The life and career of John Roseboro is the subject of Bruce Markusen’s piece at the Hardball Times.
Former Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal has a damaged elbow ligament and will miss the rest of 2012. Tommy John surgery is a possibility. Furcal had a .325 on-base percentage and .346 slugging percentage in 531 plate appearances for St. Louis, .276/.278 from May 17 on. He played in 121 of the Cardinals’ first 131 games.
San Diego, which began its season 28-50, is 34-21 since – best in the National League West. Jeff Sullivan writes about their resurgence at Fangraphs, while The Associated Press writes about their new O’Malley-led ownership.
Dickey, as David Schoenfield of ESPN.com notes, has not only thrown consecutive one-hitters, but in his past six starts, “Dickey is 6-0 with a 0.18 ERA (one earned run in 48 2/3 innings), 63 strikeouts, five walks and a .131 average allowed.”
… Dickey, whose full beard and peaceable appearance suggest a retired up-country hunting dog, is thirty-seven years old, with ten years and three prior big-league teams behind him, and hard work has brought him to this Shangri-La, perhaps only briefly. He’ll hope for another visit on Sunday, against the Yankees. Watching him, if you’ve ever played ball, you may find yourself remembering the exact moment in your early teens when you were first able to see a fraction of movement in a ball you’d flung, and sensed a magical kinship with the ball and what you’d just done together. This is where Dickey is right now, and for him the horrendous din of the game and its perpetual, distracting flow of replay and statistics and expertise and P.R. and money and expectation and fatigue have perhaps dimmed, leaving him still in touch with the elegant and, for now, perfectly recallable and repeatable movements of his body and shoulders and the feel of the thing on his fingertips.
* * *
Pitching is easy to predict – and hard too!
“Colorado’s rotation has undergone the most turnover and is the hardest to peg in the division, though you could say it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence,” I wrote in March for ESPNLosAngeles.com. “A look at Colorado makes one appreciate the apparent stability of the Dodgers’ starting rotation.”
Basically, while there were several grim preseason forecasts about how the Dodgers would do this season, the one thing I was most sure of was that they wouldn’t finish behind the Rockies, whose pitching seemed to be in disarray.
Vindication of that position has come throughout 2012, with the Rockies’ starting pitchers combining for an ERA of more than 6.00. That has brought one Jim Tracy to the brink of … something: a four-man starting rotation with pitch-count limits of 75 per game.
… Tracy’s just guessing, of course. And there’s another, perhaps larger issue. If Tracy sticks to that 75-pitch limit, he’ll routinely be turning to his bullpen in the fifth and sixth innings. Now, if managers are crying for relief help with starting pitchers on 100-pitch limits — as they do, routinely — what’s going to happen with 75-pitch limits?
Theoretically, it could work. Tracy’s starters have been terrible, so he’s been going to his bullpen early in most games, anyway. The hope, I suppose, is that Tracy keeps going to his bullpen early, but with his starting pitchers allowing fewer runs than they have been. It’s a lot better to call the bullpen when you’re ahead 4-3 than when you’re losing 6-4.
So this should be interesting. For a week or two. Which, if history’s any guide, is how long this experiment will last.
… Tracy seemed almost stunned when talking to reporters about the plan. Obviously, this is not what he expected prior to the season when the Rockies were a trendy pick to win the NL West. Instead, just minutes before taking the field for batting practice Tuesday, Tracy gathered his pitching staff and told the players the surprising news.
The asterisk in the plan is that nothing is definite. Tracy conceded that anything could be modified should one of his starters excel during a particular start. The 75-pitch limit could be ignored. Heck, if Guthrie pitches well in relief, it’s not inconceivable to think that he would be placed back in the rotation.
For the past several weeks, Colorado reportedly has been looking to trade Guthrie — who is making $8.2 million this season, the highest salary on the pitching staff, excluding the injured Jorge De La Rosa. A demotion to the bullpen won’t help his trade market. But the only way for Guthrie to reclaim any trade value is to pitch well, and maybe pitching out of the bullpen is the solution.
