Published September 26, 2011
SAN DIEGO – By the time Matt Kemp bats in the last game of the regular season Wednesday night he hopes to be ready to enter some of the rarest territory in baseball.
In a quiet way, Kemp catapulted himself toward a possible Triple Crown run with a productive September. But after a tough three-game series against the San Diego Padres over the weekend, Kemp's quest has become a lot more difficult.
Although Kemp has a comfortable lead in RBIs (119) and is tied with St. Louis' Albert Pujols in home runs (37), the Dodgers' slugger has fallen nine points behind Milwaukee's Ryan Braun in the NL batting race. If Kemp is to become the first player to win the Triple Crown since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and the first NL player since St. Louis' Ducky Medwick in 1937, he will have to pick up the pace in Phoenix in the final three games.
"I know it will take a lot to go past (Braun)," Kemp said. "I'm not going to try for hits, but I'm going to just keep doing what I have been doing and that is take good hacks and stay within myself."
Kemp, who went 3 for 13 against the Padres at pitcher-friendly Petco Park, is at .324 while Braun is at .333.
"One guy has to kind of collapse and the other guy catches fire," Mattingly said. "You kind of need one of those 5-for-5 days and the other guy has to go 1 for 5. But we have seen Matt get hot before."
Kemp's torrid six-game stretch of multiple hit games leading into the San Diego series got him back in the Triple Crown conversation. Kemp was hitting .321 on Sept. 1 but trailed New York's Jose Reyes (.335) and Braun (.331). Two weeks later, his average had dropped to .314.
But then on Sept. 16, Kemp began his multihit barrage with 15 hits in six games that culminated with a 4-for-5 performance in the Dodgers' final home game Thursday. That raised his average to .326, four points behind Braun.
"If I have any chance at getting there, my mindset, my approach can't change," Kemp said. "I'm not going to be trying to hit home runs or worrying about hits. Once I start to do that, that's when I lose my focus and I won't be successful. I have to stay focused and do the same things that have gotten me to where I am at right now."
Through it all, Kemp has kept his sense of humor.
"Someone was screaming at me when I went to bat, 'Braun got two hits. Forget about it, man,'" Kemp said after Sunday's game at San Diego. "I just started laughing. He's actually one of my favorite players."
One thing Kemp promises is this: He won't think about trying to smash the ball. He hasn't done it all season and won't do it now.
"I'm not going to change it up. I just have to relax. When I try to hit home runs and hit too hard, I'm not too successful."
If Kemp somehow pulls off this Triple Crown, Mattingly thinks the feat will have big implications.
"Just look at the game of baseball," Mattingly said. "The last time it was done was '67. Right there that tells you a lot. A lot of great players have come through the league and done a lot of good things. But to be able to put this combination together is huge."
Heath Bell, the Padres' 33-year-old closer, marvels at the difficulty of a Triple Crown.
"Think of it this way — 1967. That was 10 years before I was even born, and I'm not one of the young guys in the league," he said. "He'd be doing something that none of the great players in the last 40-some years did. That's pretty mind blowing, pretty impressive."
Said Dodgers pitcher Ted Lilly: "It would be an unreal ending to what has already been a great year. Just on its own, this season has been tremendous. Now you add the Triple Crown and that puts it in a completely different category all by itself."
Kemp has hit well at Chase Field, where he has a career average of .304 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 148 at-bats.
"It would be unbelievable if I could do this," Kemp said.