Opening day is no field day for Gonzalez and Pierre
On a cloudy Midwestern afternoon streaked with sunbeams of hope, the game and season began with two of the sweetest words in the English language.
By the bottom of the first inning, the creative Los Angeles visitors drowned it out with two other words.
In the second inning, they generously threw in two others.
By the fourth inning, they added life to this party with two more words.
If the Milwaukee Brewers and Ben Sheets were the opening-day romantics, the Dodgers were the guys with sweat on their palms and mustard on their ties. After a 7-1 loss in front of a beer-swilling bunch at Miller Park, Manager Grady Little could only shrug and offer two final words.
The Dodgers are already irritated by the pebble in the lineup cobbled together this winter by General Manager Ned Colletti.
That annoying little pain is outfield defense.
New outfielders Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre, while being charged with no errors, help cost the Dodgers as many as four runs. This forced the offense to be more aggressive against Ben Sheets. All those swings helped Sheets throw a two-hitter that will make all the headlines.
But Sheets wasn’t the story, and, deep inside their worst fears, the Dodgers know it.
The team figures that if it does everything else right this season, the outfield defense won’t matter. Probably so. But at least for one game, it mattered.
It made for a postgame clubhouse scene in which Gonzalez was shaking his head and Pierre was rolling his eyes and Derek Lowe was studying the game tape on a laptop before meeting with the media.
“This is one that a lot of guys are going to want to forget in about an hour,” Lowe said.
It started in the first inning with Pierre, who was signed this winter for his energy, not his arm. Teams love to run on him. They have been running on him all spring.
And so Rickie Weeks sprinted from first to third on J.J. Hardy’s bloop single in front of Pierre. Four pitches later, Bill Hall’s grounder to second base scored Weeks with the Brewers’ first run.
Nobody would say this, but the way Lowe worked out of the inning, if Weeks had been held to second base, he would not have scored.
Lowe certainly wouldn’t say anything, taking the blame as always, saying, “I didn’t pitch the way I needed to pitch, and we’ll just move on.”
Moving on to the second inning, Corey Hart led off with another blooper in front of Pierre, who did not make an error last season. He caught the ball on one bounce, then slipped and fell and allowed Hart to sprint into second base with what the official scorer horrendously ruled a double.
Two batters later, Hart stole third, then scored on Hardy’s single to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead.
Pierre talked about the grass: “It’s always slick in this place.”
That observation was shared by the Brewers’ Craig Counsell: “For whatever reason, things have always skipped off our grass.”
With its odd combination of rafters and beams and windows, Miller Park is one of baseball’s quirkiest parks during day games. Opposing players always say it. The Brewers don’t deny it.
So maybe Gonzalez needs to be cut some slack for what happened next, in the fourth inning, with two out and two runners on base and the Brewers leading, 4-1.
“But I’m not going to hide it,” Gonzalez said. “It happened.”
Just as he fought with some fly balls during spring training, Gonzalez fought with Geoff Jenkins’ deep fly ball here, losing it in the afternoon light that filters through the park when the roof is closed.
The ball dropped over his head, bounced against the wall, two runs scored and, with Sheets in command, the game was essentially over.
“I could have made the play, but I lost the ball,” Gonzalez said. “When I found it, it was 10 feet over my head.”
The Brewers saw the play and smiled.
“That happens here in the afternoon,” Weeks said. “It can be a tough place for the fielders.”
Jeff Kent, who had homered earlier against Sheets, saw the play and frowned.
“This is a bad investment of a ballpark,” he said.
The Dodgers hitters saw the play and squeezed, both their eyes and their bats. Beginning from the fifth inning until the end of the game, the Dodgers reached base once in 16 plate appearances against Sheets. Only five of those at-bats lasted more than three pitches.
How rare was this complete game win in today’s baseball world? It was the Brewers’ first opening-day complete-game victory in 28 years. The Dodgers had only three complete games thrown against them last season.
How rare will the Dodgers’ outfield defense issues be? Here’s hoping Monday was an anomaly, if only because it would be simple torture to hear Dodgers fans chanting for the return of an outfielder whose defense will honestly be missed.
At this point, “Heads up!” is still far less chilling than “J.D. Drew.”
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.