The Colorado Rockies had the best pitcher on the planet on the ropes.
Clayton Kershaw was not sharp to start the game on Wednesday night. He walked Charlie Blackmon and got too much of the plate twice against DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado to give up back to back singles. Before some people had even sat down to watch the game, the Rockies had a golden opportunity with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Kershaw got back on track with some of his usual nasty stuff for the next hitter, and Carlos Gonzalez looked helpless and struck out swinging. Mark Reynolds grinded out another tough at-bat, getting one run home with a deep sacrifice fly. That left runners on second and third with two outs for the biggest at-bat of the inning.
Gerardo Parra was up. Yes, that Gerardo Parra, the subject of derisive takes since the moment he signed with the Rockies. This at-bat had disappointing three-pitch strikeout written all over it, even with the newly patient Parra we have seen this season so far.
Things started out with great promise. Parra stayed off a couple pitches and worked a 2-0 count—an honest to goodness hitter's count, a chance to punish the Dodgers' ace if he again got too much of the plate.
Not surprisingly, Kershaw then threw a pitcher's pitch down and away. It was probably going to be a strike and Parra probably couldn't have done anything with it. We'll never know, though, because a weird thing happened: Parra, in all of his veteran wisdom, tried to bunt. He actually tried to lay down a surprise bunt for a hit and possibly for a second run depending on how the Dodgers' infield reacted. Take a look:
It's unconventional to say the least, although had it worked the sound of Drew Goodman's excitement would have shook the announcing booth. What a savvy move! This gritty professional baseball player just pulled one out of his bag of tricks! Instead the bunt attempt harmlessly sprayed foul and made the count 2-1.
That was the first strange thing. The second strange thing played out over the next two pitches, as Kershaw got the strikeout to end the inning: Parra never swung the bat. Yes, that Gerardo Parra, the same guy who swung at 54.8 percent of the pitches he saw in 2016. Strike two was a tough call on a pitch that looked inside, but here's the pitch he took for strike three.
Now there's no guarantee that Parra would have gotten a hit had he swung at that juicy pitch or that the outcome would have been any different if he hadn't tried to bunt. But it certainly felt like a wasted opportunity to have runners on second and third and not even a single swing in the at-bat that ended the inning.
What if Parra had swung and had gotten a hit to add on a couple runs? Let's think it through and even speculate wildly.
The offense would have broken a ridiculous trend
Look at Clayton Kershaw's home numbers.
Clayton Kershaw, last 11 home games: 10-0, 0.65 ERA, 6 BB, 96 K.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) April 20, 2017
A three-run inning against him in Dodgers Stadium would have felt like a 10-run inning under normal circumstances. For an offense slowly climbing out of its early season struggles, capitalizing on that rally would have been quite a shot in the arm. This game might also have been different in at least a couple other ways.
Things might have gotten tense
Kershaw was in and out of looking like his normal self during that long first inning, and his weird post-game rant about Tyler Anderson delaying the first pitch might explain why. He's a pretty cool customer, but maybe Kershaw would have shown some more emotions if the rally had snowballed and he thought it was partially Anderson's fault. That might have led to staredowns, barking, inside pitches, challenges to duel, or whatever other tough guy stuff baseball players do when they feel the other team is being disrespectful.
That would all be silly, of course, but baseball players are silly men in their pajamas who occasionally stand in big groups and yell mean things at each other. Major-league benches have cleared for less.
The Rockies might have won
Any baseball game can turn on any number of small changes, of course, but anybody watching that game knew that the Rockies had probably blown their best chance against Kershaw and that it might come back to haunt them.
The difference between a 4-2 trip and a 5-1 trip is small but not insignificant, and if a hypothetical rally had led to a win, it would have given the Rockies another victory over the division favorite in a season during which we hope each game will matter, and in a month when they’ve already beaten Kershaw once. It's all good and this is getting greedy, but it would have been a chance to deliver an early punch in the gut to the Dodgers.
Of course, none of this happened, and the Rockies lost 4-2. In the end, I just wish Gerardo Parra had swung the bat. I bet that's something you didn’t expect to hear.