16 October 2008

Roll Call of the Defeated, part 1

Chad Billingsley:

If Chad Billingsley is an ace, then we need another name for what Cole Hamels is. The best pitcher of the Dodgers is not in the same league as the best pitcher on the Phillies.

We know Billingsley can bring it in the postseason; he proved that against Chicago. And Chad had good stuff in both his starts against the Phillies, at least to my observation. He struck out some good hitters with some nasty pitches. But too often he was wild. He could have been luckier in the third inning when Howard's hard grounder galloped past the pack of infield defenders; if that ball is a little bit to the left or right the inning is over. But Chad set himself up to be burned by imperfect fortune with the two previous walks. He missed over the plate too many times. Hitting is about success in one moment. Pitching is about consistent success, repeated over and over. He never had that steady arm against the Phillies.

Blake DeWitt:

I liked his second at bat. Burned off his first pitch weak grounder double play his first time around, he practiced discretion the second time around. He got the count to 2-1 and then hit the ball somewhat hard, but unfortunately not all that hard and also on the ground. The result was the same but I saw improvement. It was never a fair fight, Hamels v. DeWitt. It was a promising AA guy against a polished major league star. He was in over his head all this season and he did okay, but he wasn't the kind of guy you want starting in a postseason game. Well, it happens. No team is ideal at every position. And I always liked seeing him play.

Rafael Furcal:

I like a player who can make me laugh with his play. When he bunted in the first inning of game four, I initially thought he had just popped up the bunt Pierre-style. From my seat behind the left field foul pole all I could see was that the ball went high into the air, which is a big no-no when bunting, and I was sure of the out. And then, when I saw the fielder look up, then back, helpless to catch the ball tumbling over him, I laughed. Furcal stole first with that play, a rare and brazen symbolic theft of first, and he nearly stole second at the same time, but they were able to chase down the ball before he could get all the way around.

He would have made me cry with his frequent debilitating errors if I wasn't hardened to that sort of thing. I don't want to be always worried that the throw will be bad when the ball is hit to shortstop. Maybe it's best that Furcal move on. But it would only be best emotionally, irrationally, because there is no way a new Dodger shortstop could replace what Furcal brings when healthy. If healthy. The errors are the headlines, but health is the real red flag here, isn't it?

Greg Maddux:

I never got over how old he looked this year. An old, veteran face. Someday I'll look at my own face and think the same thing.

Matt Kemp:

He did it, in game four. With two outs and runners at second and third he scorched a line drive to center field. I had a great view of the trajectory of that shot, a perfect low arc straight from the bat into Victorino's glove.

And then at the end of game five ... well, let me just say that the Dodgers showed that you can get to Lidge. They drew walks off of him and took him for some deep and hard outs. They never broke through against him, and he's obviously real good, but they took him to the edge of the cliff. The Brewers did too. I wouldn't be surprised if the Rays or Sox got to him in one of their games.

15 October 2008

We Cheered and Cheered

What is there to say about the game that is now two nights gone? The moment is gone, when the Dodgers had a shining chance, when the game felt won, when the series felt tied. Celebration was undone.

The line drives were like fireflies. From the moment they were hit they were metaphors for transient beauty and life and heartbreak. They were moments of pure joy, when we were already coming in to score. But they were caught and we felt the outs, deep and raw. And yet how generous, maybe, to give us those moments of illusion, the brief flashes of elation when the ball was cutting through the air with enough passion to score runs and ignite cheers, rather than just fail without promise. It is better to show your brilliance and fall than to show nothing at all.

Each man who emerged from the gates was treated as a hero. This reliever is the ONE! That most of them failed at some point did not shake our faith that the next one was also the one. Played backwards through time these are great tales of redemption and faith. First Broxton and then Wade emerged from the dugout to yield home runs, and then they returned to the bullpen to cheers because we knew that next time they would do better.

The summary of that game from one who was there is this: we cheered and cheered and then our hearts broke. I don't know what else to say.

13 October 2008


I understand Victorino's reaction after he grounded out. The only way to truly and really get revenge in baseball is to win, to do well on the field. So I think Victorino was thinking that his revenge for the pitch at the head would come with a home run or other solid hit in that at bat. If he had gotten on with a single he would have tried to steal for sure. He was going to show Kuroda who is boss with his bat, and not in the way Juan Maricial once tried it with Johnny Roseboro. But he grounded out meekly. His revenge was thwarted, and so, rendered impotent, he had to yap at Kuroda some more, whine some more, act like a little punk some more. And that brought Manny roaring in.

Manny knows he can't beat up on anyone. Hell, I'm not even sure what kind of fighter he is. He wanted to be held back. But that doesn't matter. Manny will be locked in now. He's going to get his revenge at the plate. We're talking about someone who can hit a pitch well below the strike zone well beyond the left-center fence. Manny could smack a bomb to dead center in the old Polo Grounds if he was locked in. The Phillies have awakened the dreadlocked beast. Victorino and his crybaby routine have roused Manny and the Dodgers. Manny didn't act like a punk when thuggish Myers threw at his head for absolutely no reason. I think Manny felt in game 2 that he'd get his revenge with the bat. And he did! But his three-run home run didn't help the Dodgers win game 2. In the end it's all about winning. The only way the Dodgers win the brushback war with the Punkadelphia Punkies is if they win the series. From now on the only purpose pitches the Dodgers should throw are the kind that strike guys out.

Martin was hit twice and nearly beaned another time. He's had to deal with his staff ace very nearly throwing him under the bus after the game two meltdown. If Martin isn't locked in now he'll never be. But maybe it's nonsense to talk about players being locked in, to talk about players suddenly getting better because they want revenge or something. Weren't they all trying as hard as they could already? What more motivation do you need than making the World Series?

But this Phillies initiated nonsense changes things for fans for sure. For me at least. Of course I've wanted the Dodgers to win the whole time. I've wanted it bad. But now, just as much, I want to see those Phillies lose. The Phillies are as hated as the Giants or the Snakes now. They've started a brushback war for no good reason. Then they cried when the Dodgers dared to fire back. Punks. I've doubled down on this series now. It wasn't like that with the Cubs. I didn't hate the Cubs. They just happened to be in the way of the Dodgers. If the Cubs had beat the Dodgers I would have been upset about the Dodgers losing, but not about the Cubs winning. But the Phillies must now lose. Time to draw even, Dodgers. I'll be there to see you do it.

10 October 2008

Failure of Vigilance

The bottom of the fifth inning ended with a single by catcher Ruiz, then a two-strike single by Hamels, then a fly out by Rollins. I turned to my wife and suggested that it was time to take Lowe out.

This isn't hindsight, because I saw it at the time. It's the experience of hindsight, of watching all those other Lowe games where the inning before he gave up a lot of runs he started giving up singles and fly balls. Derek Lowe is one of the easiest pitchers to read. When he's getting ground balls he's on. When he stops getting ground balls it's time to get him out of there, or at least to have someone up in the 'pen to relieve him at a moment's notice, for example after a game-tying home run.

I understand why Torre wouldn't lift Lowe after five shutout innings. He had only made around 80 pitches. But the warning signs should have been too dire to ignore. At the very least he should have had a quicker hook in that sixth inning. Maybe after the error, which would seem unfair since he did get the ground ball but the fact was you had three home run hitters coming up as the tying run. Or at least after the tying home run! This I think was the latest you could justify leaving Lowe in. And failing that he should have been lifted after the sharp ground out by Howard. That was no "Lowe is back on the horse ground out", that was an "oh bleep he just doesn't have it anymore that was hit so hard ground out". And yet Torre left him in just long enough to lose the lead, and the tie, and as it would turn out, the game.

Look, running Lowe out for the sixth inning could have worked. If Furcal doesn't make that error maybe it does work. I've seen Lowe come back with a strong ground-based inning after a shaky air-based one. So yes, you can gamble. But why would you? The heart of the Phillies lineup was coming up. It's a two run lead in a playoff game. You have an 8-man bullpen ( if Lowe goes again in game 4 ). It's a good bullpen, though I wouldn't have picked Park to be the guy backing up Lowe, not with those hitters in that park. ( I shudder just to think about it. ) It would have made so much sense to get Lowe early. It may be too quick a hook by traditional standards, but let's just win that damn game first and worry about the way things are usually done and players' feelings after the game.

The Dodgers almost hit a home run in the first inning, and they almost got to Lidge with two long drives in the last inning, and they almost gave Lowe that precious first out in a middle inning when he was on the ropes, but the bad break that most haunts me is the mental mistake by the manager.

Yesterday's game thread post on Dodger Thoughts was just one word: Vigilance. It was a prophetic warning for the game. I wish Torre had been more vigilant. I wish he had been more watchful of the danger of Lowe losing his effectiveness. But he was not, and it cost the Dodgers game 1 of the 2008 NLCS.

07 October 2008

Kick 'Em When They're Up

I was at Saturday's game when the Dodgers swept the Cubs. I was one of the people waving one of those stupid yet fun rally dishcloths. I was holding my breath when Loney launched his bullet down the line and cheering when it landed fair, standing all those times Kuroda had two strikes but couldn't quite close the deal with a K, and yelling and screaming when Broxton had two strikes on Soriano. I was astonished when Martin was almost thrown out at third, nervous when it seemed that Saito might pitch the ninth, and delirious when Broxton ended the ninth. I experienced that game, the tense moments, the highs, the roars, the swirling white, the love for LA.

