Feb 22

Davey Lopes gets me excited about 2011

Kirby Lee/US PresswireYou’ve come to the right place.

Tony Jackson’s Spring Training update today for ESPNLosAngeles.com focuses on Davey Lopes’ tutoring the Dodgers. Some good stuff therein:

… The 45-minute session dealt mostly with the basics. But Lopes delivered his message in a charismatic, entertaining way, with a lot of the no-nonsense language one might expect from a 65-year-old baseball lifer who believes in doing things the right way, mixed with a little bit of humor.

The audience appeared to include every non-pitcher the Dodgers have in camp, and that audience burst into laughter on a few occasions, usually when Lopes would get especially animated while demonstrating the wrong way to do something.

For those who were paying attention, though, there were a lot of lessons.

For one, Lopes isn’t a fan of the headfirst slide. He also isn’t a fan of the slide into first base.

“There are two reasons why you slide,” Lopes told the assembly. “First, to slow your body down. … Second, to avoid a tag.”

And thus, Lopes said, the only time a slide into first base is justified is to avoid a tag if the player covering has to come off the bag to take an off-line throw. …

Elsewhere …

Feb 19

Now batting, Don Mattingly


Morry Gash/APDon Mattingly: Five-tool manager?

The most fun and interesting detail to come out of Camelback Ranch today was the tidbit that Dodger manager Don Mattingly will stand in the batters box during bullpen sessions for his pitchers. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

In Mattingly’s first spring as the team’s manager, he already has employed at least one unconventional tactic. Often, when a pitcher is throwing in the bullpen, Mattingly will grab a bat, step into the left-handed batter’s box and get into the familiar stance he employed for so many years as a six-time All-Star first baseman for the New York Yankees.

“It gives me a better look at a guy’s stuff,” Mattingly said. “[By standing there], I can tell if what a guy is throwing can get somebody out or it can’t.”

Mattingly conceded that some of his pitchers — especially those who will spend the spring fighting for a roster spot — might be a bit unnerved by firing a baseball in the general direction of the boss’s body. In deference to that, he said he steps out of the box when it comes time for a pitcher to throw to the inside part of the plate.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has more.

… Mattingly’s participation in the bullpen sessions had the players talking.

“First time I ever saw that,” said catcher Dioner Navarro. “Caught me off guard. I did a double take. You know, you don’t want to drill him. But you can see he wants to be involved in everything, to know everything. It’s like he’s back to being a player. He knows what it takes. It brings confidence to the team to see that. It’s exciting.”

Mattingly, 49, said he no longer gets the urge to actually hit, having retired after the 1995 season. And he only steps in to his natural left-handed side, because he said he might not know how to get out of the way from the right-hander’s box.

Among the pitchers he “faced” Saturday were veterans Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla. Mattingly said he’d think twice if he saw a pitcher was having control problems.

“Managers do that in Japan and it’s considered an honor,” said Kuroda. “They do it for top young prospects and established veterans. And in the middle of Spring Training you have a session when you throw 200 to 300 pitches to establish endurance, and the manager steps in then, so you don’t slack off.” …

* * *

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles DodgersMatt Kemp works out at Camelback Ranch today.

Davey Lopes baserunning tutorials are in full swing. From Jackson:

… Lopes has been giving these tutorials every morning this spring, and after a few minutes on Saturday, (Matt) Kemp was joined by outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., shortstop Rafael Furcal, highly touted prospects Dee Gordon and Trayvon Robinson and non-roster outfielder Trent Oeltjen. Not one of those players is required to be in camp until Monday, but several of the team’s position players chose to report early.

Lopes’ group spent the entire session taking leads off first, crouching and breaking toward second base, though they weren’t running at anything close to full speed and they stopped about halfway there.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get an idea of what they do and what they attempt to do and see if there is something we can try to adjust to make it a little better fit for them,” Lopes said. “Basically, we’re just breaking down their movements.” …

* * *

Hiroki Kuroda is working on adding a curveball to his repertoire. Dylan Hernandez of the Times has more:

Last spring, Kuroda tried to add a changeup to his arsenal, but the project was abandoned early in camp. Kuroda said he’s more optimistic about his curveball.

“I’ll throw it during the exhibition season and see how it feels,” he said.

Kuroda said he has received tips from Clayton Kershaw, but that he learned the curveball grip over the winter by watching videos.

* * *

Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports writes about the importance to Rafael Furcal of the fire truck recently donated to his hometown in the Dominican Republic:

“I’ll sleep better knowing people will be safe,” Furcal said. “I’m the only guy who made it. It’s like a responsibility to me.”

His love of firefighting was noticed by Dodgers public relations director Josh Rawitch, who mentioned it to general manager Ned Colletti during Furcal’s contract negotiations after the 2008 season. Colletti included the truck in discussions with Furcal’s agent, Paul Kinzer. Furcal was torn between signing with the Braves – the team that first signed him in 1996 and for whom he played his first six years in the majors – or returning to the Dodgers.

