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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Night Of The Living Rookies, Part 2: Dodgers 7, Cardinals 5

There seems to be a misapprehension about my opinion of the Dodgers farm system. It may be my fault for failing to explain it adequately, but in short, until the minor leaguers come up and have sustained success, calling the Dodgers minors "loaded" is premature at best and mendacious at worst. But don't think I'm not hoping for some good players to come out of it; you're reading the blog of a man who owns an Edwin Jackson desktop image. But looking the results square in the face so far, the results at best can be described as mixed. All right, you say; Jackson wasn't part of the 2002 and forward drafts. Very well. I'll come to that in a moment.

We were up in the cheap seats, again, in the thin air amongst a bunch of Cardinals fans and Mormons, which is to say, very nice people. Well, nice save for one very skanky looking guy in a Giants jersey two rows behind us and one section over, who turned his back to the field during the national anthem. I'm not sure what to take from it, but it certainly was odd.

We got to the park fairly early, so we were able to catch the Cards' batting practice. As a result, we got to see an example of the kinds of things Albert Pujols can do, namely, hit a ball to the far end of the home bullpen. That's power, the exhibition of which Dodger fans haven't seen much lately. It was, I thought at the time, a foreboding about the Dodgers' chances. Even without Scott Rolen (shoulder), Reggie Sanders (broken leg), and Larry Walker (neck injury) all on the DL, the Cards still have an arguable Hall of Fame candidate manning center in Jim Edmonds, and another one at first base in Albert Pujols. The odds did not look good.

The Dodgers certainly did nothing to disabuse me of that notion in the early going. In the very first inning, Jeff Kent made a mental mistake failing to cover second and an error at second base allowing Grudzielanek to get to first, allowing Albert Pujols to score from third. When Taguchi grounded out to Kent after 23 pitches, I knew it was going to be a long game. That feeling grew even worse when Izturis opened the Dodgers' half of the first by failing to leg out a bouncer to first that looked borderline foul.

Somehow, the Dodgers persisted, and Morris choked in a big way, surrendering three consecutive hits and a home run to Ricky Ledee. The Dodgers -- for the first time in what seemed like forever -- had a little breathing room, but just barely.

It didn't last long. That doomful feeling came right back in the top of the second when Phillips mangled a Mahoney pop fly, allowing the catcher to reach first on the error. Morris sac bunted him over, but mercifully, Penny was able to get out of this jamlet, though not at substantial cost. By the end of the second, he had tossed forty-four pitches.

And yet -- somehow the Dodgers settled down in the third. Edwards made a beautiful running catch on an Edmonds flyball to left. Then Dodgers caught a break: Bradley got aboard on catcher's interference. Kent singled him over to second, Rickey Ledee flied out deep to right -- the whole crowd was almost certain it was another home run -- and advanced Bradley to third. Phillips then singled in a run. Less-than-perfect smallball, to be sure, but the Dodgers were nevertheless up 5-2.

The Cards tried to correct their situation with a suicide squeeze in the fourth, reacting with their own smallball. With men on first and second with Eckstein at the plate, David Eckstein hit into a 6-4-3 double play, advancing Mahoney to third. Penny, laboring throughout the game, got Nuñez to ground out to end the threat, the Dodgers up by one, 5-4.

This set the stage for Johnathan Broxton's first major league mound appearance. Called in to replace the exhausted Penny (105 pitches in five innings, only 65 of which were strikes), he immediately gave up consecutive singles to Eckstein and Nuñez. (At least his first pitch in the majors was a strike.) The good news -- an omen of good things to come? -- was that his major league strikeout was against Albert Pujols. However, he still ended up surrendering the tying run when recent callup John Rodriguez sac-flied one home.

Broxton's pitching mainly consisted of mid-90's heat; the hardest I saw him throw was 96 on the gun, pretty compelling all things considered; but as we know, speed kills, especially in the absence of location and variation. Broxton wasn't fooling much in the way of your catalog major-league hitter last night. He spent 25 pitches getting out of the inning, of which 16 were strikes.

The Dodgers went ahead again in the seventh on a groundout from Bradley and a Kent double. In the eighth, Schmoll did a good job against the top of the order, inducing a double play from Albert Pujols. And though it was pointless, there was a nice bit of baserunning from Ricky Ledee in the eighth: with Ledee on second, Olmedo Saenz came up to pinch hit. Fouling out to shallow left, Ricky Ledee then tagged up and got to third when he noticed Pujols running away from the play at high speed. Not that it mattered, but smart baserunning deserves notice, especially on a team as power-starved as this one.

Brazoban nailed down the game in the ninth, and best of all, got a one-pitch, one-out from Edmonds. At one point -- and unfortunately I don't remember what play it was, but I suspect it was Ricky Ledee's double in the eighth -- Edmonds badly misjudged a flyball to center. Now, I don't know whether it was from the lights or age, but it seems to me the last few times I've seen him play he's gotten bad reads on balls. Helen says he never does but he uses his prodigious speed to compensate. If he's aging, playing as shallow as he usually does in center is going to bite him very squarely on the ass presently.

At last, something about Dioner Navarro: I didn't notice anything terrible about him defensively, and couldn't have, not at our elevation. Offensively, he did okay for himself, getting a single, a walk, and grounding out and striking out. Good outing for the kid, but hardly the "catcher of the future" yet.

ESPN BoxRecap


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