Oct 06

Braves rocked, Dodgers roll, fans jazzed, team’s got soul

That was like Sisyphus getting ready for another long, hard push up the mountain – and then Zeus changing his mind and just handing him a beach chair and a Mai Tai instead.

Too wacky? Maybe so, but wacky suits what happened tonight for the Dodgers. who shrugged off Hyun-Jin Ryu’s uphill outing and bam-smashed the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, 13-6.

The Dodgers tied their all-time postseason high in runs, set in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series (breaking their Los Angeles record of 12 in Game 4 of the 1974 National League Championship Series) and can eliminate the Braves with one win in their next two games. The game also set a record for most combined runs ever at Dodger Stadium in the postseason.

After allowing two runs in the first inning, the Dodgers came back in the second inning on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Ryu and Carl Crawford’s marvelous three-run homer, their biggest hit of the playoffs so far. And then, after Ryu gave up two more runs in what would prove to be his final inning, Los Angeles struck for two more runs in the bottom of the third and four more in the fourth to all but put the game out of reach.

The Dodgers tacked on three runs in the eighth, building their lead to nine before Jason Heyward hit a two-run homer off in the ninth off Paco Rodriguez, who couldn’t finish the inning in what might be a sign that his usefulness this season is over. Kenley Jansen came in to get the final out, four hours and a minute after the game began.

Nearly every Dodger starter had a say in the game, but none more than Crawford (2 for 5 with three runs), Hanley Ramirez (walk, single, double and triple), Yasiel Puig (three singles) and Juan Uribe (single and two-run home run). Oh, and Chris Capuano, who had one of the oddest relief outings you’ll ever see, walking the leadoff batter in three consecutive innings but allowing no other baserunners, on his way to earning the win.

The game deserves more ink than this, but some of us are going to rest up for the week ahead.

Ricky Nolasco will now probably take the ball in Game 4 of the playoffs Monday against Freddy Garcia, with Clayton Kershaw prepared to start Game 5 on Wednesday or, if not necessary, Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday.

Oct 06

National League Division Series Oh Boy Game 3 chat

Seems like most of the National League Division Series material I read today isn’t about today’s Game 3, but rather Monday’s Game 4 and whether Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers on three days’ rest.

For what it’s worth, I’m not as gung-ho about using Kershaw on Monday if the Dodgers lose tonight. I mean, I realize you pretty much have to use him, but the downside is you really don’t know how pitching four days after a 124-pitch outing will affect him, both in terms of overall effectiveness and duration.

But for now, the focus should be on tonight’s Game 3, which offers a pretty great matchup between Hyun-Jin Ryu (amid some mystery of his overall health) and Julio Teheran, with the stakes the highest we’ve seen all year. After dominating Game 1 and coming within several different eyelashes of stealing Game 2, the Dodgers would seem to be well-positioned to take the upper hand of the series at home. But of course, I’ll be sitting on the edge of my fingernails like the rest of you.

Braves at Dodgers, 5:07 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

Oct 04

This game’ll get you: Braves bear down on Dodgers to even NLDS

The Dodgers and the Braves were like that old joke about the two guys who were being chased by a bear, and one guy says to the other, “I don’t need to be faster than the bear – I just need to be faster than you.”

Atlanta caught and passed the Dodgers early, and then managed to stay at least one step ahead through the entire trip through the woods, leaving Los Angeles to be chewed up by defeat in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, 4-3.

Not only was the game close, it was a rare thing this postseason — the first major-league game decided by fewer than three runs since the regular season ended Sunday.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning, three double plays thwarted Los Angeles in the most frustrating ways. One came after the leadoff batter reached in the second inning, and was followed by a single. Another came even though the Dodgers were doing a hit and run. And a third, most painful one came with runners on first and third and one out in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Atlanta got two-out RBI hits from Andrelton Simmons in the second and Chris Johnson in the fourth off an otherwise impressive Zack Greinke (six innings, four baserunners), then poured across two more runs in a vexing seventh inning made of the stuff that causes division-winning managers to be at the risk of losing their jobs. Just like that, the Braves had a 4-1 lead.

I could go into greater detail here about the bottom of the seventh, but I think one moment sums it up: Reed Johnson was walked intentionally to face Jason Heyward.

Mark Ellis drew his second walk of the game to start the eighth, and it was at that moment that I commented at Dodger Thoughts, “Just realized Dodgers will probably lose this game 4-3.” No sooner did that get typed than did Hanley Ramirez — who had the RBI double to score Ellis in the first and another double in the sixth — hit a down-the-line two-run homer to slice the lead back down to a run.

But Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig struck out, and Juan Uribe grounded out, and the Dodgers would remain behind, even after a shutout eighth inning by Brian Wilson, heading into the ninth.

Braves super-closer Craig Kimbrel, who got the final out in the eighth inning, struck out Skip Schumaker to open the final frame, but walked A.J. Ellis after being ahead in the count 1-2. Dee Gordon pinch-ran — three stolen bases from glory, right? — as Andre Ethier came up to pinch-hit. But on a pitch in the dirt, a perfect throw from backup Braves catcher Gerald Laird nailed Gordon at second base (your view of the replay might dispute this), an excruciatingly bitter pill on a night full of them.

Then Ethier walked on a 3-2 pitch (bringing us the irony of Scott Van Slyke as pinch-runner), and the angst continued for one more batter, but Carl Crawford finally struck out to finally end the game.

Even putting aside the playoff stakes, it was the most agonizing game of the year for Los Angeles.

The Dodgers will fly to Los Angeles retaining the chance to win the NLDS at home, a two-game effort beginning with Hyun-Jin Ryu in the gloaming on Sunday.

Oct 04

National League Division Series Game 2 chat

Watching the Pirates tip the table on the Cardinals in a 7-1 romp that evened the other National League Division Series was a sobering reminder of how short-lived success can be. Zack Greinke will aim to keep things stable in Game 2 for the Dodgers, who will now face a lefty starting pitcher in Atlanta’s Mike Minor.

Be strong, be fierce, be winners.

Dodgers at Braves, 3:07 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P

Coverage of the game will begin on TNT, because of the length of the Tampa Bay-Boston game on TBS.

Oct 03

A playoff opener worth waiting for: Dodger offense and Kershaw pound Braves, 6-1

For the first three innings of tonight’s National League Division Series opener, I listened to Vin Scully on the radio while watching the game with the sound on the TV off. The radio call was about seven seconds ahead of my television feed, which meant that Scully would paint a picture for me, and then I’d have a short and satisfying period of imagining it in my head before I’d see it in full color.

The Dodgers’ gratification wasn’t delayed much longer than mine was.

With two runs in the second inning and two more in the third quickly erasing the ennui of their sub-.500 September, Los Angeles bit into to a 4-0 lead on their way to a satisfying 6-1 victory to take a 1-0 NLDS lead over the Atlanta Braves.

Though the offense made the most noise, Clayton Kershaw had a night to remember. Almost as an afterthought, Kershaw struck out nine of his final 11 batters and finished with 12 whiffs, the most by a Dodger in the playoffs in 50 years and one day, since Sandy Koufax fanned a team-record 15 in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series.

Rk Player Date Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO
1 Sandy Koufax 1963-10-02 WS 1 LAD NYY W 5-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 6 2 2 3 15
2 Carl Erskine 1953-10-02 WS 3 BRO NYY W 3-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 6 2 2 3 14
3 Don Drysdale 1965-10-10 WS 4 LAD MIN W 7-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 5 2 2 2 11
4 Don Newcombe 1949-10-05 WS 1 BRO NYY L 0-1 CG 9 ,L 8.0 5 1 1 0 11
5 Tim Belcher 1988-10-05 NLCS 2 LAD NYM W 6-3 GS-9 ,W 8.1 5 3 3 3 10
6 Sandy Koufax 1965-10-14 WS 7 LAD MIN W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 0 3 10
7 Sandy Koufax 1965-10-11 WS 5 LAD MIN W 7-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 1 10
8 Sal Maglie 1956-10-03 WS 1 BRO NYY W 6-3 CG 9 ,W 9.0 9 3 3 4 10

After going down on three Kris Medlen strikeouts in the first inning, nearly every note the Dodgers played tonight was a sweet one. And Yasiel Puig was arguably the conductor.

While nearly everyone was waiting to jab their fingers at Puig’s first mistake, the rookie Dodger outfielder showed them the much bigger picture of his abilities in a dynamic second inning. With one out, he singled to center in his first career playoff at-bat. After drawing several pickoff throws from Medlen, he roared all the way to third base on a single to center by Juan Uribe, seemingly catching Jason Heyward off guard. Puig then scored on a Skip Schumaker sacrifice fly, also to center, with Heyward being the one to make a poor throw home that allowed Uribe to take second base.

