PHOENIX -- Clayton Kershaw could have pitched Wednesday night. But he didn't.
The Los Angeles Dodgers instead handed the ball to a rusty Stephen Fife, who sent them crashing to a 9-4 defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks that postponed their seemingly inevitable coronation as the National League West champions.
With their magic number to win the division down to two, the Dodgers weren't concerned. They could still clinch the division Thursday in their series finale at Chase Field. If not, they could do it Friday in San Diego. Or Saturday. Or on any of the eight days after that.
Whatever the case, the Dodgers will be playing baseball in October, provided they don't suffer one of the worst meltdowns in the history of professional sports.
So, instead of starting Kershaw on Wednesday, they pushed his next start back to Saturday, a move that lines him up to pitch Game 1 of the NL division series. And if manager Don Mattingly is to be believed, Hanley Ramirez was given the day off even though he was healthy.
That doesn't mean the Dodgers don't want to get this over with.
Down 4-0 after three innings, the Dodgers slowly worked their way back into the game. A towering home run by Yasiel Puig in the fourth inning cut the deficit to 4-1. A run-scoring single by Adrian Gonzalez later in the inning made it 4-2.
The Dodgers nearly moved to within 4-3 in the sixth inning, when Gonzalez appeared to double in Michael Young from first base.
Young's hand appeared to touch the base before it was tagged by catcher Miguel Montero's glove, but Young was nonetheless called out by first base umpire Jim Joyce.
That prompted Gonzalez to start barking from second base in the direction of home plate umpire Joe West, who was up the third base line on the play. An uncharacteristically animated Gonzalez was ejected by second base umpire Andy Fletcher.
The ejection was the first of the season for Gonzalez, and the third of his career.
The Dodgers cut the deficit to 4-3 in the seventh inning, when catcher Tim Federowicz doubled in Nick Punto. L.A. had runners on the corners with one out, but pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke ended the threat, as he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play.
Considering how the game started, the Dodgers were fortunate to get that close.
Fife was understandably out of sorts, as his last major league start was Aug. 4. Since then, he had pitched only twice for the Dodgers, both in relief appearances.
Fife pitched nightmarishly by any standard, as he was charged with four runs, six hits and three walks in only 2 1/3 innings.
Fife was in trouble right away, serving up a two-run home run to Paul Goldschmidt in the first inning.
The Diamondbacks nearly blew open the game that inning, as Fife loaded the bases by giving up a hit to Aaron Hill, walking Montero and plunking Matt Davidson. But Fife kept the deficit at 2-0 by striking out Gerardo Parra and forcing Chris Owings to ground out.
But a wild third inning increased the margin to 4-0. Fife hit Montero, then gave up a hit to Davidson. Montero advanced to third base and Davidson to second on a wild pitch, and Montero scored when Parra grounded into a forceout. Fife reloaded the bases, as he gave up a hit to Owings and walked pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
Fife's replacement, Carlos Marmol, walked Adam Eaton to force in the Diamondbacks' fourth run. And after the Dodgers got within reach, Arizona blew it open with five runs in the eighth.
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