Bullpen makes few fans for Mattingly

LOS ANGELES -- The boos were loud for Brandon League, but they were thunderous for Don Mattingly.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers manager walked back to the dugout after finally relieving League of the ball in the ninth inning, the damage well done in a costly 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a smallish but feisty crowd rained down their frustration from every corner of Dodger Stadium.

It was one of the louder bouts of home-team booing this season, perhaps a few decibels beyond what Matt Kemp was getting before he got hurt.

The crowd, of course, didn't have the information Mattingly had when he lifted Clayton Kershaw after seven innings and just 99 pitches. Kershaw didn't fight him as hard as he often does in those conversations, and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt agreed it might be the right time to make a move.

The crowd didn't know that the eighth and ninth innings were up for grabs before the game, that Kenley Jansen pitched the eighth because Arizona's hitters that inning feast on League (including Paul Goldschmidt, who was 3-for-3 with a home run) and the guys coming up in the ninth have hit Jansen hard (Martin Prado, 3-for-3 with two home runs).

But, what's that expression? The customer's always right?

So, it's difficult to fault Dodger fans for feeling so frustrated with this miserable season that they don't know what, or who, to boo.

"If [League] gets his outs, they're cheering for him. And if he doesn't get his outs, it's a bad decision," Mattingly said. "That's the way it is. I understand it. I basically try to put people in the best position to get the job done."

Kershaw was frustrated after the game, but it wasn't directed at Mattingly. Kershaw's spot in the lineup came up just before Arizona's best hitters were due up. When they talked, Kershaw didn't take a desperate stand to remain in the game.

"It made sense for Kenley to come in the game there, I understand that," Kershaw said.

A lot of the Dodgers' flaws would be far less apparent, maybe even invisible, if they had a lights-out bullpen. The pop-gun offense brought about by the carousel of injuries would seem barely sufficient rather than crippling. Just as this team seems to get to feeling good, a reliever spills a drink. Dodgers relievers collectively have a 3.94 ERA, 19th in the majors.

League's foibles have been the costliest and, for about the third time this year, his job as closer is under review.

He gave up three straight hits, walked a guy, then gave up a crushing two-run single off the glove of a diving infielder, Nick Punto. It's not that he's incapable of getting outs, but this was his fourth blown save of the year and third since May 19. He just doesn't give Mattingly, or Dodgers fans, a reason to feel he's a reliable security blanket late in games. And, really, that's all he's required to do.

"That's the story of the year," League said. "Inches away from getting out of it."

Sometimes, the last inch feels like a mile.