As the Los Angeles Dodgers entered September, they geared up for a possible post-season run. With their chances at winning the division all but gone, they focused their main attention on procuring the second wild-card spot.
Their lineup was dramatically different from that of opening day and through the dog days of summer. Gone were the likes of James Loney and Tony Gwynn, Jr., either via trade or waived. Also gone were the likes of Juan Uribe, who were benched for the new arrivals.
Uribe went from a championship on the 2010 San Francisco Giants to big acquisition for the Dodgers in 2011 to biggest disappointment in 2012. It wasn’t from a lack of trying, as his teammates reported that nobody worked as hard as he did. He just seemed to enter a slump that he could never get himself out of.
With the new-look lineup consisting of big bats like Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and clutch veterans like Shane Victorino, the Dodgers were ready. Unfortunately, that dreaded injury bug refused to leave them alone.
It began with pitcher Chad Billingsley.
Billingsley, who struggled mightily in the first half of the season, came on strong to begin the second half. He was a winner of his last six starts and was showing signs of the pitcher who was the starter in the 2010 All-Star game.
But an elbow injury ended his 2012 campaign and put the Dodgers rotation into a flux. They ended up trading for Philadelphia Phillies starter Joe Blanton in a waiver-wire trade. There is concern that Billingsley will have to undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery, which would put him out for the entire 2013 season.
Then there was Matt Kemp‘s encounter with the center field wall in Coors Field. In a late August game against the Colorado Rockies, Josh Rutledge crushed a ball off of Dodgers starting pitcher Chris Capuano. As Kemp was tracking down the ball, he seemed to lose track of where he was exactly, leading to him crashing face, shoulder and knee into the wall.
He ended up lying on the ground for several minutes before finally getting up. He, remarkably, remained in the game hoping to shake it off and gather himself. But baseball can be a cruel game at times.
Wouldn’t you know the next pitch was hit to shallow center where Kemp sprinted for and attempted to make a diving catch. He missed, landed smack on his face and looked dazed as he got to his feet.
Victorino came over and called for Kemp to be removed. He was diagnosed with a concussion and sat out a few games. But it was evident that, after that crash into the wall, Kemp never regained the form that he possessed in the beginning of the year.
He entered a huge slump, swinging and missing at pitches not even close to the zone. It seemed the slumping was contagious as Andre Ethier, Ramirez and Gonzalez slumped just as badly.
It seemed that anytime the Dodgers got themselves into a good situation, they would always come up empty. Runner at second and third with nobody out? Strike out, pop up, ground out and no runs.
Runner at third with zero outs? He gets picked off of third by the catcher. For a team slumping as bad as they were, it was imperative they cash in on any opportunity they get, and most times, they failed.
Counter that with the St. Louis Cardinals‘ ability to actually get men on base, get men over and get them in further compounded the misery. In a crucial four game series in mid-September, the Dodgers found themselves trailing in the wild-card race by two games.
After jumping out to a lead in game one, the offense immediately folded and they lost. They rallied to take the next two games, one in dramatic fashion, putting themselves into a tie for the final spot with a chance to jump ahead the next day.
However, the offense faltered in a critical situation yet again. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Dodgers had runners at 1st and 3rd with only one out and Victorino at the plate.
Victorino, who has torn Dodger hearts out in previous playoff matches as a member of the Phillies, only needed a sacrifice fly or a hit on a drawn-in infield to give the Dodgers the victory and sole possession of the second wildcard. But alas, he hit the ball right at second baseman Shane Robinson, who threw home to nab Mark Ellis at the plate.
Ethier was then intentionally walked to bring up Kemp. This was a true indicator of just how much he was struggling. To think that one would intentionally walk the bases loaded to face Kemp would have been unthinkable in April or May.
But the strategy worked this time for the Cardinals as he flied lazily to center field, ending the threat. The Cardinals then went on to score three runs in the top half of the twelfth, giving them the victory and sole possession of the second wildcard.
The Dodgers and Cardinals played pretty much evenly the rest of the way. The Dodgers still found themselves two games out with three to play as the hated Giants came to town for the final series of the season.
The Dodgers won in dramatic fashion in the first game, with a bases-loaded single from Elian Herrera that just eluded the glove of Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro.
But it all came apart in the second game. The Cardinals were just about losing to the Cincinnati Reds when the Dodgers took the field. But the excitement of gaining a game and it all coming down to the last day of the year wasn’t enough.
Home runs by the Giants’ Buster Posey and Joaquin Arias propelled the Giants to a 4-1 lead. A.J. Ellis‘ two-run shot in the seventh brought the Dodgers within 4-3 and the crowd was buzzing.
But an out later, all the air was sucked out of Dodger Stadium. Mark Ellis hit a routine single to center field that the Giants’ Angel Pagan misplayed badly.
The ball would roll all the way to the wall, allowing Ellis to take second. However, for some inexplicable reason, he decided to take his chances and go for third. Now if he makes it, or there’s an errant throw, everybody would have been praising him for his effort and determination.But
But unfortunately for Ellis, he was out by a landslide, deflating all the rowdy Dodger supporters. You could even see the looks on the faces of his teammates in the dugout. A ‘what were you thinking?’ look.
To further compound matters, Victorino was the next batter and he promptly laced a triple deep into the right field corner. That easily would have scored Ellis from second base, which is where he should have been.
Kemp was next and he struck out horribly at a pitch near his ankles. Furious with himself, he threw his bat down in absolute anger and disgust with himself, knowing he failed miserably in yet another crucial situation.
In a cruel twist of fate that baseball so eloquently provides, Ellis ended up at-bad in the bottom of the ninth inning with two-out and the tying run on second. The goat of the game as it stood, Ellis could easily redeem himself with a RBI base hit. Heck, he could even be the hero with a walk-off, two-run home run.
He didn’t get cheated in his at-bat. He worked the count and even got solid contact on the ball, but he hit it right to center fielder Pagan, who corralled it, ending the Dodgers season.
Ellis was left to ponder his base-running mistake after the game, and perhaps for the rest of the off-season. Kemp, to wonder what could have been if he didn’t spend half of the season battling injuries that would deprive him of his power and speed.
They did finish out the season winner of seven of their last eight games.
The Dodgers hope that late-season surge will carry over into next year, where they will have a full off-season and spring training with their whole, new and improved squad.
There will be some new faces and others familiar faces and faces we barely got to know will be gone. But one thing is for sure, the 2013 Dodgers season, it should be a fun one.