In trying to determine if the Choking Dogs still have a pulse, I began with the guy with the most heart, Larry Bowa.
"I didn't have the talent some of these guys have; I got 2,200 hits by willing it," he said, the fire, by the way, still there.
"We have some people here walking around saying 'woe is me' every time things don't go their way instead of just grinding it out. I hear someone say, 'That's a really good pitcher.' All these guys are good pitchers. They make a good pitch, then foul it off.
"We're four games under .500 since June 1. That's not acceptable. You've got to battle through this. No one is going to put a hand down to help you up. Where's the sense of urgency?"
No sir, there's no kick left in these Dogs, now in fourth place, eight games behind first-place San Diego and 61/2 behind the wild-card leading San Francisco Giants.
Oh, and did I mention Blake DeWitt went three for four in his debut for the Cubs while his replacement, Ryan Theriot, went 0 for 4, striking out twice?
Biggest stretch of the season, the Dogs fail to show up, and Bowa is talking about how important every moment is now to this team, the question — is anyone listening?
On Friday night after Andre Ethier had been thrown out at home plate by a few feet, Bowa returned to the dugout screaming and throwing things.
"No one said anything, but it was like they were all looking at me and saying, 'What's Bowa mad at?'
"It cost us a run," snapped Bowa, and the Dogs haven't scored many of those lately.
He said he was not calling out Ethier, "who has carried us most of the season, but he didn't get a good walking lead and the shortstop was so surprised to see he still had a chance to throw him out, he hesitated and still got him by six feet. It's the little things like that — secondary leads.''
Bowa, though, did call out the team's core players, "good players" as he called them, "but they have to bring it every night. And if they are not hitting then they should be asking what can I do to win the game?
"We can do the math. All these teams ahead of us have to lose — not just one of them but all of them every night and we have to win every night. We've got 58 games left, 58 playoff games."
How about the players here, do they feel the same way?
"The majority of our guys are tremendous people, but there's a few, definitely a minority, but I would say the coaches want to win more than they do," Bowa said. "We've got some people giving away at-bats..."
Speaking of Matt Kemp, I wondered what Bowa thought of the guy who has the ability to carry the Dod-gers, but so far has only let them down.
"I wish I had Matt Kemp's tools because I would be in Cooperstown," Bowa said. "He has so much athleticism. I don't know if he knows what it's like to go full bore for nine innings. He's so talented, I don't think his mind lets him ask, 'Is there more here?'
"I have one question I'd like to ask him, 'Are you dead tired when the game is over?' My dad told me early on I should be exhausted after every game if I've done my batting practice, taken ground balls, backed up every play and gone all out. I wonder if he's ever felt like that?"
I asked Kemp.
"There's more there," Kemp said. "I agree. It's something I need to sit here and think about and then change."
If Kemp broke from the batter's box every time like a posse was in pursuit, with his speed he'd probably have six more hits this season.
"Way more than that," said Bowa, who understands someone so gifted hasn't had to do much extra to get ahead. "He works out, he does all his stuff. But instead of 10 minutes I'd like to see 20."
Why doesn't Kemp go all out? Why doesn't he break from the batter's box with all he has?
"That's a good question," Kemp said.
Ordinarily Kemp is quick to brush aside any talk about potential not realized. But this time he sat there, listened to everything Bowa had to say, and there was no argument.
"I need to help this team out and I'm not doing it," he said. "I've wasted a lot of at-bats this year. Pitchers have gotten me 70% of the time, but it's not them getting me out, it's me."
So why doesn't he lay off that outside pitch as he did in April, when he might have been the best hitter in the game — seven home runs to start the season?
"I feel it, trust me," he said. "Everything being said, I've said to myself. I have no excuses. I've never hit below .290 in my life."
Kemp is now a .259 hitter, two for 19 during this critical stretch against the Padres and Giants, the last hope for the Dogs in the ninth inning, and on a positive note, he didn't strike out.
But he was out, completing another flat-line performance by the Dogs, and so what did Bowa have to say?
"I made a mistake," he said. "Make that 57 playoff games to go. Starts tomorrow."
If only the Dogs playing the game showed as much life.
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