“We don’t know what’s going to come out of this,” Tracy said.
Hey, credit Tracy — at least it wasn’t bland and boring.
And finally, this from Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post:
… The defining moment, with the beaker fizzing, will arrive when a starter actually performs well. But Tracy insisted that even if a starter is working a shutout, he will be removed at roughly 75 pitches.
“He has got to come out, because he has to pitch four days later,” Tracy said. “But if he goes five innings, he has pitched you to the point where you can go to a bullpen with some very significant people.”
But as easy as Colorado’s woes might have been to predict, you might not be able to say the same about Atlanta’s – at least, that’s what Michael Barr of Fangraphs argues.
And Tim Lincecum’s struggles are another thing unto themselves, becoming fodder for a discussion of luck and pitching by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.
… Saying that Tim Lincecum has been unlucky is probably not true. He’s struggling with his command, falling behind in counts more often, and throwing pitches that are rightfully getting crushed based on movement and location. If Wells had fouled off that fastball on Saturday, that would have been luck, so maybe you could argue that Lincecum is suffering from a lack of good luck (in that it’s quite possible that hitters aren’t missing his mistakes as often as they used to), but that’s not the same thing as suffering from bad luck.
And that’s why we should probably try to reduce our usage of the word luck to begin with. Yes, there are bloopers that fall in, broken bat squibs that find holes, or times when a defender just falls down and the pitcher gets blamed for his defensive miscue. There are definitely instances of luck in baseball, and they do effect the results that a pitcher is credited with. I’m not arguing against DIPS theory – I’m just saying that perhaps we should try to do a better job of talking about it when a guys results aren’t lining up with his process because he’s throwing bad pitches that hitters aren’t missing.
What Voros McCracken and the others who followed his research really showed us wasn’t that pitchers have no control over batted ball outcomes, but that the things that cause those gaps don’t hold up over time. Lincecum can be doing things that are causing him to give up a lot of runs now but history suggests that he won’t keep doing those things in the future. He’s either going to figure out how to fix his command or he’s going to change his approach to pitching, and he’s not going to keep locating 91 MPH fastballs middle-in at the belt with regularity. Maybe hitters will start missing his mistakes more often. Maybe he’ll start making fewer mistakes. Whatever the cause is, the effect is likely to be that Lincecum is going to get better results in the future than he has in the first two months of the season.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned his poor results to date. The word luck absolves him of blame for the outcome, which shouldn’t be what we’re trying to do. Blame Tim Lincecum for throwing terrible pitches – just realize that it doesn’t mean that he’s going to keep throwing terrible pitches in the future.
Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com relates a great story about new Dodger reliever Todd Coffey:
… He didn’t look much like a major league ballplayer 14 years ago, either. That was when Coffey, then a 17-year-old who had just graduated from Forest City High School in North Carolina, was taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the 41st round of baseball’s amateur draft.
In those days, when a team maintained exclusive signing rights to all of its draft picks for 11 months, a common practice in the lower rounds was to take players as “draft-and-follows.” That meant drafting a player with no intention of signing him immediately and continuing to scout him as he played junior-college ball the following spring, then making a decision whether to sign him. If the team did sign him, it usually meant he was an “organizational” guy, there to fill out the roster of one minor league affiliate or another, with little to no chance of ever playing in the majors.
That was the way DeJon Watson, the Reds scouting director at the time, viewed Coffey.
“We liked his arm and his size,” said Watson, now the Dodgers’ assistant general manager in charge of player development. “He had some projection to play. But in our mind’s eye, he was a draft-and-follow. We wanted him to go to a juco.”
But there also was another draft rule in place then: you had to make at least a nominal, if half-hearted, offer to every player you drafted. So Watson authorized Steve Kring, the Reds’ area scout who had recommended Coffey, to offer Coffey something he was certain the big right-hander would turn down, a $1,000 bonus and an $850 monthly salary in the low minors.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus looks at what contracts top youngsters Mike Trout, Matt Moore and Bryce Harper would get if they were free agents.
