Lack of patience derails Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- At the end of a day that began with embattled Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his former wife, Jamie, reaching a so-called divorce settlement that was so conditional as to not really be a settlement at all, and while watching the Dodgers lose their fourth consecutive game, 7-3 to the Houston Astros before 35,053 at Dodger Stadium, I suddenly came up with what I think is a fantastic idea.

Let the Dodgers' hitters decide the McCourt divorce. Then, much like Astros right-hander Brett Myers' complete-game four-hitter, it will be decided and wrapped up really quickly.

Myers, whose season to this point had been a testament to mediocrity, took all of 98 pitches Friday to dispose of the free-swinging Dodgers, a team for which that patient, methodical, grind-it-out approach that then-manager Joe Torre and then-hitting coach Don Mattingly tried to bring with them from New York a few years ago is now basically a distant memory.

Torre, of course, is long gone, too. And Mattingly, now the team's manager, seems resigned to the fact that the Dodgers will never again be that type of offensive club, given their personnel. That's too bad, because I believe the Dodgers would be a far better team if they would learn to do it -- or relearn to do it, in the case of many of these players. But this game was a prime example of what the antithesis looks like: Myers, a guy who came in with a 2-6 record, a 5-plus ERA and a major league-leading 18 home runs allowed, basically sailing through a stellar performance that was all too easy.

Yes, Ted Lilly blew up in the top of the sixth, when the Astros scored five runs to put the game on ice. But as he watched most of that carnage from the comfort of the visiting dugout, Myers had thrown a grand total of 46 pitches through five innings, suggesting these Dodgers don't have nearly enough patience at the plate.

"It's hard to say that by one game," Dodgers second baseman Aaron Miles said. "I give credit to him. He had a good curveball working, and obviously you saw a lot of swings and misses on the curveball. He hit his spots. And this is a great ballpark to pitch in. If you throw strikes here, you're going to give yourself a chance."

But was Myers' freakishly low pitch count really a result of relentlessly attacking the strike zone so the Dodgers' hitters couldn't afford to try to get deep in counts because if they did it would be 0-and-2 before they could blink? Well, no, not exactly. Of those 98 pitches, 66 were strikes, a good percentage but certainly not an eye-poppingly high one.

"In a sense, it's just what we are," Mattingly said. "Really, there have been a lot of games where we have forced guys to pitch and had guys into deep pitch counts early in the game. But this game was really one where we haven't had anything like this. This was crazy. He was at 81 pitches after eight innings, and that's almost under 10 an inning. He threw strikes, and I thought we squared some balls up early. But you have to make a guy work more than that."

There are a lot of reasons the fourth-place Dodgers (31-40) are 8 1/2 games back in the National League West, and a lack of patience at the plate is only one of them. But Mattingly says he knew coming into the season the Dodgers weren't a high on-base percentage team, and that has held true -- they began the day eighth in the NL with a team on-base percentage of .320.

Myers actually started the game with a four-pitch walk to Dee Gordon, a fact that should have screamed to everybody coming up behind Gordon that it was imperative for them to make Myers throw a strike. Miles did that, taking a fastball for strike one, before poking a single through the hole on the left side, putting runners on first and second and none out. Andre Ethier then took a ball before grounding into a force play, putting runners on the corners with one out for the sizzling Matt Kemp. Kemp got the job done with a sacrifice fly, but it came on the first pitch from Myers, a guy who had missed the strike zone with five of his first nine pitches before Kemp stepped into the box.

It came to a head in the second, Myers setting down Dioner Navarro, Trent Oeltjen and Lilly (5-6) on four pitches, and the third, when he got Gordon, Miles and Ethier on seven.

Granted, patience at the plate is a skill that is developed and honed over time. It took Torre most of his first year to get the Dodgers' hitters to buy into it. Sadly, many of them seem to have since abandoned it.

For that, for one evening anyway, Myers (3-6) was grateful.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.