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Dodgers left to answer for Don Mattingly's mistake in 3-2 loss

ST. LOUIS -- The most respected team members are the ones that hold themselves accountable for their mistakes. Don Mattingly did not do that Friday night.

The players had to answer for the manager’s mistake. That is no way for any manager to start the National League Championship Series, let alone one without a contract beyond this season.

You should have heard the clipped responses from Adrian Gonzalez. Mattingly took his most consistent hitter out of Game 1 at Busch Stadium without a good reason. The manager got burned, and Gonzalez was in no mood to rescue him.

To recap: Gonzalez, representing the potential go-ahead run, walked to start the eighth inning. Mattingly replaced him with pinch-runner Dee Gordon, who did not try to steal. The Dodgers did not need Gordon’s speed to try to secure the tying run -- the score already was tied -- but they did need to keep Gonzalez’s bat in the lineup in case his spot came up again.

It did, twice, each time with a runner in scoring position. Michael Young, who replaced Gonzalez at first base, hit into a double play both times. The Dodgers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2, when Carlos Beltran delivered a run-scoring single off closer Kenley Jansen.

Was Gonzalez surprised by the move? He danced around a direct answer.

“That’s part of the game,” Gonzalez said.

How tough was it to see his spot come up twice more? He danced around that too.

“It was tough to see us lose at the end,” he said, forcing a thin smile. “The rest, in between, it was exciting. Overall, the outcome is the only thing that matters.”

To those questions and a few others, Gonzalez had every chance to say Mattingly made the right move. Gonzalez did not.

He might not be the most objective player, of course. He lost his at-bats and a chance to be the hero. It was more telling that another player thought long and hard, offered a perfect diplomatic answer, then paused and asked, “How’d I do?”

No manager can get every move right. The manager’s job is to put his players in position to succeed. Gonzalez never got that chance.

Mattingly did not concede a mistake. He defended his move, saying Gonzalez might not have scored on a double and Gordon is on the roster to pinch-run.

“You’ve got to shoot your bullet when you get a chance,” Mattingly said.

“If we don’t use him there and the next guy hits a ball in the gap and he doesn’t score and we don’t score there, you’re going to say, ‘Why didn’t you use Dee?’ ”

But we’re not going to say that, because the score still would be tied and the Dodgers still would have their most consistent hitter in the game, the one who drove in 100 runs when no one else on the team drove in more than 57.

There was no mutiny in the clubhouse, at least on the record.

“Adrian is a great player,” Young said. “Dee is the fastest guy on our roster. We just wanted to get him in the game.”

A.J. Ellis dodged the question of whether he was surprised by the move, but he said he understood it.

“We’ve got to try to score runs,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to try to get some offense going. Dee’s speed can make the difference in us scoring a run.”

He did not score. The Dodgers did not win a game in which the pitching matchup favored them. They do have Clayton Kershaw on Saturday, but the Cardinals have a kid who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his last start.

“I think the sun will rise tomorrow,” Andre Ethier said.

The Dodgers say they plan to bring Mattingly back next season, that the contract negotiations can wait until after the playoffs. Plans can change, though, and it did not help that a manager whose greatest strength is his relationship with his players had some of those players wondering just what he was doing in that eighth inning.

If the Dodgers win this series, all might be forgotten. If they lose, then the question that lingers from the last time the Dodgers and Cardinals met in the NLCS will be replaced in Dodgers lore by a new one.

Why did you pitch to Jack Clark? Never mind. Why did you take out Adrian Gonzalez?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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