A.J. Ellis then ripped a ball to left field that a better outfielder than Evan Gattis would have caught, but instead it went past for an RBI double that doubled the Dodgers lead to 2-0.

To top things off, after Kershaw gave up a bloop single to Gattis in the bottom of the second inning, Puig helped put an end to it by catching a one-out fly ball and doubling off Gattis at first base.

Moments later, Carl Crawford singled to start the third and Adrian Gonzalez doubled the Dodgers’ lead with a two-run homer to dead center. And in the fourth, the Dodgers’ converted A.J. Ellis’ second double into their fourth two-out run of the game and a 5-0 lead when Mark Ellis singled him home.

Kershaw hardly had a perfect night. After needing only 23 pitches over the first two innings, he found himself pitching from behind in the count in the third and fourth. At one point, Brian McCann hit a fly ball near the wall in left field with two runners on that was worth a good scare. However, Crawford flagged it down, and though Kershaw subsequently allowed an RBI single to Chris Johnson, the Dodgers ended the inning still up 5-1.

The 25-year-old Dodger lefty soon hit his stride, striking out six batters in a row at one point, and with Hanley Ramirez doubling in another run, the Dodgers headed into the bottom of the seventh comfortably ahead, 6-1. Kershaw then took the mound despite already having 104 pitches to his name, pretty much eliminating any idea that the Dodgers would bring him back on three days’ rest for a potential Game 4 start Monday. (If there is a Game 5 on Wednesday, Kershaw would have five days’ rest.)

After a leadoff walk and with Paco Rodriguez warming up behind him, Kershaw struck out the final three batters in the inning to cap his 124-pitch night, having allowed but three singles and three walks.

Though the final 11 Dodger batters made outs (including Andre Ethier as a pinch-hitter for Kershaw in the eighth), it didn’t matter. Brian Wilson pitched a shutout eighth inning, and Kenley Jansen, getting his playoff feet wet (no doubt to the consternation of those worried about him being wasted) after throwing only 24 in-game pitches in the past nine days, allowed a walk and a bloop single but closed the door on the Braves in the ninth with three strikeouts.

It was a brilliant night for the Dodgers, but it will be a short one. Game 2 looms on the docket, 18 hours after tonight’s final out.

Oct 03

2013 postseason: Who’s hungriest?

The last time they won … Postseason Spot Division Series Championship Series World Series
Dodgers 2009 2009 1988 1988
Braves 2012 2001 1999 1995
Cardinals 2012 2012 2011 2011
Pirates 1992 —- 1979 1979
Red Sox 2009 2008 2007 2007
Rays 2011 2008 2008 —-
A’s 2012 2006 1990 1989
Tigers 2012 2012 2012 1984
Oct 03

Rest allows Dodgers to emphasize matchups in bullpen use

With seven relievers in a potential five-game series with two off days, the Dodgers should have little trouble finding the right reliever for the right situation:

Ninth inning: Kenley Jansen, because it is ordained. But to be clear, he should be used even (especially) in a tie game.

Seventh and eighth innings: Brian Wilson, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell, according to matchups.

Before the seventh and after the ninth: Chris Withrow and Chris Capuano.

Emergency: Ricky Nolasco

With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on the mound in the first two games at Atlanta, the Dodgers might not need to dip deep into their bullpen for some time. But they can afford to have quick hooks if they do.

 

Oct 03

Andre Ethier should bat leadoff

Idea: In road games against right-handed pitchers, as the Dodgers have today in their National League Division Series opener at Atlanta against Kris Medlen, start Andre Ethier and bat him leadoff. If he gets on, pinch-run with Dee Gordon. In either case, substitute Skip Schumaker in center field in the bottom of the first.

It guarantees Ethier will get his at-bat against a righty and not a lefty, against which he’s at a much greater disadvantage. In fact, Ethier is the Dodgers’ top on-base percentage man against right-handed pitching – what better way to begin a game.

It guarantees Gordon’s spot on the roster is not wasted in this game. Yes, it’s at the cost of perhaps using him to pinch-run for Adrian Gonzalez in a crucial late-inning situation, but only if you know that you’ve already gotten the opportunity to use Gordon. And runs in the first are as crucial as runs in the ninth.

Starting Ethier also basically puts Schumaker 10th in the batting order, which is pretty nifty. That’s not a slam against Schumaker, who might well become one of those unsung postseason heroes you always need. But it’s a good place to begin.

Below is the Dodgers’ official NLDS roster, announced this morning. Chris Capuano made it as the 11th pitcher, while Gordon and Scott Van Slyke were chosen over Jerry Hairston Jr., as was to be expected.

Hairston becomes the rare player who spent the entire season on the active roster – no trips to the disabled list – without making the playoff roster. However, if any Dodger suffers a series-ending injury, the team is allowed to replace him.

Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco

Relief pitchers (11): Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Chris Capuano

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, Skip Schumaker, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke

Update: As J.T. Dutch points out on Twitter, the Dodgers could simply just use Schumaker to pinch-run for Ethier if he reached base in the first inning under my plan.

Oct 03

NLDS Game 1: Expect the unexpected, then roll with it

Sure, it might be the injuries. Sure, it might be a weakness exploited, or a mistake easily predicted.

But when I think about the ways that the Dodgers have fallen short of their postseason dreams, I think things that should never have happened but did anyway. I think of Old Reliables stumbling when it was least expected.

I think of Rafael Furcal making an error to start the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 1 of the 2008 National League Championship Series, with the Dodgers leading 2-0 behind Derek Lowe in their first game after sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series. Long before Chad Billingsley, Corey Wade or Jonathan Broxton got into a game, Furcal’s error gave the series an instant U-turn, opening the door for three runs and a series-opening loss.

I think of Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew earning instant infamy in Game 1 of the 2006 NLDS, thrown out at home on the same play. And that wasn’t all:

  • Derek Lowe gives up two home runs in the fourth inning.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game.

  • Lowe surrenders a two-run double in the sixth inning.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game, thanks to Mets manager Willie Randolph’s ill-chosen decision to let reliever Guillermo Mota bat with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth.

  • Julio Lugo is chosen to pinch-hit with two runners on in the seventh inning – and strikes out.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game. In fact, they tied it later in the inning.

  • Struggling Brad Penny is brought in to relieve in the bottom of the seventh, instead of Jonathan Broxton (we saw this coming), walks two and allows two runs.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game. But hope was fading. Down 6-4, the Dodgers got the tying run to second base in the ninth, with Nomar Garciappara at the plate. But Garciaparra, who doubled in the tying runs in the seventh, couldn’t bring him home.

I also think of Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS, with their record-setting ace Orel Hershiser on the mound riding an historic scoreless innings streak, three outs away from a 2-0 victory. And then sudden as a car crash, three runs shoot across the plate.

Only the Dodgers came back and won the series. And heaven love ’em, the next one.

Everyone’s looking for the edges in the matchup between the Dodgers and the Braves that begins tonight, but it’s all a waste of time. Both teams are completely capable of winning. But only one will execute their plays better than the other, only one will find that way to dig deep and overcome its mistakes. That’s the team that will win, and there’s no predicting. Vigilance and resilience will carry the day.

Oct 02

Vin Scully hints at retirement after 2014 season

In an interview with KPCC 89.3 FM, Vin Scully indicated that he is leaning toward retiring after the 2014 season.

“Right, I’m pretty well sure – and I don’t want to go back and forth with it – but I’m looking to next year and figuring that should be about it,” Scully said.

It’s not a definitive statement, but always remember to cherish him while we still can.

Sep 30

My reign in Pittsburgh nears an end

For 21 years, I’ve been able to say I covered the last major-league playoff game in Pittsburgh (which also happened to be Barry Bonds’ last home game there). Tuesday night, that claim becomes a thing of the past.

I was in graduate school at Georgetown at the time, about half a year after I had left my full-time job at the Los Angeles Daily News, but drove up to Pittsburgh to freelance the stories. It was exciting for me to come to the place I can still hear Vin Scully describe in his inimitable way: “the confluence of the Allegheny, the Ohio and the Monongahela.”

My lasting memories from October 11, 1992 are mainly these: 1) how uncomfortable the artificial turf was to stand on for such a long time before the game, 2) serious discussion of whether the San Francisco Giants would actually move to Florida and 3) Bob Walk, who won Pittsburgh’s last game of the season with a complete-game five-walker, being rather snippish because I missed the initial round of interviews.

Here’s my sidebar on the game, followed by one (a little blurry, unfortunately) from two games earlier.

