The scene approximately one hour before today's first pitch.
Seeing Vin Scully being introduced, in absentia, during the pregame ceremonies for the Dodgers’ first home appearance of the season, his image on the scoreboard without his voice, put pressure directly on my heart.
My understanding is that Scully is going to be fine and is simply doing what any sensible person with a bad cold does – staying home and getting better. I expect him to be in fine fettle in no time.
But the small reminder of the inevitable and just how devastating it’s going to be – for me, for you, for the city – turned me upside down. No person that is not a family member has meant more to me.
We are so, so lucky to have had Scully in our lives for so long. For most of us, he’s been there since before we were born. But it’s a measure of the man that it still doesn’t seem like enough.
It was hard enough to imagine a world without Chick Hearn or a world without John Wooden, or a world without my grandmother. For a moment, I was forced to confront a world without Vin Scully, and I just wanted to turn and run.
* * *
Dodger Stadium has been blessed with wonderful weather in recent home openers. Today was downright exquisite – a vista in which Scully would have found poetry.
* * *
Highlight of the pregame ceremonies: the return of Peter O’Malley and his sister, Terry O’Malley Seidler to the field of Dodger Stadium. They might still be on the ownership sidelines, but it certainly looked like they belonged.
Tommy Lasorda caught Seidler’s pitch, then took off his mitt and waved his fingers as if she had burned them with the heat.
They showed the familiar image of O’Malley with his mother Kay throwing out the original first pitch at Dodger Stadium 50 years ago, and it just is remarkable to me how young he was. Twenty-five years old, with this new stadium as your home base? Could life have been sweeter?
* * *
The appeal of daytime fireworks has long been lost on me. They take something dazzling and loud and replace them with something … loud. But, they’re a Dodger Stadium Opening Day tradition at this point, just like the release of doves in pristine white flight at the end of the National Anthem.
Never, however, had I seen the doves fly directly into the path of the fireworks.
There was a gasp in the crowd as it appeared for a moment that about a hundred birds were being blown to smithereens right before our eyes. However, they continued on their journey, deafened but unbowed, as my brother commented regarding the narrowly avoided avian calamity, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
* * *
I’ve always been one to downplay the legacy of Maury Wills. The subject of one of my earliest posts at Dodger Thoughts was how Wills was not as important as his reputation suggests, nor as revolutionary.
But the folks who watched Wills play insist that I can’t possibly appreciate him without having seen him. Baseball Analysts founder Rich Lederer, as faithful an adherent to statistics as they come, would always challenge my take on Wills. And it’s not like it was a point I really was interested in strenuously contesting.
Fifty years later, the arrival of Dee Gordon has set the stage for me to have my own Maury Wills experience. On-base percentage and home runs be damned, I just know that every time this guy comes up to the plate, I’m excited, and every time he starts running those bases, even on a grounder to second, I’m on the edge of my seat.
Some people might say that Gordon is no more than Juan Pierre. That might be true, if Pierre played a promising shortstop instead of a feeble-armed outfield and was paid 5 percent of that big contract he signed instead of every penny.
In the first inning today, more than any pregame ceremony could, the Roadrunner brought us back to 1962. A single. A stolen base on the next pitch. A jaunt to third on a 4-3 groundout by Mark Ellis, and another jog home on Matt Kemp’s grounder to short. A 1-0 lead, Kid Koufax on the mound. These are days …
* * *
When Clayton Kershaw throws a pitch that isn’t a strike, I’m surprised. When he gives up a hit, I’m a bit taken aback. And when he gives up a run … give up a run?
Leading off the top of the second inning, Casey McGehee hit a deep fly to center that had a hint of home run potential. One thing’s for sure: Kemp didn’t look like he was going to catch it. At best, Kemp was in the same zip code – he never got a good read on the soaring sphere in the afternoon sun, and it landed at warning-track distance for a stand-up triple.
(If Vin were here: What’s the old Noel Coward line? ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun …‘)
The play cost Kershaw a no-hitter – which I know I wasn’t alone in speculating about. It also threatened to cause the Dodgers’ lead to disappear just like that.
Strikeout. Strikeout. Fly to left.
These are days, to remember.
* * *
Those of us waiting to see James Loney and Juan Uribe get untracked got mixed results today. Loney drew a walk in his first at-bat, but went 0 for 2, including a meek, check-swing groundout in the fourth, leaving him 0 for 12 this season.
