Don Mattingly figures he'll spend his free time after the Los Angeles Dodgers take batting practice Monday in his office, with the TV tuned to the St. Louis CardinalsSt. Louis Cardinals ' game against the Cincinnati Reds.
"It's hard not to badmouth somebody if they're not winning, like a good fan does," Mattingly said.
If not for a couple of fielding plays in the past few weeks, Mattingly's interest in that game in St. Louis would have been in passing, if he had any at all. The Dodgers are still in a desperate situation -- trailing St. Louis by two games with three to play for the wild card -- but they're at least alive going into tonight's home game with the San Francisco Giants.
If Matt Kemp hadn't thrown Yadier Molina out at third on Sept. 15 or Mark Ellis hadn't started an inning-ending double play in the third inning of Sunday's game, the Dodgers very likely would be out of it by now.
Ellis' play came after the Colorado Rockies had loaded the bases with one out against Josh Beckett. Jordan Pacheco ripped a ball toward the hole on the right side. Ellis speared it and made a throw to second while backpedaling into shallow right field to begin an improbable double play that got Beckett out of the inning. If he doesn't catch the ball, Colorado gets off to a 2-0 lead, putting pressure on the Dodgers.
"You never know what's going to be the important play of the game," Mattingly said. "It was a great play and could have changed the game right there. It gives us momentum."
Ellis was a big source of conversation Monday afternoon. While the Dodgers were stretching, the video board in left field played a tribute the Oakland A's put together for their long-time second baseman last season. Adam Kennedy and Andre Ethier were behind the prank.
The Dodgers' up-the-middle defense is a topic of discussion going into the off-season. The team is debating whether to leave Hanley Ramirez at shortstop -- where he has been sub-par this season -- or move him back to third base and give Dee Gordon or Luis Cruz or perhaps a shortstop from outside the organization -- the job.
Ellis admits it has taken time to learn to turn double plays with Ramirez.
"It's getting better. We've had enough time by now to have a feel for each other," Ellis said. "Spring training should help. It did for Dee and I."
Here are lineups for Monday's game:
Angel Pagan CF
Hunter Pence RF
Brandon Belt 1B
Xavier Nady LF
Mark Ellis 2B
Andre Ethier RF
Matt Kemp CF
Luis Cruz 3B