The fire truck was the ideal perk. It spoke to something close to his heart. And it convinced him the Dodgers cared about him as a person, and about his hometown.


* * *

Farewell, Ollie Matson.

Feb 07

The Dodgers according to Ned Colletti


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesNed Colletti is beginning his sixth season as Dodgers general manager. The team has averaged 86 regular-season victories during his tenure.

Ten days.

The Dodgers rose from the basement of the National League West in May to the best record in the league in June, then sat only two games out of first place in the division at the All-Star Break.

Yet as far as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was concerned, it was almost a mirage. During an interview at his Dodger Stadium office last week, Colletti fully acknowledged that the Dodgers’ second-half fade, as much as he and everyone else tried to reverse it, came as disturbingly little surprise to him.

Ten days. In Colletti’s view, that’s how long the Dodgers played championship-quality baseball in 2010.

“I think the second half, in a lot of ways, was the result of the first half and the spring,” Colletti said. “I can’t say I had more than a 10-day period where I thought we were truly playing as well as we could play. In ’09, we had a pretty good defense, and we executed, played well in clutch situations, found a way to win games. We really hadn’t done that very much in the first half of the season. And I think it caught up with us in the second half.

“And what I did last year wasn’t acceptable. How I prepared for last year didn’t meet the results that I have for myself.”

The Dodgers will arrive to spring training later this month, in many ways, a different team than a year ago, starting with a greater emphasis on starting pitching that represents Colletti’s most visceral response to his roster concerns from 2010. At the same time, Colletti said the experience the returning core gained from last year’s disappointment has the potential to play a significant, positive role in 2011.

“They’re professional, and this is their livelihood,” he said. “And you believe there’s enough pride and adjustment and education from this past year. A lot of guys haven’t gone through what they’ve gone through in the past year. That will put them in the right place coming in to know it’s got to be better and it’s got to be more focused.

“Because they’ve (succeeded) before, I’m confident. But then, last year was what it was. I’m cautious by nature. I take nothing for granted, at any point in my life at any stage. So I don’t take it for granted that it’s just gonna happen. I think it has to be prepared in order to happen.

Translated, Colletti believes the talent is there but the effort, focus and confidence need to return. He said the offseason preparation “is done to some point, and when you get to camp now it’s going to be up to Don [Mattingly] and his staff to have certain procedures in place and certain accountability set forth. And I obviously have to support that, and they have to buy into it.”

Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Matt Kemp had homered once in 31 games prior to hitting one out in each of his final five games of 2010.

Comeback kids?
Despite leading Dodgers regulars on offense, Andre Ethier never fully seemed to recover from the pinky injury he suffered in May and fed doubts about his long-term ability to hit left-handed pitchers (.625 OPS against them in 2010, .681 for his career). James Loney went from decent before the All-Star Break (.803) to disastrous after (.616). Jonathan Broxton’s second-half collapse is as well-documented as anyone’s, and Matt Kemp … well, let’s just say his season could have been the inspiration for what made Linda Blair’s head spin in “The Exorcist.”

The question, Colletti agreed, is which of the players will hit a hurdle in their development in 2010, and which have hit a wall. And it’s a question that’s due for an answer. Mulligans that were handed out last year won’t be found so easily or at all in 2011.

“In the past, I’ve been more patient than open-minded,” Colletti said. “I think that one of the toughest characteristics you have to have in these jobs is patience because everybody expects everything to turn overnight. … It doesn’t work that way. Everybody’s human; these guys are all human. They take maturation, physical maturation, all kinds of processes.

“I won’t be able to be just completely patient with it [this year]. We’re not an old team, but we’re not a team overwhelmed with rookies, either. We have experience, and a lot of our players have been to the postseason at least twice and sometimes three times in the last five years. So it’s there, it’s really kind of going back to that point and being focused about it and passionate about it and tough-minded about it.”

It might surprise people to learn that Colletti seems particularly bullish about Kemp, the target of a radio critique by Colletti in April.

“I think probably from middle of August on, things became a little bit more focused for him,” Colletti said. “He and I had a conversation, probably in August, that was really a man-to-man, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. And I was trying to take some of the weight off. I think he understands it; I think he understands what transpired last year. I think from my conversations this winter, from the last month of the season and this winter, I think he understands more than he did a year ago about himself and about the game, about preparation. So I think he’s got a chance to really have a great year.”

It’s possible Colletti might have said the same thing about Russell Martin, except Martin is no longer around. The circumstances of the Dodgers’ decision to let Martin go rather than offer him salary arbitration weren’t discussed, but Martin’s recent offseason comments about “distractions” that affected him led to a broader comment from Colletti about the difficulty of playing in Los Angeles.

“Sometimes, it’s commitment, prioritization and commitment,” Colletti said. “I read what Russell said, but I don’t know what the true context was or what his underlying thoughts were as to why he said it. … There are a lot of distractions in this city. There’s a lot of different things to be doing, a lot of places your mind can wander off to, but if you’re a professional baseball player, if you’re a Dodger, you’ve got to figure out life. … And it’s not easy to do it.”

Without going into many specifics, Colletti indicated that the ability to play in Los Angeles is a factor in some trades of young players he has made. He called Carlos Santana the prospect he regrets parting with “probably more than anybody” before he added that there were a couple of other guys he would have to wait and see on.

“Again, Los Angeles isn’t for everybody,” Colletti said. “Sometimes we make a move on a player because we know in this environment here, they’re not going to be very good in it.”

Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Jonathan Broxton issued 25 of his 28 walks last season after June 23.

Pitching paradoxes
As for Broxton, count Colletti among those who see his second-half crumble as an issue of confidence, rather than health problems that might have been caused by his 48-pitch tar-and-feathering against the Yankees last June.

“He never complained,” Colletti said. “And at the end, he wasn’t thrilled with it, but I said, ‘Jonathan, I need you to take a complete physical — your arm, your shoulder, your elbow.’ A week to go in the season. And he said, ‘I feel great. I don’t need to do it.’ And I said, ‘I need you to do it.’ So he said, ‘I’ll do it,’ and everything came back clean.”

Colletti is aware of the volatility of relief pitchers, comparing them to great goaltenders who can go through “a month or two where they can’t stop anything.” But this awareness cuts both ways. It leads Colletti to give relievers who have performed in the past long leashes, and it compels him to have as many alternatives on hand as he can, as seen through the acquisitions of set-up men Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth and oblique references to No. 6 starter Vicente Padilla’s potential to close games.

Again, however, Colletti believes that at rock bottom you can often find a trampoline. Look no further than Chad Billingsley, banished from the Dodgers’ starting rotation by the end of 2009 before rising anew last season.

“Most of our young players did not experience a lot of failure as young players, minor leagues [or] early in the big leagues,” Colletti said. “They really didn’t struggle. And when it finally hits you, and you do struggle for whatever reason and you’re doing it in front of 45,000 people in Los Angeles all the time, on television every day, that’s a tough time to struggle for the first time, for the really first time, and be able to come out of it.”

Interestingly, Colletti’s faith in failure recovery played a partial role in what many believe is the Dodgers’ greatest weakness heading into this season: the lack of a bona fide left fielder.

Angst in the outfield
This winter, the Dodgers didn’t bid on the two marquee outfield free agents, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, and you can safely conclude that was a reflection of their overall contract demands and the Dodgers’ budget. But when it came to alternatives, Colletti was wary of blocking two Dodgers outfield prospects who could each be major league ready a year from now, Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands, especially after the experience Robinson had in Jacksonville last summer.

“Robinson last year started off slow in Double-A, and we stayed with him and he figured it out,” Colletti said. “That to me was huge. Because he’s gonna have to figure that out. Because everybody struggles up here.”

There is the caveat that it’s not as if the current Dodgers never struggled in the majors or minors before 2010 – one could easily make the case that they did, but that their subsequent triumphs blotted out the memory. In any event, if he had found a signable veteran outfielder worthy of a multiyear deal, Colletti no doubt would have pulled the trigger. But he does feel optimistic over the long term about what he has.

“If I would have signed a left fielder for three years, who was again not one of those robust guys — I’m not sure there was a guy out there — then I’m really kind of blocking one of those two kids, and I’ve got faith in both of them,” he said. “Hopefully, not this year. Hopefully, it’s a year from now, but I have faith in both that they’ll be able to play and contribute. And actually I told them both that, too, in the fall — I told Trayvon way back in the summertime, ‘It’s important for me to know who you are and how you play. Because you know what, Manny’s not gonna be back next year. And I’ve got to make a decision whether I’m gonna go and tie up his spot for three or four years, or be patient and mix and match for a year and wait for you.’”

Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesCasey Blake had an .895 OPS against lefties last year, .663 against righties.

In the interim, Colletti is under no illusion that he has gold in the third outfield slot, so the Dodgers will essentially play it by ear in the outfield, with Mattingly looking at matchup opportunities for Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul (if he makes the squad), and on an infrequent basis, Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll.

“Right now Matty’s the center fielder,” Colletti said. “Andre’s the right fielder. I want to see what Tony can do offensively. He’ll play as much as the offense allows him, I think … using the whole field, bunting more, figuring out ways to get on base, because his on-base percentage isn’t high even when he hits .270. See if he can become more disciplined at the plate, use his speed more to get on. I don’t expect power out of him. I don’t expect gap power out of him, but I would like to see him get on base a lot more, because if he does it perhaps changes the dynamics in the outfield.