Rafael Furcal was a top-five defensive shortstop last year, according to David Pinto of Baseball Musings and his probabilistic model of range (PMR) stats.
Charles P. Pierce of Grantland on steroids and baseball:
… From its very beginnings, the “war” on performance-enhancing drugs in sports, and especially in baseball, has been legally questionable, morally incoherent, and recklessly dependent on collateral damage to make its point. Long ago, I went over to the purely libertarian position on this question simply because any other solution seemed to me to be incompatible with civil liberties and an equitable sharing of power in the workplace — and because every other “war” on drugs that I’d seen had been an enormous waste of time, money, and manpower.
There always have seemed to me to be two main arguments against this position. The first is the question of the player’s health. This is not one to be dismissed lightly, even though, in almost every other context in professional sports, it is always secondary to profits in the mind of management. And the second, more hazy argument is that it is somehow unethical to ingest a substance that will make you play better. Too often, it seems, the former consideration is used to camouflage arguments based primarily on the latter.
The health consideration is doomed to failure in the long run because, well, Science Marches On. Sooner or later, someone’s going to invent a substance that enhances performance without any risk to the athlete involved. The reason this will happen is because whoever invents the stuff is going to get wealthy beyond Warren Buffett’s wildest dreams. Eliminate the health-of-the-athlete fig leaf and all you’re left with is the moral and ethical argument and, on its own, that falls apart with the slightest nudge.
Can someone seriously argue that it is ethical to take a drug to make a performance possible, but unethical to take a drug that makes that performance better? Isn’t making a performance possible at all the ultimate performance enhancement? If there had been a drug that would have given us five more seasons of Sandy Koufax at the top of his game, how would that have been a bad thing, everything else being equal? Sports are rife with drugs. Without drugs of one sort or another, the NFL season would never begin, and the baseball season would end sometime in June owing to a lack of participating teams. …
Learn how a 1955 San Bernardino gang fight sparked the creation of “West Side Story,” from the Press-Enterprise and the Times.
The setup: Furcal entered his sixth season in Los Angeles with no one quite sure what he’d produce. In 2008, he had a .439 on-base percentage and .573 slugging percentage but only managed to play in 36 games. In 2009, you could flip that: he appeared in 150 contests, but his numbers declined to .335 and .375. The 2010 season split the difference: 97 games, .366/.460, including a hot streak that propelled him into the All-Star Game. With free agency likely beckoning and Dee Gordon waiting in the wings, the only thing that seemed relatively certain was that 2011 would be Furcal’s last in Los Angeles.
The closeup: As inevitable as injuries might seem with Furcal, his first of 2011 just didn’t seem fair. In his seventh game of the year, Furcal broke his thumb sliding into third base. He didn’t return to action until May 22, and may have rushed himself at that. Through May 27, he had come to the plate 50 times and made 42 outs. He then reached base seven times in his next 14 plate appearances, only for a new injury to sideline him for another month. Again, he struggled upon his return. On July 22, in the midst of a season that was paying him $12 million, Furcal went 0 for 4 in a loss to Washington that dropped the Dodgers’ record to 43-56 and lowered his season on-base percentage to .220 and slugging percentage to .200. The notion that Furcal would be boosting his team into the National League Championship Series could hardly have been more absurd.
Over the next six games, Furcal went 8 for 22 with three walks and three doubles, enough to convince the St. Louis Cardinals it was worth taking a chance on him. On July 31, they traded minor-league outfielder Alex Castellanos (who finished his Double-A season with a .958 OPS, 1.009 in Chattanooga) for Furcal, who could look back on his Dodger career, injuries and all, as the team’s best all-around shortstop since at least Maury Wills.
But there was little time for Furcal to reflect on the past.
