In the bottom of the third inning, as Los Angeles Dodger pitching ace Clayton Kershaw faced the San Diego Padres' Chris Denorfia with a runner on first base, broadcaster Vin Scully watched, perhaps wistfully, as this has been a week of remembrance at Dodger Stadium.
“Denorfia waiting, Sandy big stretch”…
Was it an unconscious slip of the tongue for the Hall of Fame broadcaster, or was it a slip of the mind, if Vinny hadn’t really said that?
But it was excusable. For the incomparable Sandy Koufax is what Kershaw nevertheless so often reminds you of on nights at the stadium, where one Dodger southpaw is now the maestro of it and the other the phantom. Especially so on dreamy nights when the Dodger faithful look for hope now with Kershaw, just as they once did with Koufax.
Kershaw, though, on this night before a sell-out crowd, wasn’t Koufax-like. Nor Kershaw-like, for that matter, as the Padres beat him and the Dodgers, 7-2, while completing the series sweep and sending the Dodgers on a road trip staggering, slumping and wondering in befuddlement at how it has gone so wrong so quickly.
Suddenly, the Dodger pitching rotation that had seemed deep and strong just days ago finds itself utterly shattered, with two starters hurt and its ace in a surprising funk, unable to deliver when the team most needed a boost.
For this was a bad night that began on an ominous note with the benching, if only for a game, of slumping slugger Matt Kemp, who was hitting a paltry .185 and only .053 with runners in scoring position.
Now the wheels had come off Kershaw, as he had failed to stop a losing streak that has reached four, and with five losses in the last six games.
This, then, is the spectacular and exciting whole new blue: a $200 million-plus payroll that must make Dodger fans have an unexpected appreciation of all those overpaid New York Yankee teams of the past that also underperformed.
It says enough of what kind of game this was for Kershaw to know that he gave up his first three home runs of the season, the first two on balls up and hittable, to Everth Cabrera in the fourth inning and to Chris Denorfia in the fifth inning, and then a pitch down in the wheelhouse that Kyle Blanks converted into a tape-measure job in the sixth inning.
Who would have ever believed that Clayton Kershaw could turn this San Diego Padres team, the dregs of the league not long ago, it seemed, into Murderers Row?
In the second inning, Kershaw did record his 1,000th strikeout of his career, becoming the second youngest Dodger to reach that milestone after Fernando Valenzuela.
But If it weren’t the best of Kershaw Wednesday night, it may have been the worst.
And yet he retired the first eight batters he faced, and then it fell apart for him.
Could it have been something as seemingly inconsequential as third baseman Nick Punto dropping Chase Headley's foul pop fly in the fourth inning? Punto was given an error, and that opened the way for Kershaw to walk Headley. Jesus Guzman’s broken bat bloop single put runners on first and third with no outs.
Surprisingly, Kershaw was now definitely off his game and walked Yonder Alonso to load the bases.
Punto then made a big play, snagging a sharply hit ground ball to start a double play, though Headley scored.
Kershaw, though, wasn’t out of trouble. Kyle Blanks singled to left to score Guzman with the Padres’ third run of the inning.
It was an abnormal 34-pitch inning for Kershaw, who would go on to even his season record at two wins and as many losses.
Eventually, Kershaw was pulled after 5 1/3 innings in which he threw 109 pitches, 62 of them strikes. Three of the five runs charged to him were earned. He struck out five and walked four, one of them intentionally.
In the third inning, though, it looked as if it would be Padre starter Tyson Ross who would leave early.
Ross hit a 390-foot single off the wall in center that turned into a brief scare when on the follow-through his bat hit his left shoulder. But he recovered and stayed in the game until the fifth inning.
For the Dodger bats, it was another evening of increasing frustration, getting runners on base but not doing much to drive them in, typified by what happened in the bottom of the seventh inning.
With two runners aboard, A. J. Ellis hit a one-out drive to the deepest part of right centerfield. Dodger baserunners, though, failed to pick up that the ball wouldn't be caught, with the result being that no one scored.
It did load the bases and that's when Mattingly chose to dramatically bring in Kemp to pinch hit. Kemp has six grand slams in his career, but he was 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position this season.
Kemp thought he had walked in a run on a 3-0 count and tossed his bat toward the Dodger dugout to take first base, only to learn that the pitch had been called a strike.
Two pitches later, on a full count and knowing he could possibly change the fate of the game if he broke out of his slump, Kemp struck out with a bad swing on a pitch that fooled him.
In the ninth inning, Kemp again came up with the bases loaded, one out and the Dodgers now trailing by six runs.
Kemp lofted a fly to right field that drove in the Dodgers second run of the game.
The Dodgers had left 14 runners on base and a lot of questions to be answered.