There’s no catch

The catcher’s three blun­ders in the third in­ning has­ten Ker­shaw’s de­par­ture.

Los Angeles Times - - PL AYOFFS - DY­LAN HER­NAN­DEZ dy­lan.her­nan­dez@la­times.com Twit­ter: @dy­lanoh­er­nan­dez

Gran­dal has shaky night be­hind the plate, Dy­lan Her­nan­dez writes.

MIL­WAU­KEE — If the game had taken place on a greater stage, if Clay­ton Ker­shaw wasn’t made the fo­cal point of the Dodgers’ lat­est set­back by virtue of his higher pro­file, Yas­mani Gran­dal could have earned a per­ma­nent place in the fran­chise’s mythol­ogy Fri­day night. Gran­dal was that shaky. He was Yu Darvish be­hind a catcher’s mask. He was Jonathan Brox­ton with a chest pro­tec­tor. He was Tom Nieden­fuer in shin guards.

If Ker­shaw had chances to es­cape a night­mar­ish third in­ning in the 6-5 de­feat to the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers at Miller Park, Gran­dal made them van­ish with a series of in­cred­i­ble blun­ders be­hind home plate.

He al­lowed a passed ball, his sec­ond of the game. He was called for catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence. And he was charged with an er­ror when he dropped a throw from cen­ter fielder Cody Bellinger.

It was as if his glove was lath­ered in grease.

None of the mis­takes di­rectly re­sulted in a run. Com­bined, how­ever, they might have. And in a game that was ul­ti­mately de­cided by a run, that’s what could have separated the Dodgers from a vic­tory. They are now down in the Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Series, one game to zero.

To his credit, Gran­dal didn’t make any ex­cuses for his per­for­mance.

“I think it was a mat­ter of min­i­miz­ing dam­age and we weren’t able to do that,” Gran­dal said. “Ob­vi­ously, I was a part of it, so I take that upon my­self.”

The en­tire episode was a re­minder that no amount of hard work or de­sire can guar­an­tee re­sults. Op­por­tu­ni­ties to pur­sue great­ness are noth­ing more than op­por­tu­ni­ties. These jour­neys are likely to end in hu­mil­i­a­tion as they are in glory.

Like any other ath­lete, Gran­dal pre­sum­ably knew the risk he was un­der­tak­ing when he looked to re­build him­self af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing end to last sea­son. At this time a year ago, Gran­dal was spend­ing most of his time on the bench, rel­e­gated to a re­serve role as Austin Barnes re­placed him as the team’s pri­mary catcher.

What Gran­dal wanted was a chance to play in the post­sea­son. And he earned it by reestab­lish­ing him­self as the best of­fen­sive catcher in the game, hit­ting 24 home runs and driv­ing in 68 runs. Barnes never threat­ened him.

Gran­dal bat­ted .077 in the four games of an NLDS against the At­lanta Braves but had an im­por­tant solo home run in a 3-0 vic­tory in Game 2. He was 1 for 4 on Fri­day.

As much as Gran­dal con­trib­uted of­fen­sively this year, his de­fense re­mained a sub­ject of de­bate. While the front of­fice con­tin­ued to cher­ish his abil­ity to frame pitches — ba­si­cally, to turn bor­der­line balls into strikes — his nine passed balls were sec­ond-most in the Na­tional League.

The old prob­lem reemerged in the first in­ning. Lorenzo Cain led off the game with a sin­gle to cen­ter field, af­ter which Ker­shaw un­corked a pitch in the dirt to Chris­tian Yelich. The base­ball drib­bled be­tween Gran­dal’s bent legs, al­low­ing Cain to reach sec­ond base. The in­ning be­came par­tic­u­larly stress­ful, as Ker­shaw had to record all three outs with a man in scor­ing po­si­tion.

The Dodgers claimed the first lead of the game in the sec­ond in­ning on a solo home run by Manny Machado.

The Brew­ers re­versed the deficit in the third in­ning, when Ker­shaw and Gran­dal un­rav­eled. The in­ning started with a home run by re­lief pitcher Bran­don Woodruff that lev­eled the score, 1-1.

The shock­ing blast was fol­lowed by a sin­gle by Cain and a walk by Yelich. With one out, Ker­shaw de­liv­ered pitch to Je­sus Aguilar that squirted by Gran­dal, ad­vanc­ing Cain to third base and Yelich to sec­ond.

“It’s a byprod­uct of be­ing flat-footed,” Gran­dal said. “At times, I don’t feel it, but I think I get on my heels. Set-up wise, I was on my heels. Never re­ally got to my toes. In this game, that’s huge be­cause it al­lows you to move. If you can’t move, you can’t do any­thing.”

Aguilar’s at-bat ap­peared to end with a li­ne­out to a div­ing David Freese at first base, but plate um­pire Scott Barry sig­naled for catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence. Aguilar’s bat nicked Gran­dal’s out­stretched glove be­fore mak­ing contact with the base­ball.

“I didn’t feel it,” Gran­dal said.

The bases were now loaded.

Cain scored on a sac­ri­fice fly to cen­ter field to move the Brew­ers in front, 2-1. Bellinger should have thrown to third base on the play but in­stead threw home. And Gran­dal should have caught the base­ball, but didn’t. So Yelich scam­pered to third base and Aguilar ran to sec­ond. Ker­shaw avoided com­plete disas­ter by strik­ing out Mike Mous­takas.

With a passed ball, catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence and er­ror tri­fecta, Gran­dal played what was ar­guably the worst de­fen­sive in­ning in Dodgers his­tory since Wil­lie Davis made three er­rors in the fifth in­ning in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series.

Gran­dal said he felt guilty for fail­ing Ker­shaw. The Dodgers de­fense was a prob­lem again in the fourth in­ning, when an er­ror by left fielder Chris Tay­lor con­trib­uted to a three-run in­ning for the Brew­ers that opened their lead to 5-1.

“Ob­vi­ously, he’s out on the mound com­pet­ing as much as he pos­si­bly can and we pretty much just let him down,” Gran­dal said. “I think that’s the big­gest thing.”

Gran­dal made it a point to cor­rect his er­rors. He watched video of him­self af­ter the third in­ning and rec­og­nized the mis­takes that re­sulted in the passed balls.

He asked video co­or­di­na­tor John Pratt about the catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence call and later told Barry that he made a right call.

“There are go­ing to be days that hap­pens,” Gran­dal said. “I’m just glad I was able to fix it right away. It’s noth­ing where you would need to go out and block 1,000 times, es­pe­cially at this point in the sea­son. Look­ing for­ward to to­mor­row and we’ll take it from there.”

Game 2 will of­fer him an­other op­por­tu­nity. He’ll look to do bet­ter with it.

Robert Gauthier Los An­ge­les Times

DODGERS CATCHER Yas­mani Gran­dal fails to field a throw home on a Manny Pina sac­ri­fice fly. That al­lowed run­ners to move up to sec­ond and third in the third in­ning in Game 1 of the NLCS. He also al­lowed a passed ball and drew an in­ter­fer­ence call in the in­ning.

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