PHOENIX -- Tony Abreu hit a first-inning home run for a 1-0 Dodgers lead Sunday, reason enough to stop the game and mark the occasion with a rousing ceremony, but Matt Kemp never moved from the on-deck circle some 20 yards away.
Abreu circled the bases, and while he should have been greeted by a high five, enthusiastic handshake or energetic pat on the back from his teammate at home plate, Kemp remained in his own little world.
“What kind of question is that?” Kemp said later, his answer once again a reminder of an attitude that threatens to sabotage potential for great success. “If you had been on the field you would have heard me say, ‘Good job.’ You got to come with better questions than that.”
Just an hour or two earlier, the clubhouse atmosphere becoming more uneasy by the hour, Manager Grady Little had summoned Kemp and James Loney to his office for a closed-door chat.
When the door opened, General Manager Ned Colletti joined the group for another closed-door session.
I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to learn Kemp did all the talking.
It’s become increasingly apparent in the last few days that the Dodgers have more problems than their lowly station in the standings, or as Derek Lowe put it, “The tension here is getting to the point where we have two different teams in [the clubhouse].”
Lowe, after spending a good deal of time criticizing his own inconsistent performance this season, added, “The last two or three weeks we haven’t been on the same page as a team, and you can see what happens when that’s not the case.”
The Dodgers’ collapse down the stretch, Lowe said, “wasn’t because of a string of bad luck; it’s just not a lot of people pulling together in here.”
The other day Jeff Kent responded to a reporter’s question about the state of the Dodgers, and he said everybody was at fault for the team’s demise, while also indicating the kids didn’t feel the same urgency as the veterans when it came to capitalizing on a winning opportunity.
The next day Loney struck back, saying of Kent, “Who said he was a leader?”
Luis Gonzalez, who has done everything he can to remain positive knowing this will be his final week in a Dodgers uniform, refused to bite his tongue Sunday, taking offense to Loney’s rebuke.
“Look at the back of his bubble-gum card, and all those numbers compiled over the years, which tell you how consistent [Kent] has been,” Gonzalez said, “and consistency is what gets you respect in this game.”
Or, as Lowe put it, “you can’t have young players thinking they are bulletproof. No one should be bulletproof around here, walking around believing they don’t have to listen to anybody.
“Jeff was correct when he said you get only so many chances in this game, and when you have a year like this, you can’t act like it just didn’t happen.”
And when something good does happen, a teammate hitting a home run -- going all the way back to T-ball -- that’s a pretty big thing. Start taking it for granted so early in a career, and what next?
“He’ll learn,” Little said, and it will be interesting to see whether Dodgers fans find that process entertaining or frustrating.
THE DODGERS Kids knocked off the Diamondbacks in the series finale here, and while noting the e-mail response from a number of Dodgers fans, who are already buying into the promise of better days ahead with the young players, I just remember many of these same folks chanting “Hee-Seop Choi,” or later, “J.D. Drew.”
Public sentiment will swing toward the Dodgers kids because what other choice is there?
But “historically teams with a lot of young players don’t win championships right away,” Lowe said. “That’s something everyone around here is going to want to know -- are we going to be playing young players so that they can have the time to develop and really be good in two years?
“What about next season? I’m going to be 35 . . . that’s a little unsettling for some guys who are under contract here. Do they already know the team they’re going to field is not going to be competitive next year?”
More than that, Lowe said, when it comes to mixing young players with a new crop of veterans next season, there has to be two-way respect.
“This has to be settled going into spring training,” Lowe said. “If there has to be a knockout, drag-out fight, so be it. But it cannot carry over where we’re having this same conversation. We can’t have the young players believing they are bulletproof.
“We’re also going to have to be very careful as an organization what kind of people are brought in next season,” he said. “If you listen to people here, the vision is to get even younger. You’re going to have to bring in players who are going to be all right with limited playing time.” And who don’t mind being ignored when they hit home runs, or better yet, just don’t hit home runs.
Good news. Shea Hillenbrand should still be available.
NOT EVERYONE is letting this Dodgers season get them down, Vin Scully coming to his feet during the seventh-inning stretch and singing “God Bless America” with midseason gusto, and I might add, the others in his booth not covering their ears.
CONGRATS TO the Angels on clinching a division title, but as Brad Penny would tell you about the NL wild-card race, “we’re still in it,” as long as San Diego, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Colorado lose every game they play the rest of the way, and the Dodgers don’t lose again.
Penny still thinks they will find Amelia Earhart. Alive somewhere in Oklahoma.
TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Gary Oyer: “I don’t need a ‘homer’ reporter and the Dodgers deserve criticism, but I’m sick of your constant criticism and name calling. Do you expect the young Dodgers to talk to you after you have painted them the way you do? Ask Vin Scully or your mom, whining critics who never give affirmation are not respected or appreciated and eventually not read.”
Thanks for reading.
T.J. Simers can be reached at email@example.com. For previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.