Furcal reached base twice in his first start with St. Louis, and homered and drove in four runs in his third. The Cardinals fell out of the NL Central race, but made a surprising run to the playoffs by stealing the wild card from Atlanta. It wasn’t all good from Furcal – though he hit seven homers in 50 games, his on-base percentage was only .316, and his ninth-inning error September 22 opened the door for a six-run ninth inning by the Mets that nearly crushed the Cards’ playoff hopes. Furcal also wasn’t healthy enough to play in the team’s final two games of the regular season. But he played every inning of the NL Division Series against Philadelphia, culminating in Friday’s Game 5, in which his leadoff triple against potential Cy Young-winner Roy Halladay led to the game’s only run and his sparkling defensive play in the eighth inning helped preserve the lead. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch captured the moment and what Furcal has meant to the Cardinals in this postgame feature.
Coming attractions: After the pursuit of his first World Series ends, Furcal’s offseason adventure begins. St. Louis inherited a $12 million option for 2012 on Furcal, who turns 34 on October 24, and though there seems to be some mutual interest, more likely his next contract comes via the free-agent market.
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:
604. Xeifrank Gameday seems to be broke. It keeps on saying every Dodger hitter is hitting a home run. Major software bug or something.
It doesn’t relate to the Dodgers’ on-field performance, but this post from Josh Rawitch at Inside the Dodgers on Rafael Furcal is still worth noting:
… Not only did he donate huge amounts of money to the Dodgers Dream Foundation over the last six years, but I will always recall a conversation we had at the sushi bar in our Pittsburgh hotel at the end of the 2008 season. He never really tells anyone about all that he does back home in his hometown of Loma de Cabrera, but we got to talking about the poverty he grew up around. He made a passing comment about the local hospital and how the residents know that if they can’t afford their bills, the hospital just bills him. It was unfathomable, but in his mind it was simply what he is supposed to do.
That’s also the first time he mentioned that his hometown doesn’t have a firetruck, another concept that’s hard to believe for those of us in the States. When a fire burns here, we pick up the phone, call 911 and people come and help put it out. Down there, they simply don’t have that luxury. That’s when we talked about the fact that if he returned to the Dodgers as a free agent, we would make sure that his hometown gets a firetruck.
Well, it took some time and effort from a lot of people, but there’s now an LAFD firetruck in customs in the Dominican, en route to his hometown and Raffy’s efforts in that regard will truly save lives. And his generosity at the local hospital saves lives. And for those who saw his “Before the Bigs” on Prime Ticket, you truly get a sense of the heartache he’s experienced in his life.
I’m sure he feels like there was unfinished business here on the field, but off the field he’s made his mark and on the field, he was truly a lineup changer whenever he was healthy. And if you’ve had the pleasure of watching a five-year-old Raffy Jr. in a batting cage at Camelback Ranch, you get the sense we’ll be seeing that kid someday in the big leagues. …
When Rafael Furcal first signed with the Dodgers, he had recently turned 28 and had averaged 152 games and 687 plate appearances over the previous four seasons, with a .342 on-base percentage, .418 slugging percentage and .794 stolen-base percentage. He wasn’t spectacular offensively, but he was solid and a step up from Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora, who mainly manned the position over the previously six years.
Coming from Atlanta, Furcal was no Andruw Jones. Though his first month was below par, Furcal snapped out of it and got better as the 2006 season went on, OPSing .963 after the All-Star break and helping the Dodgers reach the playoffs. Of no small significance, he played in 159 of 162 games and started 156 of them.
Furcal missed the first nine games of the 2007 season and the last 12 as well, but in between he played in 138 out of 141. That year, he didn’t have that great finishing kick (nor did the Dodgers), and finished with only a .687 OPS.
However, it wasn’t really until year three that the Furcal that will linger in the minds of many Dodger fans emerged. He blasted out of the gate like never before as a Dodger, playing in each of the team’s first 32 games with an MVP-caliber .448 on-base percentage and .597 slugging percentage. To put that in perspective, that’s hotter than Matt Kemp this season. And then, he was sidelined until the final week of September.