Uribe, on the other hand, went 3 for 3, but his first hit was a tit-for-tat sun single to center field in the bottom of the second, and his third hit was a dribbler well shy of the infield basepaths. But you take what you can get in this game.
A.J. Ellis, who has been my unsung hero in this season’s outer atmosphere, went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Not once in 2011 did he have a hitless game with two strikeouts.
But Kershaw nearly was the game’s other offensive gem. With Loney and Uribe at first and third, it took a strong play by second baseman Neil Walker to steal an RBI single from Kershaw.
* * *
I had a chocolate malt and it seemed less rich than I was used to. The ingredients were led by “skim milk.” Is this something new, or have I just noticed it for the first time?
* * *
Bottom of the sixth inning. Two out. Juan Rivera takes a 1-2 pitch for a ball.
“Deuces wild,” my brother says.
* * *
One to nil into the seventh inning, the game proceeding at the quick step. Aside from the triple, Kershaw has allowed one other baserunner, a fourth-inning single by Pirates pitcher Kevin Correia (who was then picked off), while striking out seven.
Alex Presley begins the new frame with an infield single, and Andrew McCutchen sends him to second with the Pirates’ fourth hit. Nobody out, and it’s all on Kershaw’s shoulders again.
McGehee hits another fly ball, this one to left field. Rivera catches it, but thinks he can throw out a tagging Presley at third base. No dice, and McCutchen glides into second. Fundamental error that won’t go in the boxscore.
Sure enough, the next batter, Matt Hague, whom I know nothing about but can only hope hails from The Hague, hits what would be an inning-ending double-play grounder to Gordon. But Gordon can only make the play at first. The game is as tied as can be.
Pirates 000 000 1 – 1 4 0
Dodgers 100 000 - – 1 4 0
Kershaw gets another grounder to end the top of the seventh. He’s thrown only 88 pitches, and I’m not sure there’s anyone on the Dodger bench the fans would rather see at the plate. But he’s still on the mend from his sad stomach of yesterweek. So with Uribe on first and two out, Adam Kennedy pinch-hits. And singles.
Gordon takes a ball, fouls off two pitches, and strikes out swinging. Kershaw’s row in the ledger for 2012 is updated: 0-0, 0.90 ERA, 10 innings, 10 strikeouts.
* * *
Kenley Jansen enters in the eighth inning with Merlin Olsen’s No. 74 on his back. Jansen sacks Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, then tackles Garrett Jones for no gain as the two-minute warning approaches.
* * *
Bottom of the eighth. It’s not even 3:30 p.m. But I’m wondering if we might still be here when 7 o’clock rolls around.
Mark Ellis and Kemp strike out, bringing up Andre Ethier. I’m watching, languidly. I probably should be expecting more, but my thoughts have already turned to whether the Dodger bullpen can keep the Pirates scoreless into dusk.
And then Ethier just blasts one. Boom! Somewhere, a white dove has an aftershock. High, far, long, deep, distant, going, gone.
“Happy birthday, Andre Ethier” flashes the scoreboard. The guy who fought for his job for what must have seemed so long to him, the guy who has fought for respect even after he seemingly earned it … the fighter is now 30. He’s 30 and he’s taking a curtain call from 50,000-plus agog fans at Dodger Stadium.
I spent my 30th birthday at a Westside pool hall, wondering if I might get a kiss from a girl that I didn’t even like that much, then settling in for drinks and bar food with a few close friends. Same thing, right?
* * *
Javy Guerra, future ex-closer according to Jansen’s fantasy league owners, enters in the ninth inning. He strikes out Jose Tabata, but Presley singles.
“Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates’ best hitter,” I tell my brother. “He’s the guy who can hurt us.”
That double play the Dodgers didn’t get in the seventh inning? McCutchen gives it to us in the ninth, Gordon to Ellis to Loney. Ballgame.
Is it over too quick? Too busy celebrating the win to decide.
* * *
The Dodgers are 4-1. They have won four games without Kershaw getting credit for any.
Andre Ethier sounds like the mayor of Los Angeles on the radio postgame show.
Just 76 more wins, I say to myself. That sounds doable, especially if they can keep beating the likes of the Padres and Pirates.
Hours later, I realize I meant 86. Oh well.
* * *
I’m driving home at 4 p.m. after a day at the ballpark. Every day should be like this. Only with Vin.