Full of surprises, this one.
The home runs don't surprise. Not anymore. Not when that was what first got our attention, back in the summer of 2006. The home runs did surprise back then, when his sudden home run barrage of the first half of June made us all take notice and thrust him to the top of a Dodger prospect list loaded with great names like Billingsley and Broxton and Guzman. Seven home run in 14 days. Seven home runs in 11 games. The Bison had charged into the baseball universe. There were whispers of Pedro 85, a new June of power to remember, but then the pitchers figured him out, that he couldn't hit the breaking stuff, that he would go chasing low and away, and the home runs were gone, dried up, disintegrated in the wind. He went from being a regular in the outfield to being a hemi-regular to being sent back to the minors. He never did get past 7 home runs. But we knew he'd be back. The raw talent was there.
And yet I don't think I ever imagined anything quite like this back in 2006, when I imagined what kind of player Matt Kemp would be in the future. I didn't think he would become of all things a bunting savant, able now to lay a perfect bunt down the third base line that you couldn't roll any better, as he did, perhaps unwisely, but certainly spectacularly and surprisingly last night. We always thought he could become a great outfielder, or at least a good one, but that seemed far away in 2007, when his routes to fly balls frequently dismayed. He was stuck out of position in right field back then, blocked by Pierre in center. In April of that year he was injured by the infamous outfield scoreboard, and didn't make it back until June, when he had to battle Ethier and occasionally Luis Gonzalez for playing time. By the end of the year he was starting at least 2 out of 3 games, and hitting above 0.340, but no one ever would have said that he just had to be in center field to anchor the Dodger outfield defense, as we would now. He never even got to play there.
In 2008 the battle for playing time continued, but Kemp was winning more and more often, especially as the season progressed. Eventually Andruw Jones was exposed as terrible, and Pierre faded from must-play status. By the time Manny came to the Dodgers the Jones experience was over and Kemp was the regular center fielder. I don't remember marveling over his defense last year, but I also don't remember being dismayed over it. His batting average fell from what it was in 2007, but that was to be expected. He was a solid, not great hitter. He started drawing more walks. He displayed modest power. He was a solid player, not an all-star, maybe a minor star, surely a star in waiting. Little did we know. It was countdown to supernova.
We've gotten used to defensive brilliance from Kemp this year, but what he did in the tenth inning last night was something else again. That basket catch with his back to the flight of the ball was his announcement that indeed he is an All-Star. He doesn't need Charlie Manuel's validation. He knows it, and now everyone else knows it. That catch, and the subsequent leap against the wall in exhuberation were his promise to the baseball world.
He's just getting started.
Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )
Kemp -- 1
Martin -- 1
Mota -- 1
So many candidates in this one. Troncoso and Manny and especially Loretta were tough omissions. Even Blake has a case. I'm not even sure if Kemp would have earned an unfair share, even with his grand slam, before the events of the bottom of the tenth, when his slam suddenly seemed much more important, and of course, that catch. I gave Martin one for his early home run and getting that crucial lead-off single against Hoffman. And Mota really saved the game in the sixth when he held the Brewers to just one run off of a bases loaded no outs situation. That was some clutch relief pitching.
Unfair Loss Shares ( Brewers )
Looper -- 1
Hoffman -- 1
Villanueva -- 1
Looper gave up 5 runs, Villanueva gave up 6, and Hoffman a mere 1, but Hoffman's run was the most damaging.