“And in the meantime, I’ve got two guys that can hit, one from the left side and one from the right side — actually two from the left side with X. Paul and Gibbons, and then Thames. … And perhaps they’re five- or six-inning guys, and then you go defense later. But you’ve got two guys that might be able to hit 20 homers between them.”

Third base offers a secondary question for the Dodgers because, while Blake is sure to start against lefties and some righties, no one seems to be beating the drum for him to play 146 games like he did last season. With the Dodgers’ minor leagues fairly thin at second and third base, this time Colletti took the plunge on a multiyear stopgap in Juan Uribe.

“Our system’s produced a lot of guys,” Colletti said. “But except for really [Ivan] DeJesus, we don’t really have a second baseman that’s on the verge of being here. We have a shortstop coming probably in Dee Gordon and after him [Jake] Lemmerman, and right now third base is a bit of an open spot too — we had [Pedro] Baez in the Cal League last year. So Uribe, while the on-base percentage isn’t Moneyball-ish or whatever, the run production is still pretty good, in that he can play second, short or third, and we don’t have anybody that’s going to press him at third for a while, and really De Jesus is trying to transition to play second. I needed somebody I can run out there who’s a big league guy.”

Because of what he sees as a potential benefit to have Uribe play some at the hot corner, Colletti emphasized that De Jesus has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder. Obviously, someone like Carroll could also make several starts to allow Blake to rest.

In any case, Colletti is aware of how much a juggling act the Dodgers’ everyday lineup has become. Though he has in one sense traded last year’s lack of a fifth starter for this year’s lack of an everyday left fielder or third baseman, Colletti sees the two situations as apples and oranges.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matt Guerrier, 31, has allowed 11.5 baserunners per nine innings in his career.

Never enough
“You really didn’t have in my mind many choices that were going to be able to play every day,” Colletti said. “We had to fix the pitching first, and we had to upgrade the bullpen if we could.

“You can’t finesse pitching. Maybe a day here or there, but you need to have it. And the list [of available pitchers], we were kind of picking near the top of the list, even though it isn’t sexy to say you signed Ted [Lilly] or Hiroki [Kuroda], it’s not necessarily ‘wow,’ but it’s solid. It gave us a little bit of depth. So we had to start there. The kid from Minnesota, Guerrier, is gonna be a good add for us. He’s pitched in a lot of big games; he’s always had positive results.

“It’s the most volatile group, but once [Joaquin] Benoit got three years and [$16.5 million], that’s what people expect to get … and if you really need a guy, sometimes you have to go the extra distance to go and get him.”

Add together the total commitments the Dodgers made to their free-agent signees of this past offseason, and you barely pass the total value of Adrian Beltre’s deal by itself, while falling short of the Crawford or Werth contracts. And like it or not, Colletti was not going to enter another season shy on pitching or dependent on unproven rookies such as James McDonald or Scott Elbert.

“I was apprehensive all winter long last year” Colletti said of the starting pitching. “I knew we were short going in; I knew we weren’t going to be able to rally it. In the spring, J-Mac and Scotty both struggled. We may have sent them both out early, in fact, because they couldn’t throw strikes; they were all over the board. So right from the beginning, I knew we were going to be short. I didn’t know how we were gonna mix and match, and we couldn’t afford an injury certainly.”

If there’s an ongoing concern on everyone’s minds, it’s how the Frank McCourt ownership crisis is affecting spending on the team on the field. You can argue that different owners might have allowed Colletti to sign one big-ticket free agent in addition to shoring up the pitching, but Colletti doesn’t contend that the divorce itself is having an impact on personnel.

He also makes the case, as McCourt did a year ago, that the Dodgers are aiming to spend more money to deepen their prospect population.

Farm aid
“We’ve had basically the same [major-league] payroll,” Colletti said. “Though we dipped a little bit last year, we’re coming back this year. It’s not really how much you have, it’s where you spend it. We do have to get better at international signings; we have to reinvest there. I think we’ve let Venezuela slip for a few years, and we’ve made some changes in the staffing.

“We’ve done a decent job in the D.R. [Dominican Republic] — not what we did 25 years ago, but with all due respect, 25 years ago there wasn’t 30 teams down there, either. So, it’s not like we could just cherry-pick the players we want like we probably did at the outset of the country opening up to having players signed. But we do have to get better at that to support our player development system. It’s been fruitful. Obviously, a lot of players are in the big leagues now that we drafted, but we have to keep flowing, and they have to keep getting better. I know we’ve hit a touchable lull right now and I think we’re probably a year or two away from having another group come forward.”

[+] EnlargeZach Lee

Chris Carlson/APLogan White escorts newly signed Zach Lee in his Dodger Stadium visit in August.

Colletti didn’t rule out the Dodgers’ top draft choice of 2010, Zach Lee — whose signing shocked most baseball observers — being part of the Dodgers’ graduating class of 2012. Amid the height of McCourt tensions, Lee received a $5.25 million signing bonus, a record for a Dodgers’ draft pick. The previous record-holder, Clayton Kershaw, reached the majors less than two calendar years after he was picked, and Lee could do the same.

