Perhaps it was the threat of rain. Perhaps it was because the Dodgers were playing the talent-deprived, small-market Pittsburgh Pirates.
But a night after packing Dodger Stadium for their home opener, the Dodgers beat the Pirates, 4-1, in front of a half-empty ballpark that conjured memories of last season.
Frank McCourt wasn’t sitting in the owner’s box Wednesday, but it didn’t matter. The Dodgers handed out miniature replicas of Clayton Kershaw’s Cy Young Award, but it didn’t matter, either.
The attendance was announced at 29,729, and that figure reflected the number of tickets distributed rather than the actual number of people in the 56,000-seat ballpark. The Dodgers averaged 36,232 per home game in 2011, the first time in 16 years they failed to draw 3 million spectators to Dodger Stadium.
“It’s a cold night,” Andre Ethier said jokingly. “I don’t think too many L.A. people have heavy-enough jackets for tonight.”
More than a dozen sections on the reserve level were completely empty. Fewer than half of the seats in the top deck appeared to be occupied. The same was true of the outfield pavilions.
“Any city ... they win, they draw,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “And so I think it’s up to us to go out and play good baseball.”
Well, at 5-1, the Dodgers are in first place, half a game game ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Change might be slow to come in the stands, but there has been a clear transformation on the field.
As was the case last season, the Dodgers aren’t scoring many runs. But how they are scoring their precious few runs is different.
Last season, they were reduced to waiting for Matt Kemp to hit the ball out of the park. Six games into this season, albeit against substandard competition, they have shown the ability to manufacture runs.
The Dodgers’ first run came in the third inning when Mark Ellis drew a two-out walk from starter Erik Bedard. Ellis moved into scoring position on a single by Kemp and scored on a hit to right field by Juan Rivera to tie the score, 1-1.
They used similar methods to take a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning. Kemp singled to left field, Rivera advanced him to second with an infield single and Ethier drove him in with a single to left.
The Dodgers increased their lead to 4-1 in the seventh inning, which leadoff hitter Dee Gordon led off with a double.
Reliever Evan Meek struck out Ellis and Kemp, but the pitch that struck out Kemp skipped away from catcher Rod Barajas. That required a throw to first base to retire Kemp, during which the fleet-footed Gordon moved to third base.
Gordon scored on a two-out single by Rivera, which was followed by consecutive singles by Ethier andTony Gwynn Jr.Rivera scored on Gwynn’s hit.
Meanwhile, Chad Billingsley (2-0) continued his promising start to the season by holding the Pirates to one run, five hits and no walks over six innings.
In his first start of the season, Billingsley blanked the San Diego Padres for 81/3 innings.
Billingsley’s night came to a premature end because Mattingly elected to pinch-hit James Loney for the pitcher in the sixth inning with two outs and the bases loaded.
Loney popped up to third baseman Pedro Alvarez in foul territory.