Dodgers manager says he was trying to protect RF from ejection
By AJ Cassavell
LOS ANGELES -- As a rule, everything gets blown out of proportion in the postseason, because, well, it is the postseason, after all.
So when right fielder Andre Ethier and manager Don Mattingly engaged in a verbal spat during the fourth inning of Thursday night's season-ending 3-2 loss to the Mets, it seemed like something was seriously wrong in the Dodgers' dugout. (It didn't help that there was no explanation for the incident at the time, which gave the media and those on social media about three hours to speculate, wildly.)
Turns out, there wasn't much to it. According to both Ethier and Mattingly, Ethier was simply upset about a call during the top of the fourth inning. Mattingly, sensing that one of his pivotal players could be pushing his luck with the umpires, did his best to calm Ethier down.
"It's not important now," Ethier said afterward. "It has no bearing on what's going on in the game. I'm pretty sure it probably looked worse than it was."
It certainly didn't look good. But the video shows Ethier clearly upset about something on the field, before he turns and takes a verbal shot at Mattingly, just before the two go their separate ways.
"There was nothing there other than he was mad about the ump's call ... and I was trying to settle him down," Mattingly said. "I didn't want him thrown out of the game, and Andre's pretty emotional."
When pressed on the topic, a somewhat standoffish Ethier insisted it was being overblown.
"Did that have a bearing on that game being won or lost? It didn't have a bearing," Ethier said. "The point is, we lost the game. Don't dwell on things that didn't make a difference in the game."
But there was one moment involving Ethier that did make a difference in the game -- a significant difference, at that.
The ball hooked toward the seats, but it didn't quite get there, and Ethier had to make a split-second decision -- catch the ball and allow the run to score, or let it drop foul, leaving the Dodgers with one out instead of two.
More out of instinct than anything else, Ethier reached up and caught the baseball. Given where he was on the field -- only a couple feet into foul ground -- he said he didn't have enough time to process the implications. (Obviously, in that situation, the worst possible result for the Dodgers would have been Ethier choosing not to catch the ball, only for it to land fair for extra bases.)
"I was willing and wishing it went farther foul," Ethier said. "It ended up right on the wall, and my mind wasn't working fast enough to make any other decision but to catch the ball from there."
But given the benefit of hindsight, should Ethier have caught the ball? Going by the book, probably not. The Mets' win probability sat at 41 percent before the catch, but it jumped to 47 percent afterward once the run scored.
It's important to remember that those numbers exist in a vacuum. They don't take into account factors like postseason pressure on the teams involved. But in an alternate universe, Zack Greinke has an 0-2 count with men on the corners and one out. And given his NL Cy Young Award credentials, his odds of retiring d'Arnaud without the run scoring seemed pretty high.
Still, it's perfectly understandable that Ethier caught the ball. It's what he's trained to do, and the ball wasn't foul by much. Ethier had a conversation with Greinke after the play, and two hours later, he still wasn't sure what the right answer was.
"Fourth inning, it's still early in the game, and you're just trying to get outs," said Ethier, who had also made a spectacular diving catch in the second. "That's one of the 27 outs that leads to hopefully winning the game."
AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.