Dodgers lost the game, 11-2.

Word about the incident got back to National League headquarters, and the Giants groundskeepers were ordered to remove the soil. They did so, but they watered down the base paths for the second game, and it was so wet the umpires had to halt the game and have the grounds crew sand down the infield. This just made it swampy again. The Dodgers lost the second game, 5-2, and the final game, 5-1. They left Candlestick Park just two games ahead of the Giants.

The Dodgers and Giants would go on to tie for first place that year, leading to a three-game playoff that the Giants won, sending them to the World Series. You know the rest. The Giants lost to the New York Yankees, 4 games to 3.

The Giants would have to wait another 40 years before their next World Series chance, and another 48 before winning it for the first time since moving to San Francisco.


Christy Mathewson on How Big Salaries Can Hurt Player Performance

Christy Mathewson

“The thing about a fat payroll and monster expectations is they can lead to huge disappointment.”

So states Los Angeles Times sports columnist Steve Dilbert this morning in response to the Dodgers’ struggling offense in their first three regular season games against the San Francisco Giants. Indeed, the much-ballyhooed Dodger power hitters, whose salaries helped balloon the organization’s payroll to Hindenburg proportions, have thus far not given the team its money’s worth. In the first three games against Giants starters, the Dodgers failed to score a single earned run over 19 innings. They went 2 for 27 with men in scoring position, 1 for 14 in last night’s game alone, a game that saw a shaky Tim Lincecum give up seven walks. Matt Kemp posted 0 for 10 in the series, as did Luis Cruz. Slugger Adrian Gonzalez went 1 for 9 with no RBI. Andre Ethier went 3  for 12 with one RBI. The one Dodger win in the series was thanks to ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who in addition to shutting down the Giants in the home opener outdid his teammates with the bat, launching an eighth inning home run that would turn out to be the only run the Dodgers needed to win.

No one in the Dodger organization is hitting the panic button yet. We’re only three games into the season. But after last year’s monster acquisition from the Red Sox of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and Josh Beckett failed to carry the club into the 2012 postseason, one can understand why Dodger fans are getting a little frustrated.

It’s a frustration Giants fans should be able to relate to, even if they don’t dare admit it. Better to repeat Brandon Belt’s “you can’t buy chemistry.” Belt may be right. But Giants fans know the disappointment that can come with big contracts. I’ll just mention the name Barry Zito. As Jeff Passan of Big League Stew says, “Baseball knows how to do the disastrous contract better than any other sport.”

Part of the problem comes from acquiring big name players after they’ve peaked. Older players also tend to suffer more injuries, and it’s tough watching a huge investment parked on the bench with the meter running. However, the failure to perform may also have something to do with the enormous expectations put on players who sign big contracts. Teams should expect to get what they pay for, of course, but baseball is a game that is as psychological as it is physical, and inflated expectations can play with a person’s head.

You may think this problem is unique to our time, what with today’s multimillion dollar MLB salaries that make your average Joe and Jane feel like they’re earning sweatshop wages. But as it turns out, player salaries have always had an effect on  performance in professional baseball. In his book Pitching in a Pinch, New York Giants pitching legend Christy Mathewson tells the story of Rube Marquard, an early twentieth-century southpaw who “came to the Giants in a burst of glory and publicity when the club was fighting for the pennant.” Marquard signed with the Giants for $11,000, a lot of money in 1908.

With the pennant on the line, Giants manager John McGraw was reluctant to put Marquard into a game, even as Giants owners pressured him. He feared a loss in an important game might ruin the young left-hander and cost the Giants the pennant. A player himself, McGraw understood the psychology of players perhaps better than anyone else in baseball. But he was also faced with an ailing bullpen. In a double header against the Cincinnati Reds, McGraw, against his better judgement, finally pulled the trigger.

Marquard lasted all of five innings. “The official scorer got writer’s cramp trying to keep track of the hits and runs,” Mathewson quips. The fans screamed for McGraw to take Marquard out. Marquard later confided to Mathewson,

When I saw that crowd, Matty, I didn’t know where I was. It looked so big to me, and they were all wondering what I was going to do, and all thinking that McGraw had paid $11,000 for me, and now they were to find out whether he had gotten stuck, whether he had picked up a gold brick with the plating on it very thin.

It took Marquard two years to get over the humiliation of that game. His confidence would eventually return, and he would go on to become one of the league’s best pitchers. “He became the greatest left-hander in the country, and would have been sooner,” Mathewson writes, “except for the enormous price paid for him and the widespread publicity he received, which caused him to be over-anxious to make good. It’s the psychology of the game.”

Today’s Giants fans can only hope that with his shiny new nine-year, $167 million contract, Buster Posey will be able to keep his head in the game.

