Lilly's Debut, Kemp's First Homer Obscured in Dodgers' Defeat

Ted Lilly's sparkling season debut eases Dodgers' pitching concerns

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Matt Kemp delivers his first home run of the season Wednesday, April 24, 2013, at Citi Field in New York, giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning over the Mets. (Getty Images)

    The Dodgers' 7-3 defeat in New York Wednesday night will go down in the record books as a loss on a walk-off grand slam home run by a young player barely more than a rookie.

    It was only the ninth home run of Jordany Valdespin's brief career -- a rocket into the right field bleachers of Citi Field -- but it showed that there is more to baseball and to delivering in the clutch than can be bought by simply making multi-millionaires of sometimes over-the-hill players who fail at what the young often make look so easy.

    Valdespin, who makes just above the league annual minimum at $496,645, won a game that had been the Dodgers' and would have made a great celebration of the superb season debut of finesse lefty Ted Lilly and Matt Kemp's first home run of the year.

    Kemp's two-run homer in the top of the sixth inning had put the Dodgers ahead, and they held on to the lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning.

    It was then that the Dodgers needed a good play -- not a miracle play but the kind you see every night of the season on ESPN's Sports Center -- a sliding catch of a ball that regularly make these highlights and that ultimately produce big money contracts for the athletes who make those kinds of plays.

    Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford is one of those players, or at least the Dodgers' brass think he is. Crawford is signed to a contract that earns him more than $20.8 million this year alone; second most on the team and 40 times more than the Mets are paying young Valdespin.

    Crawford came over in that Boston Red Sox deal that also scored the Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez last year, and last year was a bust because Crawford was hurt. But this was a new season, new life, and Crawford had gotten off to good start as the Dodgers' leadoff hitter.

    But with the game on the line Wednesday night, he blew a play that led to the Dodgers losing the lead and, with their multi-million-dollar salaried offense playing like baseball welfare recipients, they likely weren't going to do much more.

    Leading off that ninth, the Mets' Mike Baxter hit a sinking liner to left that Crawford appeared to misplay, then didn't hustle much in getting to when the ball fell loose, allowing Baxter to wind up in scoring position on second base with no outs.

    Official scorers charitably called the play a double for Baxter, but replays showed Crawford getting off to a bad read on the play, sliding to make the catch, having the ball hit just above his glove and bouncing in front of him as he trotted to pick it up.

    Baxter had made an aggressive turn at first and caught Crawford off-guard as he took second.

    The Mets tied the game when Baxter was bunted over to third and then, with the Dodgers just one out away from a badly-needed victory, he scored on David Wright's single to right center.

    The Dodgers had only four hits all game, and all their scoring had been finished on Kemp's home run.

    It had been 85 at-bats dating back to when he injured his shoulder last year since Kemp had hit a dinger, and when he finally did Wednesday night it took an umpiring crew's video review to officially conclude that the Dodgers' slugger was no longer homerless for the season.

    Kemp's opposite field two-run homer in the top of the sixth inning gave Lilly a 3-1 lead as he left his season mound debut.

    The home run off Mets' hard-throwing sensation Matt Harvey, who brought a perfect 4-0 record into the game, broke open a classic pitching duel in which the crafty Lilly was trying to show the Dodgers that he belongs in the rotation of their injury-depleted staff.

    Lilly, 37, made a strong case for himself, striking out seven and walking only two while giving up six hits and one earned run in going the five innings -- and shutting down a Mets' rally in the bottom of the fifth when he put down the heart of the New York offense with the then go-ahead run at third base.

    The Dodgers got their first run off Harvey in the top of the first when Mark Ellis singled and eventually scored on Kemp's infield out. 

    For the Dodgers, Lilly's performance -- he hadn't pitched in almost a year because of shoulder surgery -- was a much-needed lift for the Dodgers' starting rotation that has lost three starters since The Brawl April 11 in San Diego.

    It was Lilly's shaky health status at the end of last season that led the Dodgers to go out and sign free agents Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu over the winter.

    But Lilly had insisted he was fully rehabilitated and wanted to fill Greinke's rotation spot when he went on the disabled list with his broken collarbone.

    Eventually Lilly, who commands a $12 million salary and seemed like the odd man out in the starting rotation, agreed to another rehab start in the minors. Since then, starter Chris Capuano went on the disabled list with an injured calf, and Chad Billingsley was lost with season-ending Tommy John surgery.

    It is some consolation for the Dodgers on a night when they must have thought there would be more.

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