The Dodgers (thanks in part to a guy named Manny Ramirez) made the playoffs despite this, and Furcal went right into the fire of the postseason. He reached base in seven of his 15 plate appearances in the Dodgers’ Division Series sweep of Chicago, leading a dominant team performance that convinced numerous pundits to make Los Angeles favorites to reach the World Series.
Game 1 of the NLCS remains, for me, the most pivotal game of Rafael Furcal’s Dodger career. In the sixth inning, with the Dodgers leading 2-0, Furcal (0 for 4 that night) rushed a throw and made an error to allow Shane Victorino to reach first base. The next batter, Chase Utley, homered off Derek Lowe to tie the game, and Pat Burrell sent the go-ahead run out of the park one batter later. It’s not that I’m pinning responsibility for the defeat on Furcal, but that throwing error remains as much a moment of wondering “what might have been” as Cory Wade’s and Jonathan Broxton’s pitches in the eighth inning of Game 4 are.
Furcal came back in 2009 to, without looking at things too closely, essentially repeat his 2007 season – with the main difference being that the Dodgers had the offense to withstand his deficiencies and return to the postseason. Again, Furcal shined in the NLDS triumph and floundered in the NLCS disappointment.
For your typical player, that would have been the beginning of a steady decline, but not for the you-never-know Furcal. A year ago, here’s what was written on Dodger Thoughts:
At the start of this season, I had practically given up on Rafael Furcal.
Last year was limp, and his brief fireworks in 2008 looked like the death throes of a player just before his back was hijacked by the devil. He seemed, to adapt one of the most malleable and miserable of baseball cliches, an old 32.
Maybe in an honest attempt to be objective, maybe in an attempt to be too clever, I picked Furcal as the Dodgers’ hidden weak link. While everyone else was worried about the starting pitching or Manny Ramirez, I was the one who so smartly pointed out that the Dodgers had a fizzler as the backbone of their infield.
Turns out, that fizzler has been the most valuable shortstop in major league baseball — All-Star snub be damned — according to Fangraphs.
That Furcal has made me look so wrong is wonderful. That he has done it in a year of personal tragedy is wondrous. How did he go back to work so quickly after his father died? And how did he go back so well?
Furcal is a player of tremendous ability — he quite possibly will leave the Dodgers at the end of 2011 as the greatest-hitting shortstop in their long history — and, if it may still be said, somewhat maddening inconsistency. At times like these, with a .443 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage since June 4, he is arguably the best player in the game, punctuated by the spring in his defensive step. But even this year, Furcal has had his struggles. Thanks to more injuries and more ill production, Furcal reached base only 13 times compared with 11 strikeouts over a six-week span from April 22 through June 3. To put it in the best possible light, Furcal has an uncanny ability to remind you that he is all too human.
He’s one of us. Until he’s not.
Furcal will cool off again, maybe starting tonight. And one of these days, months or years, he won’t heat back up again. After all, he’s an old 32, right? But someday, after it’s all over, I hope I remember these inspiring weeks, when Furcal not only found life worth living in a dark hour, he made it that much more rewarding for the rest of us.
Should Rafael Furcal’s trade to St. Louis become official, some will look back on all the money spent on Furcal and all the games missed, not to mention his lost year of 2011, when he managed to reach base only 41 times in four months. I’ll look back on Furcal as a guy who, each time he was signed, was worth taking a risk on. He was the most brilliant Dodger shortstop of my lifetime as a follower of the team. While I wish and hope for nothing but the best for Dee Gordon, his fleet and healthy feet will have some fly shoes to fill.
As a player with 10 years in the majors and five with his current team, Rafael Furcal would have to approve any trade involving him. But there’s little reason to think he would block the deal that is close to being made, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, that would send Furcal to St. Louis.