It’s Clayton Kershaw’s World. The Giants Just Live In It.

Clayton Kershaw

After yesterday’s post, I was tempted to call this one “Bums Murder Us, 4 – 0.” But let’s face it, yesterday the Giants got beat by Clayton Kershaw more than anyone else. With a 9 – 4 record and a 1.28 ERA against the Giants, the 25-year-old left-hander not only owns the orange-and-black, he plays with them like sock puppets. Three of his six career shutouts have been against the Giants. The fact that Kershaw became the first pitcher since Bob Lemon in 1953 to pitch an opening day shutout and hit a home run was just the icing on the Easy-Bake Oven cake he routinely forces down the Giants’ throats.

Everyone expected a low-scoring game with Kershaw and Matt Cain taking turns on the hill. During the first seven innings, what they actually got was a no-scoring game. Cain squirmed out of a 29-pitch first inning and back-to-back singles in the fourth by Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier, but he otherwise shut the Dodgers down for six innings. Reliever George Kontos came in to turn out a perfect seventh. Meanwhile, Kershaw was doing his thing, on his way to giving up only four hits with no walks, striking out seven, and never letting  a Giants runner get beyond second base.

Then came the thing no one was expecting. Kershaw led off the Dodgers’ half of the eighth, a little surprising given that the Dodgers, like the Giants, had yet to put a run on the board. But Kershaw’s pitch count was low. He had only thrown 85 pitches through eight innings. Mattingly wanted him in for the duration.

Still, who would have imagined that this pitcher, who had never hit a home run in his five-year career in the majors, would suddenly, on the very first pitch from Kontos, launch one over the wall in the deepest part of the yard, scoring the game’s first run? It was as if Kershaw were telling his touted teammates, “Here’s how you do it, boys.”

It would be the only run the Dodgers needed, even as they tacked on three more insurance runs in the inning, thanks to sloppy work by the Giants bullpen. The Giants couldn’t put a single run on the board in the top of the ninth, let alone four, and that was it. Dodgers win 4 – 0.

So what good can Giants fans take away from this opening day disappointment? Well, for one thing, it’s just one game, against a pitcher who barely seems to break a sweat whenever he faces the Giants.

And Matt Cain, let us not forget, pitched a terrific game himself. Cain went six scoreless innings, striking out eight. What’s more, he quieted the Dodgers big bats, Kemp, Gonzalez, Ethier. Kemp went 0 – 3. All three struck out against Cain, Ethier twice. Gonzalez and Ethier each got a single in the fourth but no RBIs.

The other good news is that Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan each got two hits and Hunter Pence took Kershaw deep twice.

Sandoval, even with the elbow problem and endless criticism about his weight, can still swing a bat against a tough pitcher.

So time to move on and think about tonight’s game. Madison Bumgarner faces off against the Dodgers’ new left-hander, Hyun-Jin Ryu. Knock on wood, the Giants will be ready for him.

The game starts at 7:10 PM (PDT).

Opening Day, April 15, 1958: In Which ‘We Murder the Bums’

Bill Rigney and Walter Alston

San Francisco Giants manager Bill Rigney and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Walter Alston shake hands before the start of the West Coast opener, April 15, 1958. Photo: Richard Meek/SI

If April is the cruelest month, you wouldn’t have known it in 1958, at least not if you were a baseball fan living in California. In the thick of that month, two of Major League Baseball’s most storied teams began a new chapter of their longtime rivalry, this one opening on the West Coast to new fans, in new stadiums.

At the time, it must have seemed like everyone was coming to California. First Ricky and Lucy. Now the Dodgers and Giants.

You could have forgiven a player, a coach, a fan, or a sportswriter for misspeaking now and again, saying “New York Giants” or “Brooklyn Dodgers.”  The two teams had been associated with the East Coast for almost seven decades. But now they were ours, and here they were in the flesh, on opening day, April 15, playing the first Major League Baseball game on the West Coast.

Naturally, it was a sunny spring afternoon at Seals Stadium in San Francisco’s Mission District. Seals Stadium wasn’t a new stadium. It had been built during the Great Depression for two Pacific Coast League teams, the San Francisco Seals and the Mission Reds. But it was new for the Giants, and it would serve as their home stadium for two seasons–the minor league teams having found other digs–as Candlestick Park was under construction. New bleachers had been put in to bump up the 18,600 capacity. Over 23,000 fans were in attendance.

An excited buzz filled the stadium.

The two starting pitchers were accustomed to the sunshine. For the Dodgers, it was a 6’5” 21-year-old right hander and future Hall-of-Famer from Van Nuys, CA, Don Drysdale. It was Drysdale’s third season in the majors. His greatness was still ahead of him.

