*Update: George Sherill underwent an MRI today for discomfort in his oblique. He was unavailable for Tuesday's game, the reason for his absence in the late innings*
As the Los Angeles Dodgers were busy squandering away their once lofty NL West lead on the green grass of Coors Field, George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton sat and watched the drama unfold from beyond the outfield wall.
The two late-inning relievers sat all night in the bullpen during a 5-4 extra-inning loss to the second-place Colorado Rockies.
This was an inexcusable gaff by manager Joe Torre.
There’s no logical reasoning as to why neither Sherrill nor Broxton was used in the crucial series opener.
Torre had already seen Ronald Belisario and Hong Chi-Kuo make a quality start from Clayton Kershaw disappear. Kershaw threw six-and-one-third innings, striking out six and allowing only two runs.
Belisario and Kuo surrendered one run apiece in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, leading to a 4-2 deficit and the need for a Dodgers’ ninth-inning rally to extend the game into extra frames.
After going down quietly in the top of the 10th, James McDonald took the mound for Los Angeles.
This is where Torre made his first mistake: Sherrill should have come in to start the 10th,
With the lefty Stewart (who is batting .181 against left-handers this season) leading off it would have been the ideal move for the normally matchup-obsessed skipper.
Stewart had entered as a defensive replacement in the top of the eighth, and was struck out by Kuo (go figure—a southpaw) to start the Rockies half of the eighth.
Yet McDonald walked Stewart on five pitches, which brought Carlos Gonzalez (another lefty) to the plate to hit for Eric Young Jr. (making his Major League debut).
Gonzalez, who was unable to swing the bat because of a laceration on his hand, laid down a perfect bunt between the mound and first base and made the Dodgers look like participants in the Little League World Series on the play.
First baseman James Loney fielded the ball, following McDonald running past the bunt, and clearly had no time to throw out Gonzalez at first. Orlando Hudson was covering the bag on the play, and can be seen putting his hands up to tell Loney to hold onto the bunt.
Loney then broke the cardinal rule of fielding by firing a wild throw to Hudson at first.
The rule: never compound one error by making another; and Loney broke that with some of the worst timing imaginable, during a 4-4 tie game between playoff contenders.
The throwing error allowed Stewart to advance to third and placed runners at first and third with no outs.
Gonzalez would move to second on a catcher’s indifference, and Omar Quintanilla would eventually strikeout swinging to bring Todd Helton to the dish.
Torre correctly called for the intentional walk to load the bases and setup a possible double play, in addition to a force out at any base.
As McDonald delivered the intentional pass, there was a tall task ahead of him, with Troy Tulowitzki looming on deck.
And now comes Torre’s second, and more costly, mistake.
Broxton, without a doubt, should have entered to face Tulowitzki, who leads Colorado in home runs (23), but has never recorded a hit against Broxton.
In 11 plate appearances versus Tulo, Broxton has fanned him eight times. Compare that to a 1-for-4 career mark against McDonald, and the questions continue to build as to why McDonald remained in the game.
McDonald, of course, went on to give up a first pitch line drive into centerfield that scored Stewart and ended the game, lifting the Rockies to a 5-4 win and deflating the slumping Dodgers.
The Rockies played a 14-inning thriller late into the night on Monday and by all accounts should have been the club lacking energy last night.
But on Tuesday, the Boys in Blue appeared to be the team struggling to sift through the cobwebs, never showing the fire of a team deep within a pennant race, and perhaps the once-comfortable margin in the NL West has taken the competitive drive out of the Dodgers.
In a series where L.A. caught the Rockies rotation at a perfect time, not having to face Jason Marquis or Ubaldo Jimenez in the three-game tilt, they failed to capitalize on the first test of this pivotal late-season showdown.
Whatever the root of the collapse may be, General Manager Ned Colletti held a meeting with Torre after last night’s loss, a 20-minute conversation from which the media was held out.
Colletti surely expressed his feelings on the now minuscule lead in the standings, but someone needs to let Torre know that the misuse of his bullpen last night was atrocious.
It seems as if sometimes Torre is withheld from criticism because of his incredible championship runs with New York in the late '90s, but it’s been almost a decade since he hoisted a trophy at the end of October.
Between his gross overworking of the bullpen in the first half of the season and his most recent mix-up against the Rockies, Torre is in need of a reality check if he wants this team to win the World Series.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers