It was 25 years ago today. Twenty-five years.
* * *
“A high fly ball to right field. She is …”
She is heavenly in our memory, still vivid, still true.
She is sailing from the pitcher’s hand toward a man on knotted stilts, all torso and determination and even a little secular prayer, but no legs, none to speak of. His bent front peg trembles, elevating slightly, the rear one already buckling.
She rises so slightly off an invisible cushion of air, then starts to settle, trailing away but not far enough away. The front peg descends under the weight of arms, strong, driving down into the strike zone.
She is inside the circumference of the catcher’s mitt, but the bat intercedes. The arms look horribly awkward, the back elbow bent at almost 90 degrees, the front arm cutting down in front to form a triangle. The back leg elevates at the heel as the batter lunges, almost to the point of falling down.
But she meets flush with the bat, ceasing to be a sphere, transforming into a comet. She is launched by a popgun, a croquet swing. The left wrist twists, then the hand loses the bat entirely. The follow-through whimpers like that of a novice tennis player, but it doesn’t change anything.
He looks up. His back leg comes down again, spread across home plate from his right. His left arm is cocked like a puncher. His first motion out of the batter’s box is of a runner. There’s been a mirage. The living, breathing, conquering athlete was in there all along.
She travels at the speed of light. The right fielder breaks back, taking one, two, three…four…five…six steps, slowing down, his mind and hope retreating before his legs even know. A single set of identical red lights, that’s all, prominently glowing but orphaned, can be seen under the peak of the pavilion roof, behind the brimming, jammed bleacher seats, not abandoned, not at all. Arms are soaring into the air in exultation.
She is crashing down from the sky; mass times acceleration, a shooting star at mission completion. She is in the crowd, she is in our heads, she is in our astonishment, she is in our incredulous joy, she has broken into our ever-loving, unappeasable souls and exploded.
She is …
The health of Hanley Ramirez remains the biggest concern for the Dodgers in their comeback attempt at the National League Championship Series, but they also face a much-anticipated decision regarding Tuesday’s starting pitcher.
Remaining NLCS schedule
Game 4: 5:07 p.m. Tuesday
Game 5: 1:07 p.m. Wednesday
Game 6 (if necessary): 5:37 p.m. Friday
Game 7 (if necessary): 5:37 p.m. Saturday
If the Dodgers start Ricky Nolasco in their next game against Lance Lynn, even if they lose, they would take their shots in the next three games with fully rested starters Zack Greinke against Joe Kelly, Clayton Kershaw against Michael Wacha and Hyun-Jin Ryu against Adam Wainwright. That’s still a nervewracking scenario, but things could be worse.
If the Dodgers skip Nolasco, that would signify a strategy of using Greinke and Kershaw on three days’ rest (and limited pitch counts) in Games 4 and 5, followed by the need to still push Nolasco out there in Game 6 – against Wacha in the less friendly confines of Busch Stadium. And through every game, there would be more pressure on the Dodgers’ middle relief.
Doesn’t the choice seem clear here?
Dodger fans have reason to be wary of Nolasco after his rough end of the regular season, but there’s almost no chance they go to the World Series without getting something out of him in the NLCS. Given that he is a better pitcher than he showed in his final three starts of September – and that he had a 2.48 ERA and .580 opponents’ OPS in Dodger Stadium this year – I don’t see why Nolasco shouldn’t start Game 4.
The return of Ryu to form tonight and the possibility that his work from the left side could still be a weapon (even in a Game 7), combined with the advantage of having Greinke and Kershaw on full rest, should provide all the assurance the Dodgers need to think long-term about this series and start Nolasco in Game 4.
Now, if Ramirez is able to get out of bed Tuesday, that would be nice, too.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was knocked out of his last start – and pitched seven shutout innings in this one.
Yasiel Puig was striking out too much – and hit a funky cold triple in this one.
Hanley Ramirez was hurt – and then he had the big hit.
Meet the new Dodgers – same as the good ol’ Dodgers.
Ready to be buzzed out of the playoffs like a game of Operation, the Dodgers turned the tables on the St. Louis Cardinals and ground out a 3-0 victory in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, closing to within a game of evening things.
The night amounted to one sudden, giant reversal of the series’ narrative, as proud St. Louis wasted its ace, Adam Wainwright, and played alternatively sloppy and careless on defense and the basepaths, while the Dodgers got the key hits, the key hustle and the key “game of inches” moments.
That includes Puig’s fourth-inning RBI triple, which looked like a home run to me when it left the bat – and just the same to Puig, who paused to admire the shot for a moment before launching the rockets. He still made it into third, standing up, leading some to wonder whether he might have had an inside-the-park home run had he run from the outset. Me, I thought he was trying to hit for the cycle in one at-bat.
Puig’s RBI was actually the second of the inning, following doubles by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez that ended the Dodgers’ longest postseason scoreless streak since the 1966 World Series at 22 innings. (Puig’s hit ended his own 0-for-11 slump in the NLCS.) For all we knew, that first run would be the only one the Dodgers would get, and it came as a huge combination of relief and hope,. Puig’s triple, however, was the blow that really seemed to announce the Dodgers might be back.
Hardly independent of this was the adventures in center field by St. Louis’ John Jay, who had a hat trick of misplays that made Andre Ethier’s Game 1 outfield whiff on Carlos Beltran look relatively tame. Then came a combination of calamity in the top of the fifth for the Cardinals: Third baseman David Freese had to leave the game with a calf injury, and moments later, pinch-runner Daniel Descalso made a bad read on a fly ball to Carl Crawford and was doubled off second base.
That ended the biggest threat of the night against Ryu, who otherwise was in control from start to finish during his seven innings of shutout ball, allowing three hits and a walk. The Dodger bullpen didn’t even throw a warmup toss until a bloop single by Yadier Molina with one out in the seventh, but after Descalso grounded out, Ryu struck out Matt Adams to end his night with a flourish. Ryu became the first Dodger lefty since Jerry Reuss in 1981 to throw at least seven shutout innings in the playoffs.
Following a shutout frame by Brian Wilson, Los Angeles added one more insurance run in exciting fashion in the bottom of the eighth, with Ramirez, damaged rib and all, hitting a blooper to center field with two on and one out, and Carl Crawford hauling around third base to narrowly beat the throw home by backup infielder Kolten Wong.
Kenley Jansen put out the side in order in the ninth, and the Dodgers had their victory.
Coming up next … who starts Game 4 for the Dodgers?
That season, the Lakers cruised through the early rounds of the playoffs – going 11-0 in fact – before both Byron Scott and Magic Johnson pulled up lame before Game 1 and during Game 2 of the NBA Finals. You can see Johnson’s injury about 5:40 into the clip below.
There was no Kirk Gibson here – the Lakers ended up getting swept in four games.
The difference is that the Lakers had recently given fans a steady stream of NBA titles, including the previous two seasons, while Dodger fans are starving.
No Matt Kemp. Maybe Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez – who has a hairline fracture in his rib – can do something. Maybe. But otherwise, it’s time for the rest of the gang to step up and complete the greatest Dodger story of the past 25 years.
Game 1 of the National League Championship Series took me back to 1988. Now, with the Dodgers falling 1-0 to the Cardinals in Game 2, I’m taken back to the first two games of the 1981 National League Division Series, when the Dodgers followed a 3-1 loss at Houston with a 1-0 defeat.
Back in ’81, the Dodgers returned to Los Angeles knowing they needed to win three straight games against Bob Knepper (2.18 ERA), Vern Ruhle (2.91 ERA) and Nolan Ryan (1.69 ERA) to survive the five-game series and advance. That they succeeded might be small comfort to Dodger fans today, but maybe it’ll provide some hope.
Clayton Kershaw was magnificent this afternoon, but for the second time this week – and much more calamitously – he was victimized by his defense. After a leadoff double by David Freese, A.J. Ellis’ passed ball put the runner on third with nobody out. Kershaw had escaped a similar jam in the first inning, but this time, John Jay hit a one-out short fly to left field, and Freese tagged and scored easily while Carl Crawford made a hopeless throw home that was the spectrum opposite of Carlos Beltran’s Friday strike to nail Mark Ellis.
The big comeback opportunity for the Dodgers game right away in the top of the sixth, and was started by Kershaw, who singled against the otherwise dominant Michael Wacha. Crawford followed with an infield single, and both runners advanced to third on an error by Matt Carpenter. But Mark Ellis popped out, and after an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe struck out.
Puig struck out four times today and is 0 for 10 in the series.
I disagreed with the move to pinch-hit for Kershaw with two out in the top of the seventh and a runner on first, but it could have some long-term benefit for the Dodgers. At the time, it seemed poor because of how low the chances were that Los Angeles would score in that moment, even with a pinch-hitter, and how much more vulnerable the Dodgers would be to giving up a second run over the next three innings.
I would have reconsidered once Nick Punto advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, but at the time of the move, the Dodgers were relying on singles hitter Michael Young to get the run in. (Crawford, the on-deck hitter, would have been facing a lefty in a fairly grim situation even if Young had gotten aboard.) The alternative would have been Scott Van Slyke, a power hitter but one who hasn’t batted in a game since September 29.
To me, removing Kershaw – who had thrown only 72 pitches and allowed three baserunners in six innings – was more dangerous than removing Adrian Gonzalez was after he had batted in the eighth inning Friday.
Nevertheless, combined with Zack Greinke throwing a fairly modest 104 pitches Friday, there is an opening for the Dodgers to again skip Game 4 starter Ricky Nolasco and come back with their two aces in Games 4 and 5. The theory would be if you win those games, you could go back to St. Louis needing one win to clinch, and then throw the whole staff at the Cardinals over the next two games.
I realize how fanciful that sounds as I type it – especially with Hanley Ramirez’s status questionable – but do keep your mind open. If the Cardinals can win a Joe Kelly-Greinke game, then the Dodgers can win a Hyun-Jin Ryu-Adam Wainwright game. I know it doesn’t look like it, but they can.
The Dodgers are on their heels now and the odds are against them, but there’s nothing to gain from giving up.
Bruised ribs from getting hit by a first-inning Joe Kelly pitch have put Hanley Ramirez on the sidelines with Andre Ethier (not to mention Matt Kemp, lest we forget).
The breaks are trying to beat the boys. Let’s see how the boys respond.
Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Nick Punto, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P
Another note: Eric Collins and Steve Lyons will not return to the Dodger broadcast team in 2014, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times.
The Dodgers are hoping they won’t need their bullpen behind National League Championship Series Game 2 starter Clayton Kershaw, but in case they do …
• Kenley Jansen should be good to go after throwing only five pitches Friday.
• Brian Wilson figures to be sidelined after throwing 28 pitches.
• Ronald Belisario, who had a breezy nine-pitch inning, would probably start the eighth inning if needed – perhaps in combination with J.P. Howell, who threw 15. Howell might also be saved to face Carlos Beltran if the situation arises post-Kershaw.
• Edinson Volquez could be the multi-inning guy ahead of Chris Withrow, who threw 25 pitches Friday.
• Carlos Marmol lurks.
Andre Ethier, not surprisingly after playing 12 1/2 innings in his first start in four weeks, is not in today’s starting lineup. Skip Schumaker will start in center field.
However, A.J. Ellis will be back out there at catcher despite nearly five hours of intermittent crouching.
Yasiel Puig started a nice 9-3 twin killing on defense Friday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, but unfortunately for once, he was also killing the Dodgers on offense.
Puig turned in the first 0-for-6 performance in Dodger playoff history.
Friday’s game was also the first MLB postseason game to have at least two double plays started by right fielders since 1992. On October 11, 1980, there was a game with three double plays that began with the guy in right.
I realize I remember how I felt when Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers lost Game 1 of the National League Championship Series in 1988, 25 years ago.
The difference is that it hadn’t been 25 years since I celebrated a World Series title. It had been seven years. I was just shy of 21 at the time, so it had been nearly a third of my life.
Now I’m just shy of 46. It’s been more than half my life.
I think I’m more optimistic about the Dodgers after losing Game 1 on the road in 2013 with Clayton Kershaw pitching the next game than I was after the Dodgers lost Game 1 at home in 1988.
The score both times was 3-2. Both games were lost in the final inning.
That was Game 1. Regrouping for Game 2 begins now. Take it easy, folks.
The Dodgers were 12-1 when they scored at least four runs in Zack Greinke starts this year. The only loss was in Colorado in extra innings.
So they should try to score at least four runs.
Brace yourselves for launch … here we go.
Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P
The Dodgers have halved their number of lefthanders on their playoff roster, leaving Paco Rodriguez and Chris Capuano out of the National League Championship Series.
Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez have joined the roster in their place.
J.P. Howell will be the only lefty in the Dodger bullpen unless Hyun-Jin Ryu gets removed from the starting rotation.
If it weren’t surprising enough, it’s particularly shocking because the Cardinals don’t hit lefties well.
My best guess — and this is entirely speculation — something’s wrong with Capuano physically, and maybe Rodriguez too. Or, the Dodgers just felt that Rodriguez was spent.
The Dodgers’ contingent of position players remains the same.
Starting pitchers for sure (2): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke
Starting or relieving? (3): Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco, Edinson Volquez
Relief pitchers (6): Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Ronald Belisario, Carlos Marmol
Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz
Infielders (7): Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Michael Young, Dee Gordon
Outfielders (5): Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Skip Schumaker, Scott Van Slyke