“We really liked this kid,” Colletti said. “We really liked his makeup, his demeanor, his abilities, athleticism, his toughness. … Not only are the physical skills different than most kids you see, but the way his mind works is different … probably from playing at the highest levels at a couple of sports, including going to LSU for a summer and having that experience, which as long as he didn’t get hurt it didn’t bother me.”

Colletti’s hope is that the Dodgers’ minor league pitchers drafted in previous years allow Lee as much time as he needs to develop. There was an epidemic of setbacks among the farm system’s arms in 2010 — so many that if Colletti wants to see who can overcome hurdles, wish granted.

“It’s concerning to me,” he said. “Probably a lot of the guys that we could both probably name should be a year farther along than they are. They’ve all struggled with command. … Some are converted players, some weren’t pitchers necessarily in high school or college. So they’re still learning that.

Curing the epidemic
And to circle back to the beginning of our piece, in some ways, older players never stop learning and developing. Witness Colletti’s additional assessment of the contagion that struck the Dodgers’ offense in 2010:

“I think hitters sometimes without results start to get impatient, so they start to chase out of the zone,” he said. “They’re trying to build more offensive numbers in a quicker period of time and so they’re not as diligent to work the count, and all that stuff starts to compound through the course of it. … When people are starting to slump, sometimes it produces more guys that go in that direction than less. And that’s what started to happen. It started to spiral where one guy struggled and then two. And then the third guy saw the other two and then he struggled, and it continued to mount.”

Alex Gallardo/APDavey Lopes will switch to a Dodgers’ uniform for the first time since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series.

When you take Colletti’s view of what went wrong with the Dodgers last year and what’s needed to make it right, it makes sense that he sees one of the most promising offseason moves as one that even some jaded Dodgers fans embraced: the hiring of Davey Lopes as a coach.

“I’ve known him a long time and I’ve admired him,” Colletti said. “You know, I was with him in Chicago when he was still a player and I’ve certainly watched him from the other side of the field when he managed and when he was coaching. And I think what he brings here is — you’re talking about first — someone who was an iconic Dodger who understands Los Angeles and understands the Dodgers and was here during one of the greatest periods in our franchise’s history. That’s important.

“What he did in Philly with baserunning and defense and fine-tuning that position, the first-base coaching position, to make it a far more valuable position to the organization, is something we noticed. And I think he’s going to have a great impact on our club. I think there are some players that could turn their game up a notch with his instruction, with his thought process. I think, while it’s a coaching position, I think it’s a huge addition for this franchise.”

Will a new manager, new coaches, new players and new spirits be enough to right the Dodgers’ ship? It’s too soon to say, but if the Dodgers are to play more than 10 days of great baseball in 2011, Colletti will expect to see strong signs of it before Opening Day arrives.

Dec 19

October 4, 1980: Saturday showdown at the Stadium


Getty ImagesJerry Reuss pitched 10 complete games in 29 starts for the Dodgers in 1980.

When the Dodgers were attempting to rally from three games behind Houston with three games to play on the final weekend of the 1980 regular season, I was on my school’s eighth-grade retreat at world-famous Camp Ta Ta Pochon.

I listened to the final innings of the Friday comeback victory with my transistor radio and an earphone while we were watching the rather odd youth movie, “Bless the Beasts and the Children.” And I listened to the final innings of Sunday’s dramatic triumph surrounded by classmates on the bus ride home.

But I had never heard a moment of the Saturday game until this week, when I was granted the privilege thanks to a cassette package mailed to me by longtime Dodger Thoughts friend and commenter Stan from Tacoma.  The Saturday game is the least discussed of the four games the Dodgers played against Houston to end the season, but it was a minor gem in its own right – an utterly taut affair from start to finish.

Jerry Reuss started for the Dodgers against future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan of the Astros. A high-profile free-agent signing, Ryan was in his first season in the NL since being traded from the Mets to Angels in December 1971. At age 33, Ryan had gotten his 3,000th career strikeout midway through 1980. His ERA in 1980 was a stylish 3.35, though given the advantages of pitching in the Astrodome, this was arguably a down year for the Express.

Reuss had come to the Dodgers before the 1979 season and been something of a disappointment, though his 7-14 record belied his 3.54 ERA. In any case, he began the 1980 season in the bullpen, before emerging as one of the team’s top starters: a 2.51 ERA and an National League-leading six shutouts, including his June 27 no-hitter at San Francisco.

Even with those credentials, Reuss was under the microscope of Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. Just two batters into the game, after Reuss walked Houston leadoff hitter Joe Morgan on a 3-2 pitch and then gave up a single to Enos Cabell, Dodger radio announcer Jerry Doggett saw that Rick Sutcliffe – banished to relief after winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1979 – had gotten up in the bullpen.

