I went to the Tuesday night game, my third game of the year, with a friend of mine who is a die-hard Cubs fan. We had the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley vs. the Cubs' Ryan Dempster, and we had a 1-1 game through the eighth inning. It was a close game.
Normally, one would look at the box score and think to oneself, "Wow, what a great game! You must have been on the edge of your seat." And then, the eyes would keep moving rightwards to the hit column, and you'd see seven hits for the Cubs, six for the Dodgers. And you'd then look and see the Cubs were 12-16 coming into this game, and the Dodgers were an almost-as-pathetic 15-15.
And then you'd realize that the edge of our seats were not touched, in no way, whatsoever, in this game. This was not a game of tension, of stellar defense, of chess moves and counter moves.
No, this was a game between two teams who--even though it is only early May--will clearly not be in a fifty-mile radius from the playoffs, five months from now. This was a game which had momentum "shift" on the dullened, flat fulcrum of a .164 batter, Carlos Pena, when he hit a game-tying solo home run (his first of the year). This was a game where the Dodgers #5-8 bats were all under .250, and no one in either lineup got more than one hit.
This was a war of attrition, of two teams waiting to see whether the other was going to lose it before they screwed it up themselves. And for the Dodgers, despite a solid performance by Billingsley (7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks)--who showed his composure and growing maturity even after Pena's home run, knowing that the game was effectively lost--the defeat in this game lied squarely on the large shoulders of Jonathan Broxton.
When Broxton came into the game in the ninth inning, there were those questions of why one would bring in a closer in a non-save opportunity (an common debate which pits the data of when a closer would be most beneficial to the team, versus the psychological impact of disrupting traditions and potentially preparatory routines). But the bigger question was not whether Broxton could pitch in a non-save situation: it was whether he was in any state to pitch at all.
Much has been written about Broxton's fateful outing, of how his velocity was markedly down, even from the night before, and he looked "sickly". I won't re-hash that, as you probably watched the train wreck and saw it for yourself.
What was interesting, though, being in the Stadium, was listening to a home crowd absolutely against Broxton from the second the opening riffs of Iron Man began. The whole routine designed to intimidate the other team instead served to raise the white flag and seemingly concede the game. When Broxton started his earth-shaking trot from the left-field bullpen to enter the game, the boos got louder. When he got Aramis Ramirez to foul out on an 0-2 pitch, they subsided. But with every one of the eight straight balls he then went on to throw--many of which didn't even look close to the strike zone, let alone the reduced velocity--one could see Broxton's self-confidence erode just a little bit more.
The Cubs batters saw it, as they started laying off pitches. The crowd saw it, and the derisive boos and catcalls began. And when Alfonso Soriano came to the plate next, after numerous huddles at the mound with teammates and coaches, Broxton looked totally lost, like a four-year-old in an airport who had lost his parents.
He looked in at the plate, looked back at second twice, then stepped off the rubber to fake a pickoff motion. The whole stadium erupted in loud boos. And Mattingly came out and yanked Broxton. He walked to the dugout to a chorus of angry fans' screams, head down, thoroughly defeated. And the Dodgers were defeated soon after that.
My friend, the Cubs fan, remarked that even Cubs fans wouldn't be that harsh to one on their own team. Maybe the Dodger fans were a little harsh on Broxton; maybe they were letting their frustrations about an Isotope-level lineup and a 66ers-level ownership catch up with them, using Broxton's failure as the focal point of their venting.
In any event, Broxton is done. Cooked. Finis. He might be able to come back as the Dodgers closer, but I think the fragility of his psyche won't be rebuilt anytime soon, and probably not here in Los Angeles. His velocity is down, but his confidence is worse. And it's sad. I wanted Broxton to succeed, but I don't think it's plausible to think that he will in a Dodger closer role. I wasn't booing, but I wasn't lamenting his being hooked, either.
It was gut-wrenching to 26-year-old kid absolutely crushed like a grape in a vise. And I don't know what the next option on staff might be.
But the 2011 season is about moving on, about change. And I think it's time we find a new closer.
The Dodgers lost, 4-1. Sax sees his first loss of the year.
Other at-game notes of interest:
- The Cubs ran themselves out of the eighth inning when Reed Johnson, rodent still on his chin, had a leadoff single and then was sacrificed over to second base--before Darwin Barney hit a shot to Jamey Carroll at short and Johnson inexplicably tried to run for third. Carroll threw to Juan Uribe, and Uribe chased down Johnson like a piece of kobe beef (I could have sworn I heard Uribe yell "COOOOOOKIE!" as he pursued Johnson).
- It was cool to see the standing ovation after Ethier singled in the fourth inning to extend his hitting streak. Right over the outstretched arm of Darwin Barney. Well done, Andre.
- The Dodgers lineup is a wasteland after Ethier / Matt Kemp. Uribe is too free of a swinger, James Loney can't get above .200, Rod Barajas struck out two of his three at bats, and Aaron Miles GIDPd to waste a leadoff single in the fifth. If any one of those four is lucky enough to reach base, they can't, and won't, advance. We need another bat or three.
- Broxton was also the Dodger profiled on Diamondvision between innings. The only thing I remember was that his favorite movie is "8 Seconds," erguably the apex of Luke Perry's big screen career. Yee, haw.
- There were a lot of cops in the parking lot again. More ushers in the aisles, too.
- When MLB finally wrests the Dodgers from Frank and the McCourtians, I hope they do away with God Bless America and Don't Stop Believing. Their 15 minutes are up.
- The Dodger Deli was open for business this time, but the field-level concession lines were still absurdly long anyway.
- CPK really should have more options beyond just cheese, pepperoni, and barbecue chicken. Don't they have like 75K pizzas on their restaurant menu? Is five choices too much for which to ask?
- Barajas threw a ball into the crowd near us after the top of one of the innings, and the guy to the left of me reached across me and knocked the ball out of the glove of my friend, the Cubs fan (sitting on the other side of me). I lament not putting on a better screen to the guy to my left, and I'm playing those moments over and over in my mind. Dammit!
- That said, I asked him how much he paid for his StubHub-purchased tickets, and it was about the same as my season-ticket face value. So at least I've got that.
- Oh, and I got me a Dodgers cooler bag. Finally, I can pack refrigerated lunches again. Thank God.
photo: Gus Ruelas, AP