Was that great or what?
Don Mattingly let the kid go, let him rip. A wondrous gamble that paid off.
“I don’t think we want to be cautious there,” Mattingly said. “You play to win.”
Is that a great quote or what?
The Dodgers were down 5-3 to the Cardinals with two runners on in the seventh Sunday when Mattingly sent rookie Scott Van Slyke to pinch hit. The count went to 3-0, and the careful manager would have signaled for his kid with eight career at-bats to try to take the walk.
Only Mattingly gave him the green light, let him swing. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Van Slyke almost had to do a double-take.
“There was a little part of me that was surprised, but once I got back into the box I really zoned in trying to get a pitch I could do something with,” Van Slyke said.
Yet even Mattingly wasn’t thinking three-run homer. He was just hoping for a ball hit into the gap. With the left-handed James Loney on deck, he wondered if the Cardinals were trying to pitch around Van Slyke.
But the 3-0 pitch came over the plate, and Van Slyke rocketed left-hander Marc Rzepczynski’s changeup into the left-field pavilion for a game-winning, three-run homer.
Dodger Stadium erupted.
“I told the guys when I got to first base I just yelled for no reason. I have no idea why, I just yelled,” Van Slyke said.
Said reliever Scott Elbert from the next locker: “No reason? You just hit your first homer.”
Oh, yeah, that.
It made for one of the most exciting moments in the Dodgers’ young season.
“It really was,” Mattingly said. “You make the decision to turn him loose. That’s what you sent him up there for.”
There was also a backdrop: Van Slyke’s father, Andy, played in the majors for 13 years and came up with the Cardinals. He was the batter on deck in the infamous -- at least for the Dodgers -- 1985 playoff game against St. Louis when Manager Tommy Lasorda pitched to Jack Clark with first base open and Clark drilled his game-winning homer.
Lasorda always defended his decision, citing that Andy Van Slyke was on deck. Alas, it was the Van Slyke then 1-for-18 in the postseason.
Fittingly, Andy Van Slyke was in the stands Sunday to see his son’s personal history made -- thanks to a terrific call by Mattingly.