Nov 08

A long wait rewarded: The 1981 Dodgers


Jon Weisman/ESPNLosAngeles.comRon Cey signs an autograph near a replica of the 1981 World Series trophy Saturday.

The 1980s might be considered the last glory days for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But for Dodger fans at the start of that decade, those were desperate times.

It had been 15 seasons since the Dodgers had won World Series title, their longest drought since Next Year first came in 1955. They had suffered through three near-misses, each arguably more agonizing than the last, in their 1974, 1977 and 1978 Fall Classic falls.

The 1980 Dodgers had arguably the most dramatic season yet of that era, winning three games on the final three days of the regular season before falling in a 163rd game against Houston still painful for those who remember it.

Even their hot start in ’81, when the Dodgers won 29 of their first 40 games, was clouded by — yes, this resonates today — off-field issues. A labor crisis was brewing, the sport’s biggest yet. Would the Dodgers, potentially the best team in baseball, even be able to finish their season?

Some Dodger fans today – especially the younger ones – don’t think of the 1981 World Series title much, or at least they take it for granted. The 1988 title is the one on everyone’s frontal lobe: Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and friends giving the franchise its last taste of October glory. It’s the team that the desperate fans of today call back to.

The 1981 team, though, is the team that for which the desperate fans of the last generation give thanks.

Saturday in City of Industry, more than 20 members of the 1981 World Series team, along with manager Tommy Lasorda gathered, for a memorabilia signing event that certainly was a money-making function at its core, but also a time for appreciation. Hundreds of fans had lined up, some just as dawn was breaking, for the chance to spend a few minutes here, a few minutes there with a team that will never be forgotten but too often gets overshadowed.

Jon Weisman/ESPNLosAngeles.comDusty Baker smiles for the cameras at the ’81 team reunion.

As much fun as it was to have a personal encounter with the heroes of ’81, I would say I found the most pleasure in seeing them reunite with each other. During my longest interview, a warm, 15-minute chat with Dusty Baker, the highlight was nothing between me and him as much as when Bill Russell arrived and Baker got up to hug him, the pair having not seen each other in years. Baker was still smiling when he sat back down.

“You look at some of the guys that are in the Hall of Fame that never got to the World Series,” said catcher Steve Yeager, co-1981 World Series MVP with Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero. “Ernie Banks comes to mind – that was such a great player who never had the experience of getting to the World Series let alone win one, so it means a lot to each and every one of us.”

Baker said in his interview that he didn’t feel extra pressure to win a World Series in 1981, but others indicated otherwise.

“That was always in the back of our minds,” said outfielder Ken Landreaux, “that it’s been a while since we won a World Series.”

Added then-outfielder and now-broadcaster Rick Monday: “We had a chance to get rid of the great bitter taste that lingered for a number of years. When we went to Spring Training in 1981, you could look around the locker room and see this was a club that was probably not going to be together as a whole next year or the following year, because we had a lot of younger players that were coming up.

“One of the things a lot of people forget about, and I tried to find a copy of it. … (In) the winter of ’81, Tommy Lasorda sent us all a letter, all the players. And basically in that letter, he challenged us and encouraged us, and he said, ‘Look, you’ve gotta be ready to go.’ ”

That resonated even more for the older players. A new generation of Dodgers was transitioning in – Guerrero, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Greg Brock, Mike Marshall – some having arrived, others on the cusp. The window for the 1970s crew was shutting.

“I know we were desperate because a lot of us, (we) were not necessarily at the end of our careers, but we were approaching that area, and there was an influx of younger talent,” Monday said. “There was an immediacy of wanting to get things done and get things done in a hurry.

“We got off to a terrific start obviously, and then the strike came into being, and that changed everyone’s viewpoint of what was happening.”

Though the aftermath of the strike, which shut down baseball between June 12 and August 9, turned out to have the effect of guaranteeing the Dodgers a playoff berth, thanks to the one-time institution of the split-season format, it also created a disheartening possibility that the magic would be lost.

It’s obviously quite different from the ownership crisis that has dogged the Dodgers the past two seasons, but the effect was similar in one respect – unpleasant off-field issues taking a bite out of the Dodgers’ World Series hopes.

“(The strike) was always on your mind,” Baker said. “You never thought it was gonna happen, and then once it happened we were all in shock. I remember we were all in St. Louis – we had to get our own way home.

“After that I kept working out, the team kept working out, then guys started dropping out (because) it didn’t look like were going to go back to work. But I couldn’t imagine baseball not finishing the season, similar to basketball right now … because there’s a lot being lost by both sides.”

After baseball resumed, the Dodgers meandered through their second half, going 27-26. Though the games didn’t count for them, they raised doubts about whether they were postseason-ready.

And then, of course, each postseason series involved the slaying of those doubts. Down 2-0 in the first National League Division Series against the Astros, with one run in their first 20 innings, the Dodgers came back and won. Down 2-0 in the NL Championship Series against Montreal, the same thing, capped by Monday’s ninth-inning Game 5 blast.

When they lost the first two games against the Yankees, Dodger fans should have been used to it by now. But speaking for myself, then not quite 14 years old, you could run from despair but you couldn’t hide.

Monday, however, said the Dodgers themselves weren’t phased.

“It was a club that was just goofy enough or shortsighted enough,” he said, “we didn’t think, ‘Oh geez, now we don’t have a chance.’ We were just crazy enough because we had to do the same thing in Montreal and Houston.”

Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesKen Landreaux celebrates after catching the last ball of the 1981 World Series.

Four games later, the final out of the 1981 World Series landed in the center-field glove of Landreaux.

“I still have it,” he said. “I almost threw it in the stands when I was running in to jump in the dogpile, but I held onto it.”

Were it not for the extraordinary moments in 1988, that would have been the last World Series-clinching out in Dodger history.

