LOS ANGELES -- Corey Dickerson took a late, awkward hack and topped the ball into the dirt just in front of the plate. It took a second, softer hop 15 feet past the pitcher’s mound and about five feet from the infield grass.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez seemed to be in good fielding position as he charged the ball, taking it in stride. But he yanked the throw and the ball skipped past first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s diving grasp.
It seemed like a fairly routine error, but at such a far-from-routine moment. It was the only thing that wasn't perfect about Wednesday night.
That seventh-inning misplay, which resulted in Dickerson reaching second, was the only blemish on what would have been a perfect game for Clayton Kershaw against the Colorado Rockies. It would have been the first perfecto by a Dodger since Sandy Koufax’s famous 1965 gem. This one might have been better. Kershaw struck out 15 batters, one more than Koufax.
Kershaw, ever the loyal teammate, shrugged when Ramirez walked past him after the play as if to say, What could you do? And Kershaw found Ramirez later to confirm that it was a difficult play.
“Under normal circumstances, that’s pretty close to a hit,” Kershaw said. “Dickerson’s pretty fast and Hanley did all he could. He made a good play and just the throw was a little wide. Nothing he could do with that. It was a tough play.”
Of course, as tends to happen around this team, much of the Dodgers fans’ ire will be shifted from the players, in this case Ramirez, to the manager, Don Mattingly. It has become fairly routine for Mattingly to replace Ramirez for defensive purposes late in games; indeed, Carlos Triunfel came in to play shortstop in the eighth, an inning too late.
Why, oh why, didn’t Mattingly bring in Triunfel, who has a reputation for glove wizardry, in the seventh inning instead of the eighth? It was, after all, an 8-0 Dodgers lead with Kershaw on the mound. Seemed pretty safe, right?
Rail all you will, but realize this: The Dodgers’ plan all along has been to pull Ramirez for the final two innings. Since they started replacing him in early June, his replacement always has arrived in the eighth, not the seventh. For a while, the backup was Miguel Rojas, but he has been forced into everyday duties at third while Justin Turner recovers from a strained calf.
Mattingly's worry, as always, would be that something might go haywire -- and he had a shorthanded bullpen Wednesday. In that case, he would be without one of his best hitters when he could use Ramirez.
“If I don’t think I would do it in a playoff game, why am I going to do it tonight?” Mattingly said.
The error was a resonant moment, in a way. Ramirez’s defense -- certainly not his bat -- has been one of the Dodgers’ biggest worries all season, just as Kershaw’s mastery has been their most bankable asset.
To his credit, Ramirez showed accountability after the game. Without hesitation, he called the play an error.
“I mean, yeah, definitely, in that situation you don’t want anything that might be a hit to be a hit,” Ramirez said. “You want to see a pitcher do that, because it’s something you don’t see every day.
“It’s not good when you go pitch like him and have got a perfect game going, but I did my best.”