LOS ANGELES -- Going eight innings without scoring a run, then winning a game with a pair of walks, a bad bunt attempt, a double play and a game-ending balk doesn’t exactly scream out “World Series contender,” but then again, what does nowadays?
Teams sneak into October and go on runs all the time lately. Just ask the San Francisco Giants. They’ll be in town over the next few days.
Over the course of a 162-game season, there are stretches when a team is going to look fantastic, when it’s going to look OK, when it’s going to look flat and when it’s going to look flat-out bad. One of the keys is to withstand the bad times without crumbling. That’s when scrappy players such as Enrique Hernandez can come in handy, and he certainly did in helping the Los Angeles Dodgers forget about their mind-numbing batting slump Thursday night.
The Dodgers’ young utility player started dancing off third base, distracting Texas Rangers rookie pitcher Keone Kela, who moved his hands ever so slightly but enough to get the balk called and let Hernandez score the winning run in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 1-0 win without the benefit of a base hit.
Up until then, Hernandez was known more for his fun-loving personality than anything he did on the field. Drenched in sweat and a bright-yellow cut-off T-shirt in the middle of his postgame weight-lifting session, Hernandez walked by a group of reporters after the game and joked, “Sorry guys, I’m still tired from trying to steal home plate.”
The Dodgers quickly have grown to like Hernandez, particularly with veteran jokester Juan Uribe no longer breaking the tension in the clubhouse.
“He’s a young kid who can play multiple positions and has some sock in his bat. He seems to be having fun, too, and you like that energy,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “I like Kiké.”
The mood might have been a little bit darker if not for Hernandez’s bit of gamesmanship. The Dodgers have been wasting some of the greatest pitching in Zack Greinke’s life and that’s saying something, considering he was once one of baseball’s wunderkinds, a Cy Young winner at the age of 25. Greinke is third in the major leagues with a 1.81 ERA, he is third in WHIP (0.94) and sixth in WAR (3.0), but he hasn’t won a decision since May 5 and the Dodgers are 3-4 in his past seven starts.
The offense is going to come around sooner or later. For one thing, it almost always does, because the season just keeps going. For another, the Dodgers’ roster probably will look a lot different in a few weeks, with Hector Olivera and, perhaps, top prospect Corey Seager likely in the major leagues.
But when it does, will Greinke still be this dominant? He said his fortunes have ebbed and flowed more than most people would have noticed, considering the narrative has been his lack of run support the past two months. Greinke said he is getting far better movement on his slider and changeup lately. The results were impressive Thursday: eight strikeouts, no walks and just four hits in seven innings.
“It was getting bad for about a month, slowly getting worse,” Greinke said of the movement on his pitches. “Now it’s getting back to being good again. I don’t know why, but I’m happy it’s doing it.”
When you’re not hitting -- and the Dodgers scraped up only five hits against a pitcher just called up from Triple-A, Anthony Ranaudo, and a bad Texas bullpen -- the little things look big. Hernandez’s baserunning falls under that category, and so does the decision-making of Dodgers video guy John Pratt, who suggested Mattingly challenge the ruling on the field in the seventh inning. Elvis Andrus beat Andre Ethier’s throw to third easily, but in the process of sliding headfirst, he briefly came off the bag and Alberto Callaspo continued to apply the tag. The umpires in New York overturned the safe call, ending the inning instead of leaving runners at the corners with two outs.
Greinke was asked if he gave Pratt a high-five when he came in the clubhouse.
“About 10 of them,” he said.
There will come a time, probably not too far from now, when a Dodgers hitter will actually be the hero of a game. Thursday, it was a brilliant starting pitcher, a scrappy bench guy and an alert video coordinator. Sometimes, it takes 26 guys.