Those who gathered Saturday are eager to see those 1980s teams become more forgotten, in a manner of speaking – to see them replaced by a new set of champions. With new ownership poised to arrive in Los Angeles, there’s new hope.

“I think we did as a group a really doing good job of carrying the flag and living up to the tradition and history of the Dodgers, and I look forward to the day our organization can return to that spotlight,” Cey said. “It’s a treasured franchise in Major League Baseball, and we need to get back on top.”

Cey said the new owners need to be prepared to do “whatever it takes” to restore the Dodgers. Baker added that it was that kind of mentality at the top of the organization that reduced the pressure he felt going into 1981.

“Every year that we left for Spring Training, we knew that we’d be close to the top some place,” Baker said. “That’s a great feeling of a good organization and a team. When the season starts, you may not win or win it all, but you know you’re in the hunt and have a chance to do it. That’s all you can ask for.”

Thirty years later, you might even have a little kid who never saw you play live, line up to pay homage.

“I really wanted to come here,” said 11-year-old Erik Mawk of Atascadero, “because there was so much history being champions and how they defeated the Yankees while being the underdog.

“It was a great, inspiring story.”

Sep 18

September 18, 2006: Here comes the end of the world


Jeff Lewis/APThere’s home, Nomar. There’s home.

For the five years since it took place, I’ve had this vision of the 4+1 game.

September 18, 2006. I replay the game in my head, a game that, unfathomably, stood toe-to-toe with the R.J. Reynolds game in 1983 as the greatest game in Dodger Stadium history, and I hear The Who’s “Had Enough” as the soundtrack.

As the 2006 baseball season bore down on its finish, the Dodgers were in a vexing battle with the San Diego Padres for first place in the National League West. An 11-5 pasting by the Padres knocked Los Angeles into last place on May 5. The Dodgers staggered back and reached first barely a month later, but in a tight division, San Diego drove them back to last with a 7-6, 11-inning victory July 24.

It was that kind of year. When the first day of August dawned, the Dodgers were still on the bottom looking up. Just 10 days later, Kenny Lofton’s walkoff RBI single beat Colorado, and the Dodgers were atop the NL West looking down.

And there in first place they stayed, until September 17, when Padres pinch-hitter Termel Sledge’s RBI single in the ninth inning broke a 1-1 tie, leading to Jonathan Broxton’s first career loss in the majors. The Dodgers had handed first place back to San Diego again.

And so when I think of September 18, 2006, I hear Roger Daltrey singing, practically shouting …

I’ve had enough of bein’ nice
I’ve had enough of right and wrong
I’ve had enough of tryin’ to love my brother …

* * *

It was an unusual night – a Monday finale of a four-game series. “Here we go ahead for the final time,” Vin Scully said at the start of the local cable broadcast, “the Dodgers desperate for a win. … If it feels like a playoff or postseason game, that of course is the aim of each team.”

Three players who had begun Sunday’s game on the bench were in the Monday starting lineups. The fellow batting cleanup for San Diego was familiar – his name was Mike Piazza, slugging .500 in his first season in San Diego after 7 1/2 in New York and in his final season in the National League.

For the Dodgers, the two big changes were these: Rookie outfielder Andre Ethier was rested in favor of new acquisition Marlon Anderson, and returning to play after missing two games with a strained quad was Nomar Garciaparra, who had talked manager Grady Little into starting him. At the time, you had to know their numbers or their looks to know who these guys were – this was part of the brief era in which the Dodgers wore no names on the back of their jerseys.

On the mound, who knew what to expect? Brad Penny had earned a start in that summer’s All-Star game, striking out Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in the first inning, but had been inconsistent ever since, posting a 5.81 ERA. In his past two starts, he had lost 7-0 to the Mets and won 6-0 against the Cubs. On the other side, Jake Peavy had been dominating the Dodgers as usual (two runs allowed in 14 previous innings that year), but his overall season ERA was a modest 4.17.

Jeff Lewis/APRussell Martin tries to settle down Brad Penny in the midst of San Diego’s four-run first inning.

With fans still pouring in to the ballpark, Penny retired the first two hitters, Dave Roberts and Brian Giles, before Adrian Gonzalez lined a 3-1 pitch into center field, bringing Piazza to bat.

“In recent games against the Dodgers, Mike looked like he was pressing,” Scully said as Piazza worked the count full. “He was trying to pull pitches that were down and away.” Almost on cue, we saw vintage Piazza, hammering the 3-2 pitch, driving it five feet below the top of the center-field wall on the fly, for an RBI double. The game was on: 1-0 Padres.

Penny walked Russell Branyan, bringing a visit to the mound from Rick Honeycutt and a visit to the plate from Mike Cameron, whom Scully pointed out had hit five home runs against the Dodgers so far in 2006. On the first pitch after Honeycutt returned to the dugout, Cameron shot the ball off the short wall in right field for a standup triple, driving in two runs (Nos. 14 and 15 vs. Los Angeles that year) to make the score 3-0.

“The Dodgers in a huge hole,” Scully said. Down in the Dodger bullpen, Aaron Sele began to warm up – not for the first time this night. Not by a longshot.

Nor was the hole finished being dug. Geoff Blum hit an 0-2 pitch to right field to drive in Cameron for a 4-0 lead, before Josh Barfield flied out to finally end the inning.

But the Dodgers wasted no time trying to rally. Rafael Furcal bunted for a single, and Lofton’s hit sent him to second. Garciaparra hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but ever-irascible Jeff Kent doubled to deep center field, driving home Furcal to get Los Angeles on the scoreboard. Peavy limited the damage to one run, but as he walked off the mound, he and Dodger first-base coach Mariano Duncan began shouting at each other.

I’ve had enough of bein’ good
And doin’ everything like I’m told I should
If you need a lover, you’d better find another …

* * *

The Dodgers pulled closer. After Penny struck out three in the second inning, Anderson – the August 31 discard from the Washington Nationals who had made surprising contributions in Los Angeles – hit a one-out solo home run. And after Russell Martin threw out Cameron trying to steal to end a two-out Padre threat in the top of the third, Furcal hit a solo homer of his own to dead center field.