But Reuss bounced back. He got Dodger nemesis Jose Cruz to pop to shortstop Derrel Thomas, and then Cesar Cedeno hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Sutcliffe sat down and never rose again, as Reuss went on to retire nine batters in a row.

The Dodgers struck first in the bottom of the second inning. Steve Garvey, who entered the game needing four hits for 200 on the season, notched a single on a blooper that Morgan normally would have caught. (Both second basemen were ailing: Morgan had strained his knee in Friday’s game, while Davey Lopes had a severely strained neck. Neither finished the Friday or Saturday games.)  One out later, Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers’ center fielder, singled Garvey to second base.  Ryan struck out Joe Ferguson, but facing Thomas, the Dodger utilityman who had become the team’s starting shortstop in place of an injured Bill Russell, dropped a single the opposite way into left field to score Garvey for a 1-0 Dodger lead.

The Dodgers caught a break to score their first run; the Astros caught one to score theirs. With one out in the top of the fourth, Cruz hit one to center that Guerrero lost in the smoggy sky (Doggett and Vin Scully both commented on how ugly the air was this day). Cruz stole second, went to third on a Cedeno grounder and then scored on a single to center by Art Howe to tie the game.

Getty Images
With three hits against Nolan Ryan, Steve Garvey was on a .412/.452/.647 hot streak over his past 17 games.

The next run of the game was no gift.  Garvey started the bottom of the fourth with a no-doubter blast, his 26th homer of the season – giving him, as Scully noted, at least one home run against every NL team this season.  Garvey would later single in the sixth inning for his 199th hit of the season and ninth in 18 at-bats against Ryan. “If you can go 9 for 18 against a million-dollar pitcher, that’s like owning a condominium, isn’t it?” said an admiring Scully. “Garvey is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters to wear a Dodger uniform,” added Doggett when he returned to the mic for the final three innings. “Undoubtedly.”

The score remained 2-1 entering the seventh inning, thanks in large part to huge defensive plays by Los Angeles. In the fifth, the aching Lopes managed to snag a line drive off Morgan’s bat and turn it into an inning-ending double play. And with one on and none out in the sixth, Thomas took a carom off Reuss’ glove and converted it into a 1-6-3 twin killing.  Then Guerrero, still struggling with the October sky, struggled with a Cedeno fly but managed to catch up to it to end the top of the sixth.

Like Garvey, Ryan was also on a quest for 200 – in fact, both of them entered the seventh inning at 199. In Ryan’s case, it was strikeouts, and he got his 200th on the second-to-last batter he faced.  The victim was Reuss, who went down after failing to sacrifice Joe Ferguson to second base.

Both teams went down in order in the eighth, Reuss easily navigating pinch-hitters Terry Puhl (the Astros’ leading home-run hitter in 1980 with the grand total of 13) and Jeffrey Leonard, while reliever Frank LaCorte held off Garvey’s final Saturday bid for his 200th hit. Reuss’ strikeout of Puhl was his seventh of the game, a season high.

That brought us to the ninth, with the crowd audibly willing the Dodgers to hold on.  By this time, the Dodgers had made three defensive replacements: Jack Perconte for Lopes at second base, Rudy Law for Dusty Baker (also hurting) in left field and Mickey Hatcher for Rick Monday in right field.  Those replacements proved meaningful both for what they didn’t and didn’t do.

First, Perconte made a nice play on a Cabell grounder to get the first out.

Then, Guerrero, again getting a late read, put the crowd in suspense before making yet another last-instant catch. The Dodgers were one out away from victory, but under 24 hours before, the same had been true of the Astros.

Up came Cedeno, who had been having a most unlucky day. This time, the luck turned – he hit a blooper that Perconte couldn’t reach, keeping the Astros alive. Art Howe then hit another blooper to center that Guerrero, playing deep to prevent an extra-base hit, had no chance at. Suddenly, the tying run was at third base for Houston.

With soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Steve Howe warming up in the bullpen, Dodger pitching coach Red Adams visited Reuss at the mound.  But there was no hook.  According to Reuss on the postgame show, Adams simply told him, “Just relax.”

Doggett, I should say at this point, was about the best I have ever heard him – totally on his game in describing the game and setting the scene.  “What excitement – what a series!” he said over the roaring crowd. The batter was Gary Woods, who had gotten the start over Puhl against the left-handed Reuss but had struck out three times. Finally making contact, he hit one to Perconte, in the thick of the fray in this, only his 14th major-league game. Perconte tossed to Garvey, and the Dodgers had stayed alive for one more day.

Reuss thanked the fans on the postgame show with Ross Porter. “I’ve heard it in other places, but not this many, this loud,” Reuss said. Porter asked Reuss about the fact that he was starting on three days’ rest. “I never gave it a thought until someone said something about it, and then I said, ‘What the heck.’ ”

Garvey also thanked the fans, and said how much he enjoyed the pressure situations. And then, as Porter thanked him for the interview, Garvey said, “Hi to Cyndy and the girls.”

