24 April 2008

Tenacious Dodgers

The Dodgers beat the Snakes and Dan Haren with disciplined aggression. They left alone the bad pitches, fouled off the tough pitches, and ripped the easy pitches. The Dodgers earned those easy pitches. They wrung them out of Haren, leaving him a frustrated, gesticulating mess. They took everything they could get out of him. This was not a game when everything came easy to the Dodgers. The final score may have looked that way, but this 8-3 game was very different from the 9-3 laugher they won two days ago. Haren may not have been at his best but the Dodgers still had to fight him for everything they got. It was clear, in the first inning, that this was a different team. Furcal took third when it was made available. Nomar worked for the clutch single to open the scoring. At this moment Haren was staggered, and he never regained his equilibrium.

The Dodgers can't afford Torre's screwups anymore. Back when they still led only 3-1, when it was clear that Lowe had to come out with tightness in his elbow, Torre had Chan Ho Park warming up in the 'pen, to come in for the sixth inning. This is an unacceptable risk with a two run lead. I understand that the 'pen was a little thin from the previous game, but Beimel, Broxton and Saito were all fresh. They should have been enough to bridge four innings. When it comes to it, the real mistake here is that Park is even on the team at all. Why keep him and trade away Eric Hull for nothing? What could Park possibly have left to offer?

At least Torre started Kemp against a tough righty, and sat Pierre. This is progress. And Kemp had a good game, going 2-5 with one run scored and one driven in. He also struck out twice and left six runners on base. I mention this only because I fear Torre is noticing this as well.

As it turned out the Dodgers knocked out Haren in the bottom of the fifth with 3 runs, so Park ended up coming in with a 6-1 lead. Still, he almost had a hand in blowing the game in the tense seventh inning. It was in these moments that it looked like LA would collectively kick away the evening. On my big TV the Lakers were blowing a third quarter lead to the Nuggets as the Dodgers were letting the Snakes bring the tying run to the plate. By then Broxton was pitching. He was wilder than I ever want to see, but in the end he was up to the challenge. The Snakes appear to be a great team, and they won't go easy. There are very few easy games against them.

The Lakers, too, were up to the challenge, and ended up putting away the Nuggets rather easily. But they have Kobe Bryant. The Dodgers don't have anyone like him. Joe Torre's one thousand lineups make a certain kind of sense, because while the Dodgers have a lot of good hitters, they don't have any dominant hitters. They have no one of whom one can say --- yes, he's the clear three hitter or that's the obvious cleanup hitter. Maybe, back in their primes, Nomar and Andruw were clear choices for the 3 and 4 spots, but no longer. Now it's more like 7 and 8, or the bench. The Dodgers are caught between two worlds. They have declining veterans, some of whom still have something left of their past glory. They have rising youngsters, some of whom show flashes of their future hoped-for brilliance. They don't have the man. Where is the man in this lineup? Too often this year the lineup has folded when things didn't go easy for them. Not last night. With a few exceptions, everyone was the man last night.

There would have been more tense moments in the ninth inning from the wavering, aging Saito, if not for Upton's spectacular drop. Now that made the game into a laugher --- there's little quite as funny as seeing an opposition player drop an easy fly ball. Upton, you will live forever on those blooper tapes they show during inning breaks at ballparks around the country.

The Dodgers have to do it again today. They get the Snakes' worst pitcher, but that's no guarantee of anything. The Dodgers have to do it as a team. There is no Kobe to bail them out, to make everyone else's job easier. Without the man in their lineup, the Dodgers have to be a team of men. Tenacious men.

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