SAN DIEGO -- For a team that had just swept its rival out of town and built its cushiest lead of the season, then witnessed the impressive debut of one of the game’s most exciting young players, the Los Angeles Dodgers were surprisingly grumpy after their 10-7 loss to the San Diego Padres Thursday night.
It was as if Team Triumphant became Team Turmoil after one frustrating loss. That’s how swift this team’s mood change was.
Don’t get Dodgers manager Don Mattingly started about umpires this season. He has had his share of confrontations, usually around what he's seen as inconsistencies in the instant replay process. Thursday, the argument was about one of baseball’s longstanding interpretations of an out at second base in the midst of a double play, the time-honored “neighborhood play.”
After a double play was nullified in the sixth inning when umpire Chris Conroy ruled that Chase Utley hadn’t touched the second-base bag -- with Justin Upton bearing down on him from behind -- the Padres scored a run. What made it so maddening for Mattingly was that it was just the beginning of another bullpen meltdown, with the Padres scoring a total of six runs in the final four innings to spoil a game comeback attempt by the Dodgers’ offense.
“He said it wasn’t neighborhood, I guess,” Mattingly said. “Actually, he told me he doesn’t believe in the neighborhood play, so I guess he changed the rules tonight. I didn’t realize he could actually change the rules during the game.”
After that, Mattingly could barely talk about the rest of the game, repeating over and over how frustrated he was. He didn’t even offer much when asked about the major league debut of baseball’s top prospect, infielder Corey Seager, who went an impressive 2-for-4.
“He was good. He looked really good,” Mattingly said. “It’s just a frustrating game, a really frustrating game today.”
Mattingly’s mood probably isn’t going to improve when he reads his starting pitcher’s comments after the game. Mat Latos would appear to be on thin ice anyway judging from his 6.56 ERA in four starts as a Dodger, but he might have sped up the process of getting himself demoted to the bullpen -- or worse -- when he criticized Mattingly for taking him out of the game after four innings, particularly since he allowed four runs on eight hits, most of them solid line drives.
Latos (4-10) was frustrated that he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning after he had pitched two scoreless innings.
“Not being able to get deep in games, being on a quick leash, it’s hard to get into a rhythm whenever you get yanked out real fast,” Latos said. “I guess I kind of put myself in that situation as well. I gave up four runs early in the game, I kind of settled in, put two zeroes back on the board and kind of found my release point. By the time I do that, I’m already out of the game.”
All that strife, both internal and external, needlessly overshadowed the first of what many baseball people believe will be a long series of good days for Seager.
He ripped a double into the right-field corner in his second at-bat after a quick adjustment in the batter’s box. He got a green light in a 3-and-0 count and did something with the chance, pounding a two-RBI single into center field. And he made all the routine plays at shortstop, though his range isn’t the equal of the Dodgers’ starting shortstop, Jimmy Rollins. Then again, Seager (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) might be the biggest shortstop in major league history.
“It was a lot of fun,” Seager said. “It would have been nice to get a win, but at the end of the day, I still had fun on my first day.”
Seager said the game sped up on him for the first half-inning in the field after Upton ripped a double past him into left-center field, but it settled down to a normal pace once he fielded Brett Wallace’s grounder to end the inning.
Scouts who have seen Seager play frequently seem to differ on whether he can remain at shortstop, but none of them seem to doubt whether he can be a major leaguer and, most likely, an extremely productive one. A National League scout at Thursday’s game who has seen him extensively in the minor leagues marveled at Seager’s mature approach, a swing that likely will get more powerful as it ages and his sense of timing at shortstop, noting that his throws always seemed to just beat the runner.
“The boy can hit,” another talent evaluator said. “He’s composed. He will play for a long time.”
Seager didn’t seem intimidated, that’s for certain. With runners at second and third in the sixth inning, he easily could have worked a walk from journeyman left-hander Mark Rzepczynski, who ran the count to 3-and-0 on him, but Seager ambushed the older pitcher by swinging at the pitch and lining it into center field to drive in two runs.
He admitted he was surprised to get the green light in that situation, but it’s probably a pretty good indication of how much the Dodgers already believe in his abilities and his baseball IQ. Once they settle down after an evening of aggravation, they’ll probably realize that it was probably the most important thing that happened on this field Thursday night.