The Dodgers, who are currently committed to paying Furcal’s 2011 salary, would reportedly end up paying a good portion of it even if the trade goes through. But it would give them the chance of receiving some immediate player compensation, while fully launching the Dee Gordon opera into its overture.
St. Louis would be hoping it gets the Furcal who played well enough (and enough, period) to make the All-Star Game just last year.
Rafael Furcal’s post-disabled list slump has reached 3 for 34 (.088) with three walks and no extra-base hits. It’s the kind of slump that can happen to the best of ‘em – and as far as the 2011 Dodgers are concerned, consistently seems to.
On balls hit beyond the infield this entire season, Furcal is 16 for 40 (.400) with a .900 OPS. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, compare that OPS to his previous five seasons as a Dodger on balls to the outfield.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ offensive surge of earlier this week proved itself to be the fluke we all assumed it would be. Los Angeles has scored one run in its past 21 innings, despite playing today’s nine in one of the healthier hitting environments in the National League. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp had six of the Dodgers nine times on base, with Kemp erasing one of his successes by being doubled off second after Ethier scored the team’s only run via James Loney’s sacrifice fly.
Hiroki Kuroda pitched six innings, several of them rough ones, but escaped unscathed (thanks in part to Jay Bruce being thrown out on the bases in the second inning – the play that might have caused Furcal’s injury) until the bottom of the fifth, when Scott Rolen drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single. The Dodger bullpen pitched two shutout innings, highlighted by Scott Elbert relieving Mike MacDougal with a runner on second and one out in the seventh and retiring Joey Votto and Bruce. But pinch-hitter Rod Barajas flied out with Kemp and Ethier on base to end the Dodgers’ last threat in the eighth.
The Dodgers put the ball in play tonight, striking out only four times in 31 at-bats, but they just could not make anything happen outside of the trainer’s room. Aaron Miles, slated to be the 25th man on the roster, remains on pace to combine with backup infielder Jamey Carroll for 1,000 plate appearances this year.
Rafael Furcal, who has been on a rehabilitation assignment with Albuquerque for most of the past week, returned to Los Angeles today, but plans to activate him as soon as this weekend in Chicago are on hold for the moment. Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com passes along word that Furcal banged his knee on a slide Tuesday, and though it doesn’t seem major, the Dodgers want to check it out (perhaps aware that nothing ever isn’t major with this team).
Meanwhile, Casey Blake is not ready to return from the disabled list either, Mattingly said.
“”I’m still hopeful with Fook,” Dodger manager Don Mattingly told Shelburne. “Stan (Conte) looked at it and he didn’t think it was anything too serious. He was actually encouraged. So we still have a chance to get Fooky back on the trip.
“Casey has gotten slowed down, I guess he’s got a little soreness in there. … We thought we’d get Fooky back on the trip, we were hopeful we’d get Casey back when we got home, and at that point we’re back kind of to where we want.”
Furcal has been out since April 11 and has missed 33 of the Dodgers’ 40 games this season. On Saturday, he walked in the first as a left-handed batter, then turned around to bat right and had RBI singles in the second and fourth innings, as well as a sixth-inning RBI groundout. No issues were reported about his performance in the field.
My hunch is that if he makes it through today unscathed, we’ll see Furcal in Los Angeles on Monday.
When he returns, Jamey Carroll will likely move over to second base, pushing Aaron Miles to the bench and Russ Mitchell to the minors. One question that will have to be answered when Casey Blake returns is whether the Dodgers will reduce the playing time of Juan Uribe or James Loney to preserve playing time for Carroll, who has the highest on-base percentage in the National League among shortstops. Certainly, Blake will get his share of rest. And might an occasional start in left field become part of the equation for Carroll?
In other roster talk, Dodger reliever Blake Hawksworth may go on the disabled list today after failing to show progress Saturday, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Los Angeles is expected to promote Javy Guerra, who has a 1.06 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 innings (against 13 baserunners) with Double-A Chattanooga. Guerra had pitched 11 straight shutout innings over his last nine outings until giving up a home run Monday. He’s been idle since then.
