Matt Kemp spoke calmly and deliberately, but his words were charged with rage.
Kemp wasn’t upset with the Dodgers bullpen, which predictably fell apart again and sent his team crashing to a 3-1 defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of their National League division series.
Rather, his anger was directed at home plate umpire Dale Scott.
“Terrible strike zone,” Kemp said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Kemp’s diatribe was only starting. But whatever Kemp said wouldn’t alter the reality the Dodgers were facing.
Baseball’s most expensive team now trails the best-of-five series, two games to one. Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to start Game 4, but will be doing so on only three days’ rest, meaning the Dodgers will almost certainly have to turn again to their horror show of a bullpen.
With the Dodgers limited to seven hits, Kemp’s frustrations about Scott’s strike zone were shared in other parts in the clubhouse.
“This is two good teams going at it,” Kemp said. “It’s supposed to be against the team, not the umpire and the team. I just feel like the umpire really took the bat out of our hands today. He had a very generous strike zone. It’s hard to face good pitching when you’ve got a guy throwing the ball in the other batter’s box and they’re calling strikes.”
With Yasiel Puig on third base and one out in the sixth inning, Kemp took a borderline pitch from Cardinals starter John Lackey. Scott called it an outside-corner strike. Three pitches later, Kemp struck out.
“He’s a good pitcher but some of those calls, they’re not good calls,” Kemp said. “You guys saw the game. I’m sure you all side with me. I’ve never reacted this way when it comes to the strike zone. This was by far the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Puig eventually made it home on a two-out double by Hanley Ramirez to tie the score, 1-1.
Kemp led off the ninth inning and took a called third strike.
This time, Kemp argued with Scott before returning to the dugout.
“You’ve got to be held accountable, man,” Kemp said. “When we mess up and we do bad things on the field, people talk about it. People get sent down when they play bad. I feel like when stuff like that happens, there should be some type of punishment because it’s unacceptable.”
Still, the Dodgers had chances. They were one for 11 with runners in scoring position.
Adrian Gonzalez blamed himself for not driving in Dee Gordon from third base with one out in the first inning. Gonzalez fouled out to left field, failing to hit the ball deep enough to allow Gordon to tag up and score.
“I got to a good count, 3-1,” Gonzalez said. “He threw me a changeup that was up and I went after it because it kind of floated out there. I shouldn’t have swung. That should have been ball four. That’s on me right there.”
Whether Scott was ultimately responsible or not, the Dodgers couldn’t reward Hyun-Jin Ryu for a magnificent performance.
Sidelined for three-plus weeks because of an irritated shoulder, Ryu, pitching for the first time since Sept. 12, allowed only a run and five hits over six innings.
“Hyun-Jin at his finest right there,” catcher A.J Ellis said.
Ryu was removed in the top of the seventh inning, as Manager Don Mattingly elected to pinch-hit for him. He had made 94 pitches.
Ryu said he felt strong enough to continue pitching, but that he respected Mattingly’s decision.
Ryu’s departure led to the Dodgers’ downfall.
Mattingly called on left-hander Scott Elbert, who underwent three elbow operations in the last three years and was removed from the 40-man roster in July. When Elbert pitched in the major leagues in September, he was doing so for the first time in two years.
Elbert started the seventh inning by serving up a double to Yadier Molina. Two batters later, Kolten Wong blasted a two-run home run to move the Cardinals in front, 3-1.