There is no way of knowing at this point whether these two teams are going to run into each other in the playoffs. But what we do know, with about 99-percent certainty, is that both of them are GOING to the playoffs. And when two teams that are going to the playoffs run up against each other with less than a month to go in the regular season, it creates a certain atmosphere that you wouldn’t get if, say, the Dodgers were playing the Rockies in Denver on the eve of the Broncos season opener, which they were on Wednesday night.
Great American Ball Park was far from a sellout tonight, drawing just 33,778 on an evening when the Big Red Machine was honored on the field after the game — it was the first Friday night of high-school football season, and high-school football is REALLY big in Cincinnati. But it was loud here. This crowd was basically into it on every pitch, right from the start.
And it wasn’t just a playoff-type atmosphere. It was a playoff-type game, too, where every little thing that happened meant something. And on a night when Reds right-hander Mike Leake was simply too much for the Dodgers offense, the little thing that meant the most might have been that unfortunate injury to Chris Capuano, who had retired five of the first six batters when his left groin, which he later said has given him trouble in the past, flared up to the point that he had to leave the game.
Don Mattingly said after the game that his intention was for Stephen Fife to go a little longer than he did, but Fife ran into trouble in the fourth. He gave up four hits, and the damage would’ve been worse than that one run if not for one of the prettiest — and most difficult — double plays you’ll ever see, Hanley Ramirez going deep into the hole to take away a hit from Ryan Ludwick and feeding Mark Ellis with a perfect throw and Ellis turning a perfect relay.
But when Fife started the fifth by walking Leake on four pitches, Mattingly had seen enough. Later in the inning, J.P. Howell gave up that opposite-field homer to Joey Votto, and that was that.
The best part of the night for the Dodgers was Chris Withrow, who pitched the sixth and seventh and was perfect, striking out five of the six batters he faced.
Paco Rodriguez failed to retire a batter for the second time in his past three appearances and left with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth. But Brian Wilson got out of that jam. With the Dodgers infield drawn in, Ludwick hit a liner back to Wilson so hard that Ellis actually went into a full dive to snare it — and that dive might have been timed perfectly so he COULD snare it if Wilson hadn’t snared it first. Wilson threw to third for the double play, then struck out Todd Frazier to end the inning.
But in the ninth, Reds manager Dusty Baker tempted fate by bringing in his closer, Aroldis Chapman, for an unthinkable fourth day in a row. All Chapman did, with the crowd on its feet screaming the entire time, was strike out Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Ramirez in succession on a total of 13 pitches.
The defining moment of the inning, though, came in Puig’s at-bat, a matchup of two Cuban defectors. Chapman blew three consecutive fastballs past the aggressively swinging Puig, those fastballs registering, in order, 99 mph, 101 mph and 102 mph.
Howell was asked after the game if he could throw a fastball with that velocity.
“Sure,” he said. “If you put two of my pitches together.”
The Dodgers (83-57) suffered their third two-game losing streak in the past three weeks, which isn’t saying much for most teams, but this team hadn’t lost two in a row in almost two months before that.