ST. LOUIS — The Los Angeles Dodgers, realizing their season could be over by Tuesday evening, tried to hold in their frustrations, but finally, right fielder Matt Kemp let loose.
He ripped into home-plate umpire Dale Scott, blaming him Monday for the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, that has them on the brink of elimination, down two games to one in the best-of-five NL Division Series.
"Terrible, terrible strike zone,” said Kemp, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. "I’ve never, ever seen anything like it. It’s disappointing.
"You got guys out there battling. These are two good teams going out there. It’s supposed to be against the teams, not the umpire.
"You feel like the umpire took the bat out of our hands today. He had a very generous strike zone. It’s hard to face good pitching when the ball in the other batter’s box is called strikes.”
He was talking about Scott, who indeed may have had an expanded strike zone, but it was mostly consistent, with Cardinals starter John Lackey and Hyun-Jin Ryu giving up just two runs and 13 hits in 13 innings.
The difference is that when Ryu left the game after six innings, the Dodgers bullpen imploded for the third consecutive game, with Kolten Wong breaking a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer off Scott Elbert. When Lackey left the game, the Cardinals bullpen pitched two shutout innings.
No matter, why the Dodgers could have simply credited Lackey, or sang the praises of third baseman Matt Carpenter who became the first player in baseball history to hit a homer and double in three consecutive postseason games, they took their frustrations out on Scott.
"Very frustrating, very frustrating,” Kemp said. "You got to be accountable, man. When you do bad, people talk about it. People get sent down when they play bad.
"When stuff like this happens, there should be some kind of punishment.
Someone then offered Kemp a chance to praise Lackey, who struck out eight batters, but he again chose to condemn Scott.
"He’s a good pitcher,” Kemp said, "but some of those calls are not good calls. You guys saw the game. I’m sure ya’ll side with me.
"I’ve never reacted this way when it comes to the strike zone, but this was by far the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made sure he didn’t go nuclear like Kemp did, but echoed Kemp’s sentiment.
"I thought Dale was very generous,” Mattingly said. "We had a lot of guys complaining about the strike zone. And we felt like he was really generous.
"And it puts you in a bind.
"You keep giving pitchers, changing counts. Obviously, you can’t go too far with it, but real generous.”
So it goes for the Dodgers, the team with the highest payroll in baseball, and now just 27 outs away from elimination.
They insist they’re confident.
After all, they’ve got Clayton Kershaw, the sure-fire Cy Young winner, on the mound Tuesday, and 17-game winner Zack Greinke on the mound for Game 5.
The Cardinals, who have scored 17 runs in their last two postseason games against Kershaw, want to make sure this series never gets back to Los Angeles.
"This was certainly kind of a must-win,” said Carpenter, "knowing that we do have Kershaw and Greinke left.
"Our team is playing well right now. Feel good about our chances. We come out (Tuesday), and hopefully take care of business and go ahead and try to win this series.”
The Dodgers now will be asking Kershaw, 21-3, and the probable unanimous Cy Young winner, to save their season today.
Yet, Kershaw, battered for eight runs in Game 1, will be pitching on three days’ rest. The Dodgers decided before the game that he’d be better on short rest than a well-rested Dan Haren .
"He’s our best guy,” Mattingly said. "Obviously, it’s not something we could even think about doing over the course of the season, really. But this is a different time.”
Indeed, the Dodgers’ season is on the brink. Lose today, and the Dodgers, with the biggest payroll in baseball history, will be sitting home with the other 27 teams.
But while Kershaw may be the best pitcher in baseball, the Cardinals have treated him like a journeyman during his last two postseason starts. They’ve scored 15 runs off him, including a six-run uprising against him in the seventh inning in Game 1.
It may give the Cardinals confidence, but the Dodgers consider it nothing more than a fluke.
"He’s back to business,” Mattingly said. "It’s Clayton Kershaw. I hate to say it like that. These kind of guys don’t curl up and go away.
