Can Matt Kemp learn to steal home?
The majestic ballpark that once housed champions was turned into a symbol of hopelessness — and a lonely one, at that.
The 56,000-seat stadium looked half empty, and the paid attendance of 40,809 announced by the Dodgers was the smallest for a weekend home game against the Giants since April 20, 2003.
On that day almost eight years ago, the Dodgers started 39-year-old Fred McGriff at first base, Jolbert Cabrera at second, Ron Coomer at third and Alex Cora at shortstop.
The lineup they fielded Saturday had a similar feel. With Juan Uribe and Casey Blake hurt, and Rafael Furcal and Rod Barajas scheduled for days off, the Dodgers started five nonregulars: Aaron Miles, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Hector Gimenez, Xavier Paul and Jamey Carroll.
"I expected to win that game," Manager Don Mattingly said.
But this team that looked like a spring-training split squad was completely overwhelmed by Matt Cain, who shut them out for six innings and was removed from the game because the Giants were ahead by eight runs.
The closest the Dodgers came to scoring was in the bottom of the second inning, which Kemp led off with a double. Because the Giants didn't repeat their defensive gaffes from the previous two games, Kemp never advanced beyond third base.
Four of the Dodgers' six runs this season have either been scored or driven in by the fleet-footed Kemp, who has reached base in seven of 11 plate appearances.
With starter Ted Lilly and reliever Kenley Jansen combining to give up eight runs in 52/3 innings, the ever-optimistic Mattingly was forced to abandon hope in the name of pragmatism.
Kemp was removed in the top of the seventh inning.
Not wanting to exhaust more pitchers than he had to, Mattingly had reliever Lance Cormier hit for himself in the eighth with Andre Ethier on first base. The Dodgers were trailing, 9-0.
Cormier's last at-bat was on June 28, 2008.
"At 9-0, with a guy on with two outs, at that point, I'm not going to get a guy up that I don't want to use," Mattingly said.
So the Dodgers had backup catcher A.J. Ellis warming up in the bullpen instead.
"What do you mean Ellis warming up?" Mattingly asked.
Wasn't he warming up?
"No, no, no," Mattingly said.
"Yeah, throwing but . . . I really don't want to do that," Mattingly said.
Ellis was relieved that he wasn't called on to relieve, as Cormier made it out of the ninth inning. Cormier threw 42 pitches in three innings, giving up two runs.
Ethier said he didn't think the Dodgers' offense was out of sorts, explaining that the lack of production was a credit to the Giants' pitching. The Dodgers faced Tim Lincecum on opening day and Jonathan Sanchez on Friday.
"We've faced good pitching," said Ethier, who was two for three. "Those three guys are the guys that won the World Series last year. You face the two-time Cy Young winner the first night. Sanchez, he's a good pitcher himself. And you've got Cain, who's definitely stepped up the last few years. You have to go out there and scratch runs any way you can against those guys."