Some more notes on Chad Billingsley’s Saturday performance, from ESPN Stats and Information:
- The Diamondbacks missed on 11 swings against Billingsley’s fastball, the most against the Dodgers’ right-hander in exactly two years (May 14, 2009).
- Billingsley’s fastball was particularly effective on the first pitch. He threw 21 fastballs on the first pitch of a plate appearance. Seventeen of those fastballs went for strikes, tied for his most in a start in the last three seasons. More remarkable is that the Diamondbacks put none of Billingsley’s first-pitch fastballs in play. They swung at eight, missing three and fouling off five.
- By throwing first-pitch strikes that didn’t end up in play, Billingsley started 18 of 27 hitters with an 0-1 count, his second-most 0-1 counts in a start since 2009. All eight of Billingsley’s strikeouts were in at-bats he started with a first-pitch strike. It also enabled him to rack up his strikeouts efficiently, as six of his eight were in at-bats lasting three or four pitches, tied for his most in the last three seasons.
Rafael Furcal has officially been placed on the disabled list, and Ivan De Jesus Jr. was recalled to take his roster spot and presumably play at least semi-regularly at second base, though Aaron Miles is getting the start tonight.
Chad Billingsley and Tim Lincecum face each other for the first time as starting pitchers in tonight’s game. They did meet up in that bizarre, rain-affected game April 2, 2008 when both entered as relievers, after Hong-Chih Kuo and Merkin Valdez started. Billingsley faced four batters in the fifth inning and got a blown save for his effort.
Click this link to see how Lincecum has done in 11 previous outings against the Dodgers.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesRafael Furcal hurt his thumb on this fifth-inning slide.
As noted below and reported by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Rafael Furcal hurt his thumb tonight sliding hand-first into third base. Following the game, it was revealed that the thumb is broken, and that Furcal will be out a minimum of four weeks and as many as six.
Dylan Hernandez of the Times said that Furcal was despondent enough to be “pondering retirement,” though we’ll assume for the time being that the depression was talking then. Here’s what Jackson wrote:
Furcal actually hinted at retirement, but that seemed to be nothing more than an emotional reaction to having received the bad news.
“I’m thinking about retiring if I can’t get back to being healthy,” said Furcal, who has a history of back injuries and missed a month each last season with injuries to his lower back and right thigh. “I was feeling so good with my back, and now I break my finger.”
With Furcal out for a lengthy period, Jamey Carroll would see the most time at shortstop, though the Dodgers have to be careful with the 37-year-old. With Casey Blake also ailing, that also means more playing time for Aaron Miles. An infielder will no doubt be called up if Furcal goes on the disabled list, but I’d guess Ivan De Jesus Jr. (who is on the 40-man roster). As alternatives, Justin Sellers or Juan Castro would get the call before the still-green Dee Gordon would. (Tonight, as Jerry Sands homered for the third-straight game and Jay Gibbons had three hits and a game-winning RBI, Gordon stole his fourth base of the season but also made his fourth error and struck out four times.)
I have several different thoughts percolating about the fan and security issues surrounding tonight’s Dodgers-Giants game, as well as today’s Dodger Stadium fundraiser for Bryan Stow. I know it’s my job to get them from percolation to full boil, but I didn’t quite get there. For now, let’s just keep it simple: I am thinking good thoughts for tonight.
In baseball news: Rafael Furcal is back in the lineup after a couple of days off because of wrist issues. But after resting Sunday, Casey Blake is also sitting out tonight’s game against San Francisco lefty Madison Bumgarner. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com said that Blake’s left leg has been bothering him since Saturday’s game-ending collision with the Padres’ Chase Headley.
Additionally, the Dodgers have sent John Ely back to Albuquerque, paving the way for Jon Garland’s activation before Friday’s game. In the meantime, Jamie Hoffmann gets a callup. Here’s Jackson’s story.