Pitching for the Giants was a right hander from Arroyo, Puerto Rico, who was nine years older and five inches shorter than Drysdale, Rubén Gómez. Gómez was the first Puerto Rican player to play on a winning World Series team, when the New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians in 1954. In this opening day game, he would go on to become the first pitcher period to win a game on the West Coast, as the Giants clobbered the Dodgers, 8 – 0.

The starting lineups for both clubs reveal names both familiar and strange:

Los Angeles Dodgers

  1. Gino Cimoli  CF
  2. Pee Wee Reese  SS
  3. Duke Snider  LF
  4. Gil Hodges  1B
  5. Charlie Neal  2B
  6. Dick Gray  3B
  7. Carl Furillo  RF
  8. Rube Walker  C
  9. Don Drysdale  P

San Francisco Giants

  1. Jim Davenport  3B
  2. Jim King  LF
  3. Willie Mays  CF
  4. Willie Kirkland  RF
  5. Orlando Cepeda  1B
  6. Daryl Spencer  SS
  7. Danny O’Connell  2B
  8. Valmy Thomas  C
  9. Rubén Gómez  P

The game got off to a slow start, with neither team scoring in the first inning. The Dodgers threatened in the second with back-to-back singles by second baseman Charlie Neal and third baseman Dick Gray. But after a groundout to short by right fielder Carl Furillo that advanced Neal and Gray, Giants pitcher Rubén Gómez struck out Dodgers catcher Rube Walker and Drysdale.

The Giants and the Dodgers put zeros on the board in the bottom of the second and top of the third. Then, in the bottom of the third, Drysdale walked Giants second baseman Danny O’Connell and catcher Valmy Thomas. Gómez singled to load the bases. Giants third baseman Jim Davenport hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field, scoring O’Connell and allowing Thomas to advance to third. Left fielder Jim King singled to right, scoring Thomas and moving Gómez to second. But the Giants would get only the two runs in the third, as Willie Mays flew out to right and another Willie, right fielder Willie Kirkland, flew out to center. It was 2 – 0 Giants.

A strikeout, a walk, and a double-play ended the Dodgers’ chances in the top of the fourth. Giants rookie first baseman Orlando Cepeda led off the bottom of the fourth by flying out to left. That brought up the shortstop, Daryl Spencer, who launched a solo home run over the wall between left and center, making it 3 – 0 Giants. O’Connell grounded out to short. Thomas walked. A passed ball to Gómez advanced Thomas to second. Gómez then singled to right–the Giants pitcher’s second hit of the game–scoring Thomas. Davenport singled to right advancing Gómez to second.

That was it for Drysdale. He was taken out of the game after three-and-a-third innings and replaced by reliever Don Bessent. Bessent loaded the bases by walking King. Willie Mays came up and hit an infield single up the middle, scoring Gómez and Davenport. But as Mays tried to stretch his single into a double, he was thrown out at second. The Giants led 6 – 0.

The Dodgers went scoreless in the fifth. In the Giants’ half of the fifth, Kirkland flew out to center. Then Cepeda slammed a solo home run over the center field wall, making it 7 – 0 Giants. The Giants ended the inning with Spencer flying out to center and O’Connell grounding out to second.

After a scoreless sixth inning for both teams, the Dodgers brought in a pinch hitter for Bessent in the seventh. After the Dodgers failed to score yet again, Ron Negray replaced Bessent on the mound in the bottom of the seventh. Negray struck out Davenport and walked King. Mays hit his second infield single, advancing King to second. Kirkland then singled to right field, scoring King and advancing Mays to third. But as Kirkland tried to stretch his single into a double–the Giants had some aggressive base runners in 1958–he was thrown out by Dodger right fielder Furillo. Cepeda ended the inning by flying out to left. The Giants led 8 – 0.

In the top of the ninth, the Dodgers, for the last time, failed to put a run on the board. Pee Wee Reese ended the game by striking out looking, the exclamation point to an otherwise pointless game for the Dodgers.

The Giants won 8 – 0 in the their first game in San Francisco and the first Major League Baseball game on the West Coast.

Gómez pitched a complete game shutout, giving up six hits and striking out six.

Drysdale pitched three-and-a-third innings, giving up five hits and six earned runs, including a home run and three walks. He struck out only one batter.

Bessent pitched a little over two innings giving up four hits, one earned run, and one walk. He had no strikeouts.

Negray pitched two innings giving up two hits, one earned run, and three walks. He struck out one.

The headline in the San Francisco Chronicle the next day said it all: ‘We Murder the Bums.’

Interestingly enough, the very first game the Giants and Dodgers played against each other was an exhibition game in New York in 1884, in which the Giants beat the Dodgers 8 – 0.

The rivalry continues this afternoon at 1:10 PM (PDT) at Dodger Stadium.