Baseball is a very complicated game in many ways, with two teams each using a series of elaborate signs to relay strategy to one another throughout the game. Baseball is more chess than checkers most of the time, which as much thought given to future outcomes than the present. But sometimes, like in the seventh inning of the Dodgers' 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night, the game is really simple.
Rookie Scott Van Slyke, pinch hitting for Adam Kennedy, came up with two outs and a pair of runners, Elian Herrera and Bobby Abreu, on base, with the Dodgers down 5-3. Van Slyke took three consecutive balls from Marc Rzepczynski, but would the rookie get the green light with a 3-0 count?
"He can hit the ball in the seats as much as anything. It's what he's up there for really, or to hit a ball in the gap," manager Don Mattingly said. "It seemed like the right thing to do. I sent him up there to hit."
Van Slyke didn't step into the batters box thinking home run, at least not at first.
"First and second with pretty speedy guys on the base, I was trying to get a pitch I could drive to the gap," Van Slyke said. "When I got 3-0, my thought process changed a little bit, to give myself one shot to take the lead."
That one shot paid off for the Dodgers, who have won four straight games and are an amazing 19-4 at home this season. Mattingly was happy for the rookie.
"With him nothing really surprises me. He's pretty relaxed," Mattingly said. "He's been around the game his whole life. He doesn't seem to be overwhelmed too much. He's pretty chilled out."
Van Slyke, in limited duty, is 3-for-9 with a double and a home run so far with the Dodgers, and has had a learning experience in the majors. "Seeing live pitching really once a game, has been a good learning experience, on how to shorten up, how to look for a certain pitch, and to really concentrate," Van Slyke said.
Van Slyke grew up in St. Louis, as his father Andy was a Cardinal when he was born. That made his home run especially bittersweet for some of his friends, who were at the game.
"I had a couple of friends in the stands, and we're all from St. Louis so I'm sure everyone was cringing," Van Slyke said. "But whatever team it was against, it would have been just as thrilling."
Chad Billingsley had an up and down night. He got out of some jams early, then cruised until the fifth and sixth, when the Cardinals got him for five runs, three of which were earned. Mattingly cited a pair of plays off the bat of Rafael Furcal as Billingsley's undoing: the grounder in the fifth that Billingsley was given an error on but Mattingly said James Loney should have stayed home and let second baseman Elian Herrera field the ball; and Furcal's sixth inning two-run single, which Mattingly called a "jam shot."
Billingsley's summary of his outing was a fairly apt endorsement of fielding independent pitching metrics, albeit indirectly.
"I was throwing the ball where I wanted to go. I had a good fastball and good offspeed stuff. It's just the way the game is. You can't do anything about it, but continue to make pitches and hope it will go your way," Billingsley said. "That's how the game goes. You execute a pitch, and the outcome you have no control over. It's all about giving yourself a chance to get an out."
Mattingly said the Dodgers got a good report from the hand specialist that examined Juan Uribe on Sunday. Uribe was placed on the disabled list on Monday with a left wrist injury, and has rested that injury for the better part of week.
"The report was good, and he can move forward. He'll start doing baseball activities shortly," Mattingly said.
The Dodger express rolls on to Chase Field in Phoenix as the Dodgers open a three-game road trip against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Chris Capuano starts Monday for the Dodgers, facing Patrick Corbin for Arizona.