Those fans listening on the radio who were geared up for hearing Scully do Sunday’s big game were in for a surprise. Here are his closing words for the day:

“Well, friends, it has been a magnificent day, a great weekend and a most exciting season, and of course  tomorrow the Dodgers and the Astros this time put it all on the line. All of the pressure had been on the Dodgers, but now it will be equally shared amongst the Astros, because they suddenly find themselves in a must-win situation. It’s Burt Hooton and Vern Ruhle. And I have a confession to make – I won’t be here, unfortunately, as my schedule has me doing a football game down in Anaheim. And my mind, and my eyes and all of my senses will be in Anaheim, but boy, will my heart ever be here at Dodger Stadium. Hope you’ll be here. Hope you’ll find out about tomorrow, and then if it be so, why it’ll be my pleasure to be talking to you again on Monday. So we’ll see. But right now, that’ll do it for today, from Dodger Stadium, as the Dodgers nip the Astros, 2-1.

The Rams would beat the 49ers, 48-26, and then we’d see Vin on Monday. I’d have that transistor radio with me at school.

Nov 04

Podsednik declines option, becomes free agent


Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIScott Podsednik has dived into a new organization four times since 2008: Rockies, White Sox, Royals, Dodgers.

Scott Podsednik has chosen free agency over the guaranteed $2 million contract he could have had with the Dodgers for 2011. ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Podsednik made $1.65 million plus incentives in 2010. He hasn’t ruled out returning to the Dodgers, meaning that he thinks he can get even more for his services from Ned Colletti.

* * *

Bill Plaschke of the Times talked to both Davey Lopes and Colletti about the prospect of Lopes returning to the Dodgers as a first-base coach and baserunning instructor. I would characterize the quotes as encouraging.

* * *

Farewell, Sparky.

Nov 02

Davey Lopes, Dave Hansen enter the Dodger coaching discussion


Getty ImagesDavey Lopes, now and then …

Intrigue, suspense and a dose of whimsy continue to circle around the 2011 Dodger coaching staff vacancies. Some bullet points from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

  • Former Dodger second-baseman great Davey Lopes will not return to the Philadelphia Phillies over a salary impasse and has mentioned that he’d be interested in working for a West Coast team.
  • Former Dodger pinch-hitting great Dave Hansen has interviewed for a secondary hitting instructor position in the organization. Hansen has been a minor-league hitting coordinator with Arizona since 2008.
  • Former major-leaguer Eric Owens has been hired as a roving minor-league hitting instructor, with Gene Clines – mentioned as a mentor in my recent profile of Dee Gordon – targeted for a role with the organization to be determined.
  • Triple-A hitting coach John Moses has been let go.

I mainly want to talk about Lopes, but Moses’ interview with Jackson deserves a look.

“They said it was because [Dodgers prospect] Xavier Paul didn’t improve in the outfield,” said Moses, who also had the responsibility of working with outfielders at the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate. “I was shocked, let’s put it that way. A lot of people were. I think the job I did spoke for itself, if you look at the things that happened offensively over the last three years. … But the way I look at it is, it’s their loss.”

I can’t say I see a lot of positives coming out of AAA, particularly in the outfield, for the Dodgers in the past three years. I don’t know the first thing about Moses’ abilities as a coach, whether he deserves praise or parting gifts for his work – I don’t know if he’s responsible – but I don’t know that he’s got a lot to hang his hat on.

As for Lopes, I like the idea of him coaching for the Dodgers, not just because of the homecoming, but because of the potential of improving the Dodger running game. As True Blue L.A., Phillies Nation and Baseball Musings have noted, the Phillies have been great on the bases under Lopes’ watch, and it’s probably not all a coincidence. This could be one of those seemingly rare cases where a player has been able to translate his on-field skills into coaching: Lopes had a career stolen base percentage of .830, seventh all-time, with Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies passing him this season.

But clearly, Lopes is looking for a nice payday – which of course the Dodgers might not be inclined to offer – and in addition, Jackson writes that “the Dodgers already had a list of candidates they were considering for the role, a source said, so it might be too late in the process for Lopes as far as the Dodgers are concerned.”

Lopes, who went 144-195 managing the Brewers from 2000-2002, has also coached for the Padres and Nationals. He is a prostate cancer survivor. Another former Dodger, Ron Roenicke, is poised to become the Brewers’ next manager.

Oct 28

Dodgers had momentum, heart and purpose in 1978 … and it wasn’t enough


APJim Gilliam spent 25 years – half his life – in a Dodger uniform.

Keeping with this week’s theme

Davey Lopes, wearing Gilliam’s 19 on his sleeve during Game 1 of the ’78 Series, worshiped the Dodger coach.