“A mighty man is he,” Scully said of Furcal, who hit 15 home runs that year. “And you want to talk about a team trying to bounce back.”

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJeff Kent, shown here against the Padres in August, went 4 for 5 with three extra-base hits.

Before the inning was over, Kent hit his second double in as many at-bats, once more to center field, a ball at the wall that Cameron leaped for but came up empty. “Standing hands on hips, trying to figure out how he missed it,” Scully observed.

J.D. Drew entered the box next, and he sliced a breaking ball left up in the zone by Peavy for a ground-rule double to left field to tie the game, bringing the crowd to its feet. In fact, Martin then almost put the Dodgers ahead right there, but Peavy speared the first-pitch line drive off his bat.

The score was 4-4 after three innings. Not once over the next four innings was a team retired in order, but not once did a team score.

Each missed a tremendous opportunity. In the top of the fifth, after another Gonzalez single, Penny walked Piazza and Branyan to load the bases with two out, but Cameron flied to right. In the bottom of the sixth, Anderson singled, Wilson Betemit walked and pinch-hitter Oscar Robles loaded the sacks with none out when he sacrificed and reached first on a fielder’s choice. But Furcal hit into a forceout at home, and then Lofton grounded into a 1-2-3 double play.

By the eighth inning, the starting pitchers were long gone. And so was any remnant of sanity in this game. The attendance was announced. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers drew a legitimate 55,831 fans. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers registered their highest ticket sales for a Monday game ever, capping a record for a four-game series: 219,124.

Broxton entered the game in the eighth inning. Scully commented that after Sunday’s loss, Broxton had said wasn’t nervous, but he was worried he had been tipping his pitches. “Jon was just 22 in the middle of June when he made the jump from Jacksonville, and now he has the key role as the set-up man.” It was his fifth game in seven days; he had thrown 88 pitches since the previous Tuesday, and was about to throw 22 more.

Things soon turned grim. With one out, Blum walked, and Barfield drove one to right-center field that Drew couldn’t get. Lofton overran the carom, Martin dropped the throw home, the go-ahead run scored and Barfield ended up on third base. Pinch-hitter Todd Walker then hit a flare over the drawn-in infield to give San Diego a two-run lead.

Roberts struck out (a career-high fourth for the former Dodger outfielder), but Walker went to second on a steal and third on a wild pitch. Giles then sent Drew to the right-field wall, which he banged into while making the inning-ending catch.

Not once had the Dodgers led, but not once had they failed to score in an inning in which they trailed. Sure enough, off reliever Scott Linebrink, Anderson drove one down the right-field line, running through a stop sign to reach third base with a triple, and Betemit lined an 0-2 pitch up the middle. Just like that, the lead had been reduced to one.

“Boy is this a game, huh?” Scully marveled. “Wow. And this crowd loving every moment of it. It’s been a roller-coaster ride from depression to euphoria and all the stops in between.

“Boy, it’s not Monday night here. It is Mardi Gras night. It is New Year’s Eve night.”

With two out, Lofton doubled with two out to send pinch-runner Julio Lugo to third base. Tying run was 90 feet away, go-ahead run one base behind him.

But Garciaparra struck out. You could practically fit the goat’s horns for him.

Life is for the living
Takers never giving …

* * *

Takashi Saito, the 36-year-old first-year major-leaguer from Japan, was asked by the Dodgers to protect the one-run deficit. There was little reason to expect he wouldn’t: In 70 innings, emerging in the spring in the wake of Eric Gagne’s last gasp as a Dodger, Saito had a 1.93 ERA and 93 strikeouts against 63 baserunners in 70 innings.

The importance of keeping the Padres close was clear, as Scully noted. “They’ve won 26 games by one run,” he said, “and one of the big reasons is warming up in the bullpen. Yep, it’s Trevor time.”

But Gonzalez led off the ninth with his third single of the game, and Manny Alexander (Piazza had exited the game for a pinch-runner in the seventh) bunted him to scoring position. Up came Josh Bard, the Padres’ lesser-known catcher but one who had an .869 OPS, even better than Piazza at that moment.

On a night filled with long fly balls, Bard drove what appeared to be the capper of the night, to deep center. Lofton went back. He leaped. His glove went over the fence; the ball banged off his wrist and back onto the field, while an uncertain Gonzalez advanced only to third. “Goaltending,” remarked Scully as he watched the replay.

Saito walked Cameron intentionally in the hopes of forcing an inning-ending double play, but his next pitch to Blum went to the backstop, and the Padres doubled their lead. Then Blum hit a sacrifice fly, and San Diego led by three in the ninth. Scully practically threw the white flag.

“And the Dodgers will have to collect themselves and go after Pittsburgh,” he said. “It has been a Friday night and a Saturday night combined emotionally, but now it’s starting to feel like Monday.”

It’s not as if the Padres got greedy after that, but you could argue they suffered from an embarrassment of riches. After Barfield singled to drive in Cameron and give San Diego a 9-5 lead, Scully glanced back at the Padres bullpen, looking to see if Trevor Hoffman was still getting loose.

“We said it was Trevor time, but maybe not,” Scully reported. “Nope, it’s Jon Adkins now. That figured.”

Jack Cust made the third out of the top of the ninth. The Dodgers trailed by four runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Up to that point, Adkins had allowed one home run in 51 1/3 innings in 2006.

“The Dodgers are asked to do what they did (before), but they’ve run out of innings,” waxed Scully.

Here comes the end
Here comes the end of the world …

* * *

Francis Specker/APJ.D. Drew follows through, bringing the Dodgers within two.

And then, a symphony …

Kent conducts a 1-0 pitch to center field, over Cameron, and out of the park.