"You don’t get to where you are, you don’t win four ERA titles, and end up going to win three out of the last four Cy Youngs …These guys go to work, they come back. They keep working.
"So this is a different cat.”
Besides, Kershaw has experience on three days’ rest, and even more important, wants to do it.
"Obviously, after as bad as I pitched in Game 1,” Kershaw said, "it wasn’t going to be me going in there and saying, "I want the ball.’ But I was definitely ready for it and definitely wanted to do it, just waiting for the opportunity.”
And yes, he’s hungry for vengeance.
"There’s always something to prove,” Kershaw said. "This game is very humbling. People don’t care what you’ve done in the past. It’s what have you done for me lately?
"People turn on you really fast, and I know that. For me, it’s just the start-to-start thing. I try not to look at all the numbers and all the stats. I just try to go out and win a game.”
Well, that may be a good thing, because the stats sure aren’t pretty.
Since the inception of the wild-card in 1995, starters on short rest have gone just 16-26 with a 6.96 ERA in 67 starts.
Yet, if you’re going to go down, it’s silly to save you best pitcher — leading the Dodgers to a 20-1 record in 21 starts since June 1 — particularly with Greinke available for Game 5 on regular rest.
The trouble is that the Dodgers can’t rely on their bullpen, and can’t figure a way to stop Carpenter.
Carpenter, who had never homered in consecutive games in his entire career — spanning 436 games — has now homered in three consecutive postseason games. He became the first Cardinals hitter to accomplish the feat in a single season, and only the third leadoff hitter in baseball to homer in three consecutive postseason games, joining Lonnie Smith of the 1991 Atlanta Braves and Hank Bauer of the 1958 New York Yankees.
Oh, and don’t forget the fact that Carpenter is left-handed. He had just two homers off lefties in 193 at-bats all season, and now has three homers in seven at-bats off the Dodgers’ left-handed pitching.
This is the guy who homered and hit the go-ahead bases-clearing double off for Kershaw in Game 1, and, of course, had the epic 11-pitch at-bat when he doubled off Kershaw in Game 6 of last year’s NLCS.
"Stan Musial is somewhere rolling around in that body,” Mattingly said during the game on the FOX-TV telecast.
Said Carpenter: "I really don’t know what to say about that one. That’s a pretty good compliment. I don’t know if it’s deserving.”
But the way Carpenter is rolling this series, hitting .500 with three homers and seven RBI, the Cardinals may soon be trying to clear space for a statue next to Musial outside Busch Stadium.
"There’s no way to really get him out consistently,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "He’s doing an amazing job slowing down the game.”
The way Carpenter is hitting these days, he’s got a few of his buddies trying to tag along to keep him company, with rookie second baseman Kolten Wong hitting a two-run homer in the seventh inning off Scott Elbert, breaking the 1-1 tie.
Wong, who was last seen on the national stage getting picked off first base in Game 5 of the World Series, certainly made amends. Wong was so elated that he flipped his bat in excitement, later saying he didn’t realize what he had done.
"You saw it on my face,” Wong said, "kind of lost it out there. The emotion came out. I was really excited to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
"You grind the entire season, you’re constantly working trying to figure out how to make this game a little easier, how to finally succeed.
"And when you do, it’s definitely one of those things you’re really proud of.”
The Cardinals now have the Dodgers by the jugular, and hope to squeeze the life out of them Tuesday.
When the Cardinals smell blood in the month of October they are absolutely lethal.
It’s tough to fathom that even the mighty Kershaw can stop them this time.
"We’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, "and we know what kind of pitcher he can be. We have to put go ether a good game plan and hopefully stay with it.
"And realize that you’re going to have to fight because he’s never going to be easy.”
Look for the knockout punch Tuesday.
And don’t be surprised if it’s from that guy impersonating Musial.
GALLERY: NLDS – DODGERS vs. CARDINALSTags: car, game, player, sports, today, tv