 

 

Sep 30

Bryan Stow struggles to remember what happened

From today’s entry at the website created in support of beating victim Bryan Stow:

… He seems to be having more issues with his memory and it understandably frustrates him. The other day we asked him if he remembered why he had memory problems he said “because I’m dumb”. It broke our hearts and we just had to remind him that is not true and it’s not his fault! So then we go through what happened to him and that he has suffered a TBI. He usually is pretty quiet after that, trying to process it all. All we can do is hug him and tell him he has us and we will never leave his side. …

* * *

Below is a video I found via Deadspin showing the return of Columbus, Ohio sports anchor Dom Tiberi after his 21-year-old daughter Maria died in a car accident. It’s every bit as heartbreaking as you imagine, but I also have great respect for Tiberi using his platform to remind drivers to be more careful.

Sep 29

State of the Dodgers entering the playoffs, 1983-2013


For the first time in exactly 30 years, the Dodgers will enter the playoffs with a losing record after September 1. However, winning the final month of the season hasn’t been much help. Going into 2013, Los Angeles had winning records after September 1 in eight straight playoff appearances, but only one led to a World Series.

1983
National League West champions by three games, 91-71, 14-16 in September/October. Clinched division in third-to-last game of season with 4-3 win over San Francisco, then lost final two games.
Playoffs: Lost National League Championship Series to Phillies. Game 1 was a 1-0 defeat at home (Steve Carlton over Jerry Reuss). Dodgers won Game 2, but dropped next two on road by 7-2 scores.

1985
NL West champions by 5 1/2 games, 95-67, 21-15 in September/October. Clinched division with nearly a week remaining. Lost three of final four games.
Playoffs: Won first two games of NLCS at home against Cardinals, then lost next four, the final two on home runs by Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark.

1988
NL West champions by seven games, 94-67, 17-12 in September/October. Clinched division with more than a week remaining. Lost four of final seven games.
Playoffs: Good.

1995
NL West champions by one game, 78-66, 17-10 in September/October. Won seven of final nine games, took division lead with four games to go and hung on, finishing with two straight victories.
Playoffs: Swept in three games by Cincinnati (first two at home) in NL Division Series.

1996
NL wild card team, finishing one game behind San Diego, 90-72, 16-11 in September despite losing final four games. Swept in final three-game series by Padres, the last two games after a playoff spot was clinched, losing finale in 11 innings, 2-0.
Playoffs: Swept in three games by Atlanta (first two at home, each decided by one run) in NLDS, thereby finishing the year with a seven-game losing streak.

2004
NL West champions by two games, 93-69, 15-13 in September. Clinched division in second-to-last game of season with seven-run ninth inning against Giants, capped by Steve Finley grand slam. Lost season finale, 10-0.
Playoffs: Lost first two NLDS games on road at St. Louis, each by 8-3 scores. Won first playoff game in 16 years behind Jose Lima’s shutout, 4-0. Eliminated at home with 6-2 defeat.

2006
NL wild card, 88-74, 16-12 in September finishing tied with San Diego but losing division based on head-to-head record. Won final seven games of regular season, including 19-11 victory in Colorado and two one-run victories in final three. Clinched playoff berth over Philadelphia on second-to-last day of season, but San Diego victory over Arizona on final day decided NL West title.
Playoffs: Swept in three NLDS games by New York Mets, losing first two on road, with two players thrown out at home on same pay in second inning of first game.

2008
NL West champions by two games, 84-78, 17-8 in September. Three games under .500 when September began. Clinched division when Arizona lost fourth-to-last game of season. Lost two of three games after division was clinched.
Playoffs: As significant underdog, upset Cubs in NLDS with three-game sweep, outscoring Chicago, 20-6. Lost NL Championship Series in five games to Philadelphia. Key error by Rafael Furcal contributed to Game 1 defeat. Game 2 was the game that made Chad Billingsley famous. Hiroki Kuroda pitched Los Angeles to Game 3 victory at home, but in Game 4 came Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs.

2009
NL West champions by three games, 95-67, 15-12 in September. Up six games over Colorado with seven to play, Dodgers gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth at Pittsburgh to launch a five-game losing streak, before a 5-0 victory over the Rockies in second-to-last game of season clinched division and league’s best record. Dodgers won meaningless finale, 5-3.
Playoffs: Swept Cardinals in three-game series, including improbable ninth-inning comeback in Game 2. Lost to Phillies in NLCS in five games. After 11-0 defeat in Game 3, Dodgers had chance to even series before Jonathan Broxton allowed two runs in bottom of the ninth of Game 4.

2013
NL West Champions by 11 games, 92-70, 12-15 in September. Began the final month 3-0, capping 53-13 (.803) run, then went 4-10 before clinching division September 19 with nine games remaining. Lost four of last five games.
Playoffs: Open five-game NLDS on road at Atlanta on Thursday.