“So Adkins is rudely treated,” Scully says. “Two pitches, one run.”

Drew, strumming the strings on a 2-1 pitch …

“And another drive to deep right center, and that is gone! Whoa, was that hit!” exults Scully.

“What is that line? Do not go gentle into that good night. The Dodgers have decided they’re not going to go into that night without howling and kicking.”

Hoffman is quickly rushed into the game. “He has been absolutely magnificent against everybody, but especially against the Dodgers,” Scully says, adding that Hoffman’s last blown save against the Dodgers was in April 2001.

Francis Specker/APMartin hits it a ton, bringing the Dodgers within one.

Hofman throws his first pitch.

“And a drive to left center by Martin,” calls Scully. “That ball is carrying into the seats! Three straight home runs!”

Bedlam at Dodger Stadium, bedlam like it’s the ninth inning on September 11, 1983. But the Dodgers, as Scully reminds us, “are still a buck short.”

Francis Specker/APMarlon Anderson lets it fly, and the Dodgers are tied.

Anderson is the next batter. He has four hits and needs a double to hit for the cycle.

Hoffman throws his second pitch. Anderson swings. Immediately after his follow-through, he jolts out of the box …

“And another drive to right center …”

… two arms thrusting in the air …

“Believe it or not, four consecutive home runs! And the Dodgers have tied it up again!”

As Martin practically had to be restrained in the dugout from running onto the field, Anderson raced around the bases, leaping into his high five at home plate before sprinting to the dugout, where he disappeared under a white and blue volcano.

It was the first time since 1964 that a team had hit four consecutive home runs, and the first time it had ever been done in the ninth inning, let alone to erase a four-run deficit. (The six homers in nine innings were also the most by the Dodgers since they hit eight in the Shawn Green game in May 2002.)

“Can you believe this inning?” exclaimed Scully, still agog. “Can you believe this game? … It is an unbelievable game.”

Before the cheering had even begun to subside, Lugo swung at his first pitch – still only the third pitch Hoffman had thrown in the game – and hit it on a trajectory to right-center that, for an instant, made the fans double-take. But it landed in Cameron’s glove. Ethier, batting for Saito, blooped out.

In the Dodgers’ last chance to win in nine innings, Furcal, 2 for 5 with a home run already, tattooed one himself, taking Giles to the warning track to right field before it was caught.

“Well, wouldn’t you know this was gonna go extra innings?” Scully said. “No, I don’t think you did when it was 9-5 in the ninth.

“This crowd is beside itself with joy. You can come down the wall now.”

* * *

With their top relievers already used, the Dodgers turned the guy that had warmed up for the first time back in the first inning, Aaron Sele. One of general manager Ned Colletti’s ongoing reclamation projects on the mound, Sele had joined the Dodger starting rotation in May and had a 2.91 ERA in 65 innings before the All-Star break. After a couple of poor July starts, soon followed by the acquisition of Greg Maddux, Sele ended up spending most of his second half in the bullpen (the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter that September, you might be surprised to remember, was Hong-Chih Kuo). Sele’s ERA had risen to 4.35, and he had pitched three total innings in the past two weeks.

But with the score 9-9, the Dodgers went to Sele over the other available options in the September Dodger bullpen: Giovanni Carrara, Elmer Dessens, Tim Hamulack and Eric Stults.

Sele retired Roberts (0 for 6) on a fly to center, but Giles doubled on a sharp hit down the left-field line past Lugo. Gonzalez, who had been tormenting the Dodgers all night – then again, who hadn’t – was walked intentionally.

Paul McAnulty, pinch-hitting for Alexander, killed a Sele pitch that Lofton caught at the wall. “That ball had a chance to go out but just died at the last minute,” Scully said. “There is a light breeze, but barely a zephyr.”

Sele dodged that bullet, but couldn’t avoid the next. Bard singled to right field, and Giles came home from second to score and once again give the Padres the lead.

Threatening to once again put the Dodgers down by four, Sele walked Cameron, who became the 23rd Padre to reach base. With no room to put anyone else, Sele, on the Dodgers’ 200th pitch of the game, induced an inning-ending fly to right.

“Boy, you talk about the anguish of a fan,” Scully said. “There’s a lot of it, but they’ll remember this game for a while.”

Padres 10, Dodgers 9, heading into the bottom of the 10th.

Rudy Seanez, who had pitched for the Dodgers in 1994 and 1995 (and would do so again in 2007), was the Padres’ 23rd player of the game and seventh pitcher, chosen ahead of relievers Scott Cassidy, Brian Sweeney and Mike Thompson. Nearing his 38th birthday. Seanez had struck out 52 in 51 innings combined with Boston and San Diego, but he had walked 29 and allowed seven home runs.

His first pitch to Lofton was a called strike, but his next two missed the zone. Strike two came on a check swing, but the next pitch was high and the one after that was inside, “and the Dodgers have a rabbit as the tying run,” Scully said as Lofton dropped his bat and headed to first base.

To the plate came Garciaparra.

Low and outside for ball one. Fastball for a strike. Low and outside for ball two. Inside for ball three.

Francis Specker/APNomar, hero.

On the 376th pitch of the night of September 18, 2006 …

“And a high fly ball to left field – it is a-way out and gone! The Dodgers win it, 11-10! Ha ha ha – unbelievable!”

The end of the world.

“I forgot to tell you,” Scully said after watching the celebration at home plate. “The Dodgers are in first place.”

* * *

Jeff Lewis/APGarciaparra celebrates on behalf of Dodger fans around the ballpark – and televisions and computers.

To this point, I haven’t quoted from the Dodger Thoughts game thread from the night of September 18, 2006. But while any one of us would rather have been in the ballpark, the online experience is not one I’ll forget.

You can see some of the highlights here, or you can go back to the original thread and re-experience from start to finish. But there’s only one way to finish this remembrance, and that’s with this classic:

2006-09-18 22:40:43
604. Xeifrank
Gameday seems to be broke. It keeps on saying every Dodger hitter is hitting a home run. Major software bug or something.
vr, Xei

Sep 11

A Happier 9/11

It has been eight years since this piece was first published: September 11, 2003. A lot has happened since then – including a very happy September 18, 2006 that some would say surpassed what happened on this day in 1983. But this game will always remain special, and I hope you don’t mind me continuing to remember it on this date.

* * *

Twenty years ago today, Dodger Stadium hosted its greatest game.

It began swathed in bright blue skies and triple-digit temperatures. When it ended, 228 crazy brilliant minutes later, shadows palmed most of the playing field, and every Dodger fan who witnessed the spectacle found themselves near joyous collapse.

The game was between the Dodgers of Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero, of Greg Brock and Mike Marshall … and the Braves of Dale Murphy, of Bruce Benedict, of Brad Komminsk.

In the end, however, it came down to one man. A rookie named R.J. Reynolds.

Continue reading

Sep 09

Revisiting 1979

Rock bottom Turning point Up top All together
1979 Dodgers 36-57 (.387) July 19 43-26 (.623) 79-83, third place, 11 1/2 GB
2011 Dodgers 37-51 (.420) July 7 33-21 (.611) 70-72, third place, 12 GB (through Thursday)

After the 1979 season, the Dodgers rallied in 1980 to force a tie for the National League West title after 162 games. Proposal: We take the 163rd game away from 1980, which really did the Dodgers little good, and stick it at the end of the 2011 schedule, which is missing a game and where it will do much less harm.

Sep 04

Kershaw adds ERA title to targets

Amid all of Clayton Kershaw’s accomplishments this season, one feat has been seemingly out of reach – an ERA title.

As recently as a week ago, Kershaw trailed Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto by about half a run, 2.51 to 2.05. Today, however, Kershaw takes the mound trailing Cueto by only 0.16, 2.45 to 2.29.

Since Independence Day, Kershaw has an ERA of 1.18 with 74 strikeouts in 76 innings and an opponents’ OPS of .533.

* * *

  • The Dodgers, who have needed nine reliever innings in the past two days, added Ramon Troncoso to their roster for today’s game. More help will be on the way after the Albuquerque season ends Monday. Reinforcements from Chattanooga, if any, will take longer because the Lookouts are headed to the Southern League playoffs, running through at least September 10.
  • In the New York Times on Friday, Richard Sandomir wrote about how much the Dodgers are being billed by their bankruptcy lawyers.
  • Thanks to Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven for the link to Vin Scully’s 1963 description of “What Is a Dodger?” Suitable for a bedtime story …

    There’s more – all on the album “Jackie Barnett Presents The Sound of the Dodgers” – from noted stage and singing stars Stubby Kaye, Jimmy Durante, Maury Wills and Willie Davis. And to wrap things up, one more piece from Vin: “The Story of the Dodgers.” Note his pronunciation of “Chavez.”

Aug 31

Ethier first in 10 years to get team’s first two hits in one inning

According to ESPN Sports and Information, the last player before Andre Ethier on Tuesday to get the first two hits for a team in a single inning was Derek Jeter of the Yankees against Tampa Bay in the eighth inning, August 8, 2001. Two Jeter singles sandwiched five walks, a hit batter and two outs.

Before that, believe it or not, it last happened in a Padres-Dodgers game, with Greg Vaughn doing it against Los Angeles in the sixth inning on September 12, 1998. And I guarantee you’re going to shake your head at the pitchers involved.

With a 7-3 lead, Dave Mlicki gave up a leadoff single to Vaughn and forced him home with three walks. Sean Maloney (14 career games) relieved and hit one batter and walked the next to make it a one-run game. The next reliever was the storied Jeff Kubenka (12 career games), who gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly to Quilvio Veras and then got a second flyball out from Steve Finley.

Kubenka then walked Mark Sweeney to load the bases again. The next batteer was Vaughn, who singled in the go-ahead run before Matt Luke (who had five RBI) threw out Chris Gomez at the plate to end the inning. San Diego won by that 8-7 score.

Jul 29

Broxton and Navarro and what a difference six years does (and doesn’t) make


Jeff Lewis/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro in 2005.

Six years ago tonight, on a Friday, the Dodgers began a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 46-56 record, then as they are now 10 games under .500. That day, the team made two transactions.

Purchased the contract of RHP Jonathan Broxton from Double-A Jacksonville and designated RHP Scott Erickson for assignment; Recalled C Dioner Navarro from Triple-A Las Vegas and optioned C Mike Rose to Triple-A Las Vegas.

Jonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro. Today, those two names bring up mixed emotions, to say the least.

But six years ago, making their Dodger debuts, they heralded a new era of promise for a downtrodden team: Broxton, the first of a heralded group of Dodger minor leaguers to reach the bigs; Navarro, a 21-year-old catching prodigy acquired in trade.

From Dodger Thoughts, July 29, 2005:

… The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Navarro, still only 21, has battled some physical issues this season – according to Nick Christensen of the Las Vegas Sun, Navarro was 2 for 18 since being activated from the disabled list July 18 – but has played 75 games overall for AAA Las Vegas, with an on-base percentage of .366 and a slugging percentage of .390. Offensively, he is lacking power for now – but down the road, some may catch up with him. Though his professional high in home runs is only eight, he did hit 31 doubles in 2003 at age 19, split between A and AA ball. Navarro’s biggest strength is his strike zone command – 38 walks against 24 strikeouts. Defensively, he is obviously more promising than Jason Phillips, but we’ll see if the Dodger pitchers still need to hold runners on better.

Broxton, four months younger than Navarro but six inches taller and around 50-100 pounds heavier, has been a stud ever since he became a second-round pick for the Dodgers in 2002. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning with a career ERA of 3.14 entering this season – primarly as a starter – Broxton has recently been used out of the bullpen for AA Jacksonville in anticipation of the Dodgers needing his help. In 28 games (15 in relief), Broxton has a 3.36 ERA and in 91 innings, has allowed 77 hits (just four home runs) and 29 walks while striking out 99. As a reliever, he has struck out 28 in 19 innings and has been clocked at 100 miles per hour, according to Baseball America, which also published a quote from an American League scout praising both Broxton’s fastball and “power curve.”

Broxton becomes the third home-grown player on the Dodgers 25-man roster, joining Jason Repko and Steve Schmoll (assuming neither is sent down). …

Yes, you could say the youth movement was just getting underway.

In the game, Navarro started for the Dodgers, batting for the first time an inning after left fielder Ricky Ledee hit a three-run home run, and reached first on an infield single. He later struck out, grounded out and walked.

Broxton, also 21, replaced Brad Penny in the top of the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading, 5-4, and had mixed results. He gave up singles to David Eckstein and Abraham Nunez, then reared back and struck out Albert Pujols, who had homered the inning before. Broxton wild-pitched the runners to second and third base, prompting an intentional walk to Jim Edmonds. With the bases loaded and one out, John Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game, before Broxton struck out Mark Grudzielanek to end the inning.

Because the tying run scored, Broxton was charged with a blown save in a game that gave him no chance of actually recording a save. It was these kinds of no-upside blown saves that would skew his save percentage for years and help others make the case that he was unfit to close. Despite this, Broxton did become one of the top relief pitchers in the National League – just as one of many pieces of evidence, only six relievers in the majors had a lower OPS allowed than Broxton from 2006-09, and two of those are going to the Hall of Fame – but we’re well past that debate now, with him unlikely to pitch much more than a few more innings as a Dodger, and others like Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen stepping forward.

Navarro would be supplanted much sooner, replaced in May 2006 by Russell Martin after a combination of sluggish defense and injury. Navarro came back to Los Angeles this season after a long absence, fraught with professional and personal struggles, but it’s now a celebration when his batting average breaks .200.

Somehow, both players are surprisingly close over the hill at age 27, even perilously close to the end of their careers if they don’t reverse fortune. It fits right in with a Dodger team that has tumbled off a cliff in 2011. We’ve come full circle and gotten dizzy in the process.

The next generation of Dodgers beckons – the generation that will try to revive this team. But it’s impossible to fathom how it will play out. Broxton, Navarro, Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, on and on and on – so many ups and downs.  I can’t tell if I feel that six years is long or short.

And then there’s this: That same morning, in the July 29, 2005 issue of Variety, Dave McNary published the following story about the Dodgers, in their second year of ownership under Frank and Jamie McCourt:

… Frank McCourt, the Boston-born Dodgers owner … strolls around the stadium as though he was the mayor of a small New England town. He’s not the landlord, he’s a host, eager to welcome people to his party.

Under the O’Malleys, many Angelenos felt the Dodgers represented “downtown.” McCourt has broader ambitions. … He wants Westsiders as much as Echo Park locals, and he believes the best way to get both of them is to make sure Hollywood feels welcome.

A year after buying the team in early 2004, McCourt added 300 seats to the Dugout Club and expanded the restaurant. McCourt and his wife, Jaime, attend most home games, where they escort club guests to a martini bar, as well as stands that offer prime rib, fajitas, salads and, of course hot dogs, all free of charge to box holders and other guests.

A seat in the club runs an all-inclusive $400 (booze is extra), but one of McCourt’s biggest reasons for undertaking $20 million in upgrades was to attract people who may never pay at all.

McCourt wants to see the same sort of wall-to-wall celeb lineup who attends Lakers games. He’s well on the way. On a recent evening, when the Dodgers suffered a blowout loss to the San Francisco Giants, club attendees included celebs Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Lovitz, Robert Wuhl and Alyssa Milano; sports agents Scott Boras and Dennis Gilbert; former players Dave Winfield and Bill Buckner; and Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda.

Other regulars include Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Tom Hanks, Pat Sajak, Penny Marshall, Mary Hart, Wayne Gretzky and Peter Chernin.

The McCourts’ four sons also are conspicuous, with most of the credit for bringing Hollywood into the Dodgers’ fold going to Drew McCourt, the low-key marketing director who decided to work for his dad after getting an astrophysics degree from Columbia U. The 23-year-old has been charged with glad-handing Hollywood studios, agencies, top-tier producers and music industry execs, luring them into premium seats by promising that most elusive commodity, exclusivity.

Still, in wooing Hollywood, the McCourts have a tough job. As one of the few sports facilities built in the 1960s that has aged with some grace, even minor changes to Dodger Stadium provoke anxiety among devoted fans — many of whom would never consider paying $400 for a seat.

“We’ve got an asset that’s very unique within the baseball world,” says Drew McCourt, who grew up going to Red Sox games at Fenway Park. “But we don’t take it for granted that Hollywood’s going to show up. We have to make this area attractive enough so the team’s performance doesn’t really matter whether people show up.”

Six years. Six positively head-spinning years.

Jul 26

Obscure but memorable No. 5 hitters for the Dodgers

Three weeks ago, in honor of Aaron Miles, we talked about “obscure but memorable No. 3 hitters for the Dodgers.”

Today, once again in honor of Aaron Miles, let’s look back at the Dodgers’ most unusual No. 5 hitters since their last World Series title.

Here’s the all-time Los Angeles Dodger batting order by frequency, dating back to 1958:

1) Maury Wills (1,276)
2) Bill Russell (679)
3) Willie Davis (1,250)
4) Steve Garvey (819)
5) Ron Cey (576)
6) Mike Scioscia (437)
7) Mike Scioscia (510)
8) Bill Russell (668)
9) Don Sutton (522)

* * *

From the Dodger press notes and the Elias Sports Bureau:

Most strikeouts per nine innings in one month, minimum 15 games
9.70 Cubs (August 2002)
9.53 Cubs (September 2006)
9.36 Dodgers (July 2011)
9.30 Astros (August 1998)
9.29 Cubs (May 2001)

Jul 08

Wandering Dodgers

If Chad Billingsley isn’t traded before his contract extension kicks into gear in 2013, he will have bucked a trend.

No homegrown Dodger has stayed in Los Angeles after becoming eligible for free agency since Darren Dreifort (1994-2004) and Eric Karros (1991-2002). Before them, you’d have to go back to the members of the 1988 World Series team, such as Orel Hershiser. Everyone else that came up from the farm since that time was either traded or left to roam the streets of MLB to find their riches elsewhere.

Jul 06

Latest loss leaves one longing for 2009


Two years ago tonight, the Dodgers were 52-30, seven games better than any other team in the National League, three games better than any team in the majors.

Manny Ramirez, nowadays the subject of much ridicule (renewed by his recent appearance in the Dodgers’ bankruptcy filing), had just come off the suspended list – and, contrary to what people might have expected or might remember, was about to begin a massive hot streak. Over the next two weeks, Ramirez would go 15 for 41 with seven extra-base hits and six walks, for a .458 on-base percentage and .707 slugging percentage.

On July 21, Ramirez was hit by a pitch on the left hand. That injury forced him to the bench the following night, the night the Dodgers were giving away Manny Ramirez bobbleheads.  He came on to pinch-hit in the bottom of the sixth inning with the bases loaded and … Bobbleslam.

The Dodgers were 61-34.

The contrast between then and now is so sharp. The idea of a losing Dodger team is no longer alien, the fact that the team’s losing streak grew to five games with tonight’s 5-3 loss to the Mets is no surprise. These Dodgers are 37-51, all but reversing the performance of their 2009 counterparts. Then – Manny’s curtain call. Now – scrub’s scrub Eugenio Velez tagged out, not even halfway to first base, on a grounder to end the game.

Every single game this week, a Dodger starting pitcher has pitched well heading into the sixth inning, before faltering without rescue. Every single game, you might have cynically felt the inevitability of defeat, yet if you’re anything like me, not quite believed that the result could be so predetermined every single time. In fact, after Hiroki Kuroda let a 1-1 tie become a 4-1 deficit in the top of the sixth, the Dodgers came back to score two runs in the bottom of the inning. They had scored three runs, their highest total since Friday.  And there were still three innings to go.

But we are a long, long way from 2009.

Chris Pizzello/APJoe Torre waits as Manny Ramirez, with an OPS of 1.129 at the time, has his hand examined after being hit by a pitch on July 21, 2009.

The 1988 season has been our touchstone, and will continue to be for some time, maybe for our entire lifetimes. But it’s clear to me that 2009 is an underappreciated season. The offense was solid at every position, with the weakest link being Russell Martin, who still managed a .352 on-base percentage at catcher. Juan Pierre split the Dodger community in two, but even if you thought he was overrated as the team’s spiritual MVP, he was useful and sometimes heroic. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp were blossoming. James Loney was still promising. Casey Blake was one of the better third basemen in the NL. Rafael Furcal managed to stay healthy for 150 games. Cycle-hitter Orlando Hudson sparkled until he was overtaken by the red-hot Ronnie Belliard. Other than handwringing over Ramirez’s suspension, there was little more to gripe over than Kemp batting eighth nearly a couple dozen times.

The starting rotation wasn’t spectacular, but it was capable, with 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw posting a 2.79 ERA and Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla providing late season assistance after Chad Billingsley hit a rough spot. Jonathan Broxton, Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario, none older than 26, led a dominant bullpen that went into overdrive when midseason pickup George Sherrill allowed only two earned runs in 27 2/3 innings.

It is Broxton, of course, who is considered the poison in this tale. He began the 2009 playoffs with five consecutive games of doing his job. In the sixth, Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS, he brought on infamy. And it’s understandable that fans today might be even more bitter toward the reliever, who spoiled a great team’s chance to even up the NLCS at 2-2 and catapult toward that long-awaited World Series title.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJuan Uribe and Eugenio Velez, two of your 2011 Dodgers, look for some cheer before the game.

But whether you credit Broxton, who in the regular season had 36 saves in 42 opportunities and 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, for helping the Dodgers get in position to win a championship, or whether you hold him accountable for the failure to achieve the dream, it’s remarkable to think of where the Dodgers and their fans were two years ago. Out of our minds with elation at the rebounding hero Ramirez. Somersaulting over the Game 2 NLDS bottom-of-the-ninth comeback win over St. Louis. On seats’ edge as Broxton threw that 1-1 pitch to Jimmy Rollins, one out away from the latest, biggest victory.

I am someone who asks what might have been. There isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t question decisions I made a decade or two ago. I’ve made mistakes as bad as the fastball Broxton threw to Rollins and wondered “what if?” But I can’t look back at 2009 now without instinctively feeling good about it, recalling so many wonderful times. And thinking that even with its short-circuited ending, how gladly would I take it back. And thinking how far away it seems.

Jul 05

Obscure but memorable No. 3 hitters for the Dodgers

In honor of Aaron Miles batting third for Los Angeles tonight, here’s a link to all those who have started No. 3 in the batting order for the Dodgers since the end of the 1988 World Series.

The list includes Bill Bean (career OPS .574), who went 3 for 4 on October 1, 1989. That’s the time of year you’d expect to find someone of Bean’s ilk batting third in the lineup.

Then there’s Orel Hershiser, who officially started at third base on September 15, 1993 so that Dave Hansen could bat for him in the first inning in pursuit of a pinch-hitting record. Pedro Martinez did the same thing five days later.

There’s Mike Kinkade, Mark Sweeney, Delwyn Young, Tom Goodwin (!), Antonio Perez. … Oscar Robles hit third 11 times for Jim Tracy’s 2005 Dodgers.

Aw, sweet memories.

Jul 05

Gordon gets his stolen-base trifecta

From the Dodgers’ press notes:

Following a lengthy debate, official scorer Ed Munson has changed a seventh-inning fielder’s choice from last Friday night’s game in Anaheim to a stolen base for Dee Gordon. The scoring change gives Gordon nine steals on the season and makes him the first Dodger since Harvey Hendrick on June 12, 1928 to steal second, third and home in the same inning. The last Major Leaguer to accomplish the feat was Jayson Werth, who did so on May 12, 2009 vs. the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park.

Did Bob Timmermann’s tweet play a role?

Jul 01

The first commercial Dodgers broadcast, 70 years ago today

Cynthia Littleton of Variety and Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News have pieces on today’s 70th anniversary of what’s said to be the debut of commercial television – with both noting that a Dodgers-Phillies (Brooklyn loses, 6-4) game was part of the original programming. The Dodgers also played in the first televised baseball game, in 1939.

… Television sets had been available in Gotham department stores such as Macy’s since the 1939 World’s Fair broadcast got early adopters excited about the potential of television. But most of the sets in use in 1941 were set up to receive 441 lines of picture while the FCC had set the commercial telecasting standard at 525. That made for some muddy visuals early on.

Variety was unimpressed by the overall presentation, the hucksterism and production value.

“It was all pretty corney,” Daily Variety reported on July 2, 1941. “Especially a crowd of announcers and radio hangerson eating chocolate layer cake made with Spry and yumyumming. Practically all the sets in the New York area were picking up 525 line images on old sets adjusted to 441 lines. This cut down definition, but it was not engineering definition that was hard to bear. It was the low grade showmanship.”

WNBT and WCBW broadcast about 15 hours a week in those first few months. But the flagship stations for the Peacock (NBC) and the Eye (CBS) didn’t get much time to refine their product before the U.S. entry into WWII put the kibosh on virtually all commercial telecasts. The technology and resources that David Sarnoff and William Paley were plowing into TV were immediately diverted to the war effort.

The growth of TV would be stymied for the better part of the 1940s, until a manic vaudevillian named Milton Berle hit it big with “Texaco Star Theater” in 1948 and TV sets starting flying off the shelves.

* * *

  • Ken Arneson, retired Baseball Toaster chieftain, has a guest piece on Baseball Prospectus today. As I always say, ‘nuf said.
  • Here’s a new baseball cartoon blog: Gary Finkler’s 7th Inning Sketch, complete with requisite Frank McCourt image.
  • The Collected Sins of the Frank & Jamie McCourt era, by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. Unenjoy!
Jun 05

Where’s Kempo

Where Matt Kemp ranks among National Leaguers, according to Baseball-Reference.com:

1. – offensive wins above replacement (2.9)
1. – power-speed number (14.5)
1t – RBI (46)
1t – total bases (125)
2. – games played (59)
2. – home runs (15)
2. – slugging percentage (.576)
3. – runs created (49)
3. – win probability added (2.6)
4. – at-bats per home run (14.5)
4t – adjusted OPS (170)
4t – intentional walks (6)
4t – times on base (98)
4t – wins above replacement (2.9)
5. – offensive win percentage (.759)
5. – OPS (.971)
5t – stolen bases (14)
6t – strikeouts (55)
7t – hits (69)
8. – on-base percentage (.395)
8t – extra-base hits (26)
9. – batting average (.318)

Kemp is fifth in the NL in total average (.341), according to Baseball Prospectus. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more on what Kemp could achieve this year.

* * *

  • Fasten your seat belts. Here are the scheduled pitching matchups for the upcoming Philadelphia series:

    Monday – Ted Lilly vs. Cliff Lee
    Tuesday – Rubby De La Rosa vs. Roy Oswalt
    Wednesday – Hiroki Kuroda vs. Cole Hamels

    The Phillies have lost four straight games, two each to Washington and Pittsburgh.

  • Via Baseball Think Factory comes this March 1957 Sports Illustrated piece that is said to be the first mention of “Chavez Ravine” in the magazine. It acknowledges that Walter O’Malley’s primary desire was to stay in Brooklyn, but here’s my favorite line: “It was even suggested that with the coming of the jet age, when the Atlantic and Pacific coasts will be only three or four hours apart, New Yorkers could get to a Dodger game in Chavez Ravine in less time than it now takes to reach Ebbets Field.”

    Conclusion: “The next chapter in the serial will now have to be written by the City of New York some time before next October. Should they fail to get busy, O’Malley and his Dodgers will almost surely head west like so many other overcrowded, ill-housed Easterners. In that event, major league baseball will be a coast-to-coast reality no later than 1960.”

  • Orel Hershiser has joined Steve Garvey’s group that’s interested in purchasing the Dodgers, reports Jill Painter of the Daily News. It’s still not clear what kind of financing the Garvey-Hershiser group would have, because initial reports linking it to billionaire Ron Burkle have been disputed.
  • Red-hot Dodger minor-league reliever Shawn Tolleson (0.63 ERA, 52 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings this year) and Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw were groomsmen at each other’s weddings this offseason, notes Inside the Dodgers, which passes on a link to an upcoming Dodgers Magazine feature on the pair.
  • Dennys Reyes, who made his major-league debut with the Dodgers in 1997, is one of 21 players to steal a base in his first game and then never do so again in his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Reyes has by far the most appearances of anyone on the list. On July 13, 1997, Reyes walked, went to second on a single, stole third and scored on an error. He pitched six innings that game and got the win, one of 10 in his career as a starting pitcher.
  • Oakland has designated former Dodger Andy LaRoche (.654 OPS) for assignment.
  • Not a Dodger note, but I thought it was cool: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jose Reyes is only the second player since 1926 to have 10 triples by June 4. Willie Wilson in 1985 was the other.