Game 1 of the 2010 World Series almost exactly matched the final score of Game 1 of the 1978 World Series. That was Dodgers 11, Yankees 5, and it was played the night the Dodgers, for the only time in their history, retired the number of a non-Hall of Famer.

Jim Gilliam had passed away two nights earlier, barely 24 hours after the Dodgers won the National League pennant.

From Ross Newhan of the Times:

Throughout the playoff victory over Philadelphia he was driven by the memory of his relationship with Jim Gilliam, saying he had never before reached such an emotional peak, that when he went to the plate he could hear Gilliam speaking to him.

Davey Lopes, the Los Angeles captain, again resembled a man possessed Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium as the Dodgers, dedicated to sustaining the memory, crushed the New York Yankees, 11-5, in the inartistic opening game of the 75th World Series.

Lopes, who batted .389 against the Phillies, hitting two home runs while driving in six runs, ripped a two-run homer in the second inning and a three-run homer in the fourth, propelling the Dodgers into a lead that was 7-0 before Tommy John permitted his first run. …

The flags in center field were at half-staff and the game began only after the crowd was asked to join in a moment of silent meditation. The Dodgers carried a memorium to Gilliam on the sleeve of their uniform, a black patch with Gilliam’s No. 19 embossed in white.

“We dedicated the pennant to Jim,” manager Tom Lasorda said, “and we are determined to dedicate a world championship to him.” …

“Jimmy is up there watching us,” Lopes said following Tuesday’s victory. “His spirit is in each of us. The Yankees beat 25 guys last year and this year they’ll have to beat 50 of us. We’re going to do our damndest to win this for him and we’re confident we will.”

Things only became more emotional the next day. “On the afternoon of October 11,” I wrote in “100 Things,” “with Game 2’s first pitch hours away, baseball paused and gathered at Trinity Baptist Church to pay their respects – 2,000 strong – at Gilliam’s funeral. A memorable photo from that day shows Dodger tormentor Reggie Jackson of the Yankees standing solemnly between Lopes and Tommy Lasorda. All three delivered eulogies.” That long day’s journey into night ended with Bob Welch’s legendary triumph over Reggie Jackson for the final out.

From “100 Things”:

Clinging to a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth, the Dodgers sent out Terry Forster for his third inning of work. Yankee playoff hero Bucky Dent opened the inning with a single to left field and moved to second on a groundout. A walk to Paul Blair put the go-ahead run on base, signaling that Forster had passed his expiration date.

Lasorda’s do-or-die replacement had 24 career appearances, 11 in relief. The two batters he needed to get out, Thurman Munson and Jackson, had 465 career home runs – three of them hit by Jackson in the last game of the previous year’s World Series. Dodger fans at the stadium and across the country waited for the roof to cave in.

Welch fed a strike in against Munson, who hit a sinking drive to right field that Reggie Smith caught at his knees.

APSteve Yeager is triumphant as Reggie Jackson strikes out.

It was Jackson time.  This wasn’t just any slugger.  This was the enemy personified, a man, though well-liked in his later years, considered perhaps the most egotistical, vilifiable ballplayer in the game.

Welch began by inducing Jackson to overswing and miss. With Drysdalesque flair, he then sent in a high, tight fastball that sent Jackson spinning into the dirt.

Jackson later told Earl Gustkey of the Times that he was expecting Welch to mix in some of his good offspeed pitches, but instead came three fastballs, each of which were fouled off.  Then there was a waste fastball high and outside to even the count at 2-2.

After another foul ball, another high and outside fastball brought a full count. The runners would be moving. Short of another foul, this would be it.

As everyone inhaled, in came the heat.  Amped up, Jackson swung for the fences – not the Dodger Stadium fences, but the fences all the way back in New York.

Only after Jackson missed the ball and nearly wrapped the bat around himself like a golf club, only through Jackson’s rage, could Dodger fans begin to comprehend what happened.

Jackson carried his fury into the dugout and clubhouse with him, pushing first a fan on his way to the dugout and then Yankee manager Bob Lemon once inside.

The only thing that could have made the event better for Dodger fans would have been for them to have had longer to enjoy it. The Dodgers didn’t win the World Series that year; they didn’t win another game. Welch himself was the losing pitcher in Game 4, allowing a two-out, 10th-inning run in his third inning of work, and gave up a homer to Jackson in Game 6. But for a moment, the Dodgers and their fans enjoyed one of the most triumphant and exhilarating victories over the Yankees ever imaginable.

There probably hasn’t been a more emotionally charged Los Angeles Dodger team in history. That includes 1988. This was a team that had revenge and redemption on its mind all year, feelings that were only intensified by the passing of their beloved coach.

And they fell in their next four games – a 5-1 Game 3 loss, the bitter 10-inning, Game 4 defeat that starred Jackson’s moving hip, and then the final two games by a combined 19-4.

Sometimes, the stars seem aligned; sometimes, you have every reason to believe. And sometimes you lose, even when you leave everything you have, absolutely everything, on the field.