Matt Kemp has had a rough 2013 season, with an underwhelming performance at the plate in the wake of offseason shoulder surgery, and then a four-week absence due to a hamstring strain. At times, he has even heard boos in Dodger Stadium. But not on Tuesday night, when he returned to the lineup and made his presence felt on both offense and defense, helping the Dodgers defeat the Giants for their season-high fourth consecutive win.
At the plate, Kemp went 1-for-4 with a mere single, but the hit, which came in the sixth inning, followed Hanley Ramirez's tiebreaking two-run homer — a towering shot off the leftfield foul pole – and kept the good times rolling. Andre Ethier and Tim Federowicz both followed with singles, the first of which chased fill-in starter Michael Kickham, and the second of which brought Kemp home from second base, demonstrating that both hamstrings — the right one, which cost him 51 games last year, and the left one, which cost him 24 this year — were sound enough for him to turn on the jets. By the time the dust cleared, the Dodgers had a 6-2 lead.
They would need every run. With closer Kenley Jansen having worked three straight days, manager Don Mattingly decided a four-run cushion was enough for Brandon League (5.08 ERA, 4.1 strikeouts per nine, four blown saves) to protect, but he was mistaken. League yielded three straight hits — a Hunter Pence single, a Brandon Belt double, and an Andres Torres single — that trimmed the lead to 6-4, so a desperate Mattingly summoned rookie lefty Paco Rodriguez for his first save opportunity.
Rodriguez yielded a single to Brandon Crawford that moved the tying run to second, but induced Juan Perez to fly out, then struck out Gregor Blanco swinging. Marco Scutaro appeared as though he might at least bring in the tying run with his deep fly to centerfield, but Kemp got on his horse:
The sliding, over-the-shoulder catch preserved the 6-5 win, enabling the Dodgers to climb back to eight games below .500 (34-42) and knocking the Giants one game below .500 (38-39).
While the Dodgers are still last in the NL West, seven games behind the Diamondbacks and 3 1/2 behind the slumping, fourth-place Giants, they're suddenly looking a bit more whole. It remains to be seen the extent to which Kemp can improve his dismal .251/.304/.333 line, and likewise for Ethier, who's batting .367/.426/.510 over his last 14 games to lift his overall line to .256/.337/.380; the pair has seven homers in 496 plate appearances between them, as many as Yasiel Puig does in 86. On the other hand, Ramirez is hitting .467/.500/.933 with two doubles and four homers in his last eight games, and despite an 0-for-4 night — just his fourth hitless game out of 21 — Puig is still batting .420/.453/.716.
Maybe — just maybe — a $200 million payroll can buy a lineup that can score at least four runs a game after all.