Brawl won't turn Dodgers around, and it won't be last we see
Can we finally dismiss the silly mumbo-jumbo that on-field incidents can "fire up," "rally" and "inspire" a baseball team to play better? This is not halftime at a football game, folks. Twice now people have looked at on-field fights involving the Dodgers and taken the leap that they will spark Los Angeles into some Disney-movie kind of streak. You know, the old "pull the team together" pop psychology. Can we stop now?
On April 11 the Dodgers fought with the Padres after Carlos Quentin charged pitcher Zack Greinke upon getting hit with a pitch. What happened after that? The "inspired" Dodgers were shut out the next day, 3-0, and went 7-18 in their next 25 games.
Now we get the Tuesday night brawl with the Diamondbacks as the next great "inspiration" for the Dodgers. What happens next? Their scalding hot cleanup hitter, Yasiel Puig, is replaced by Jerry Hairston Jr. because Puig aggravated his right shoulder in the fight, and the Dodgers lose in extra innings. Now they get nine straight road games against the Pirates, Yankees and Padres, who collectively have played .616 baseball at home.
Forget about the Rockne narrative. What the Dodgers need is for their bats to wake up. Los Angeles ranks 13th in runs and 13th in home runs in the NL. The team isn't going anywhere unless Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp get healthy and hit the way they should.
By the way, did you see Hairston waltzing with Willie Bloomquist off to the side while his teammates were fighting the Diamondbacks? It looked really bad, but Hairston was put on notice by MLB after the San Diego fight -- in which he charged across the field after order had been restored -- that he would be dealt with severely if he were active in another scuffle.
As for "banning" bench-clearing fights, forget it. The difference between baseball and other sports is that the batter is grossly outnumbered by the other team on the field of play. He needs back-up.
JAFFE: MLB must do more to curb beanball incidents
Baseball actually has done a very good job in recent years of cutting down on the number of on-field incidents. One reason for that is the quick work by veteran umpires in issuing warnings and ejections. Yes, sometimes they overreact, such as when Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel was ejected this year for throwing a breaking ball at a hitter after yielding three home runs. (Hammel was not fined because the review showed it was a breaking ball that got away from him; the umpire cannot always read the type of pitch on the fly while trying to read intent.) But MLB has empowered the umpires to be proactive when it comes to possible beanball wars.
Now go back to the Dodgers-Diamondbacks situation. It escalated because a fill-in umpire, Clint Fagan, was behind the plate. Fagan failed to eject Greinke after the Dodgers righthander obviously intentionally hit Miguel Montero -- on what was his third pitch thrown at Montero in the at-bat. Greinke, acting like a teenager trying to knock down milk bottles at a carnival tent, should have been ejected right then.
A veteran umpire would have been more likely to eject Greinke. Need proof? Go back to Sept. 13, 2011, after Clayton Kershaw threw at the Diamondbacks' Gerardo Parra, after Parra had angered the Dodgers the previous night by showboating after a home run. Veteran umpire Bill Welke, working the plate, immediately ejected Kershaw, stopping any further nonsense.
Take a depressed run-scoring environment and add a better distribution of talent around the game and what do you get? A fan's delight: more close games. There were nine games played Thursday. Five of them were decided by one run, including three that went into extra innings. Small sample? Sure, but days like Thursday are becoming common. Take a look at the most one-run games in a season since 1998, the last expansion in baseball. This season is on pace for the third-most one-run games in that time:
1. 2011: 752
2. 2010: 732
3. 2013: 727 (projected)
4. 2005: 719
5. 2012: 697
Mind you, this is not 1968, The Year of the Pitcher, when 35 percent of all games were decided by one run. (We're running at 30 percent this year.) But for sheer numbers of close games, we are seeing more than ever lately. Each of the past four seasons (including the projected total for this year) ranks among the six seasons with the most one-run games in the past 16 years.
Now take a look at the most extra-inning games since 2008:
1. 2013: 272 (projected)
2. 2011: 237
3. 2010: 220
Managers and general managers might not like this trend because of how it wears down bullpens, but if you're a fan of bonus baseball, this is your year.