LOS ANGELES -- When the conversation started about the play that would win the Los Angeles Dodgers a game Thursday and end their three-game losing streak, it wasn’t universally popular.
“To be honest with you, I always thought it was something stupid and it always bothered me when guys tried it,” said Kiké Hernandez, the runner who faked stealing home and prompted the game-ending balk from rookie Texas Rangers pitcher Keone Kela. “It just seemed like it never worked.”
It did this time. Dodgers third-base coach Lorenzo Bundy figured it was worth a shot. He had seen it work at Class-A ball and in winter league games and he knew that the Texas pitcher was only 22 years old. Third baseman Hanser Alberto was playing deep and off the line, and Hernandez was able to run about one-third of the way toward the plate without risking being caught too far from the bag.
Bundy noticed Kela had a tendency to stare at a base runner at third when he came set. When Hernandez started walking and, then, running, Kela’s shoulders flinched ever so slightly, just enough to get the balk called. The Dodgers walked -- or is that balked? -- off with a 1-0 win, allowing them to steal a game in which their offense did virtually nothing.
Bundy said he wouldn’t have tried the play if the momentum of the inning hadn’t begun to swing in Texas’ favor. After Kela walked the first two batters of the inning, Alberto Callaspo failed to get a bunt down and then hit into a double play. Bundy wanted to give Jimmy Rollins a chance to win it with a base hit, but after Rollins got two strikes on him, he told Hernandez to start running.
“When you’re struggling to score runs, sometimes you have to try something,” Bundy said. “That was a situation where we needed a hit or a wild pitch and, a lot of times, you’re not going to get one of those. It’s really a low-risk play, so we figured, ‘Why not?’"
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly won’t commit to it long-term, calling the situation “fluid,” but he changed leadoff hitters for the second time this season, moving Joc Pederson to the No. 2 spot in the order and Yasiel Puig up to bat first. Slumping Adrian Gonzalez slid to the cleanup spot and Mattingly inserted Justin Turner into the No. 3 hole in order to preserve lefty-righty balance in the first six spots in the lineup.
Considering the Dodgers had scored 16 runs in their previous seven games, Mattingly figured it was worth a shot.
“At this point, we’re just trying to get something that sparks us a little bit,” Mattingly said.