Not once did I think about Ned Freaking Colletti.

Not once in the days since the game have I thought about Ned Colletti. The Dodgers are in the playoffs, have advanced to the LCS. Who is thinking or writing about the Dodgers GM at a time like this? It's about the players and the coaches now, the chances of the club, the dreams of fans and players, the matchup with the Phillies, the hope for one more series, then a really serious series win, then the trophy with all the flags on it.

I would have thought it would be about that for everyone associated with the Dodgers right now, but not for team beat writer Ken Gurnick. He goes and writes an article in which he uses the Dodgers' sweep of the Cubs as a bludgeon on critics of Ned Colletti. Seriously? That's a story that important to tell right now?

So why bother even responding to this crap? I guess it's because the story itself is so obnoxious, so wrong. Even the title gets it wrong.

Colletti silencing critics with success

No. The critics are silent because you don't worry about the GM while your team is in the playoffs. Does it really make sense that three games against the Cubs would change the reality of Colletti's tenure with the Dodgers up to this point? Colletti has brought good and bad to the Dodgers this year, but the single biggest factor which got the Dodgers to the postseason this year is playing in a weak division. That has nothing to do with Colletti.

The subtitle of the article is just as loose with the truth:

GM builds team to win now without sacrificing young talent

Wrong. Young talent has been sacrificed. Santana, Watt, and LaRoche are gone. Maybe it was worth it. Maybe some of the deals were worth it but others weren't. ( That would be my position. ) But it is incorrect to say that no young talent was sacrificed.

But the worst part of the article is the first sentence of it, as obnoxious characterization of one's foes as you will ever see in a puff piece written by a beat writer:

The deeper the Dodgers go into this postseason, the greater the angst for the critics of Ned Colletti.

I am a critic of Ned Colletti, and the advancement of the Dodgers into this postseason gives me zero angst. It takes away angst. No Dodger fan is upset at the team advancing. We've waited 20 years for this! But we critics of Colletti are so petty that we'd wish to see the team fail just so that he can be fired? No. Your lead sentence is a disgrace, Ken Gurnick.

Further down the article:

The former assistant general manager of the San Francisco Giants was hired to replace Paul DePodesta on Nov. 16, 2005, taking over a 91-loss club six weeks into the offseason. There was no manager and the small group of healthy stars he could count on for the following season consisted of Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew. Among the position players he inherited that finished in the top eight for team at-bats the previous year were catcher Jason Phillips, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, injured shortstop Cesar Izturis, utilityman Olmedo Saenz, injured outfielder Jayson Werth and infielder Oscar Robles.

Interesting that Gurnick doesn't mention what else Colletti inherited: Martin, Kemp, Loney, Billingsley, Broxton, and Dewitt. As I've said I have little interest in criticizing Colletti right now, but I would prefer that the entire truth be told. Later in the article Gurnick mentions that Colletti got the Indians and Red Sox to pay the rest of Manny and Blake's salaries, but he doesn't mention what the Dodgers had to give up to make that happen, or how the team even got into a position where it couldn't take on more payroll.

It's the timing of this article that pissed me off at first, but I realize now that no matter when this article was written it would be poor. It's not that defending Colletti is wrong. But you've got to tell the truth, the entire truth, when you do so. ( This goes for critics of Colletti as well. ) No shading of the facts, no convenient omissions. But most important, no mischaracterizations or petty slams of your opponents.

03 October 2008

Layer Slayers

A curse is not a metaphysical barrier preventing a team from winning, but a psychological barrier that prevents fans from enjoying their team's playoff games. I realize this because up until James Loney's grand slam two days ago I was ready for the worst. I expected, deep down, for the Dodgers to be bundled out of the playoffs in three games again. And I wouldn't have admitted it, couldn't have. But there I was, sure the game and series were over after DeRosa's wind aided home run down the line. A sign, I thought. A wind-blown sign of the Dodgers' doom and Cubs' fortune. Man did that lousy lucky home run make me mad.

As curses go the Dodger curse of the last 20 years would be a very minor one. Call it the curse of Pedro Guerrero, for trading him in the middle of 1988 for John Tudor. It's nothing quite so epic as the Red Sox curse or the Cubs curse or the Giants curse ( a very underrated curse ). But 20 years is a long time in the life of a fan. All those experiences of futility and irrelevance lay heavy in the mind. Layers of frustration and lament.

The Dodgers were going to waste all the walks. Announcers will often say that walks always come back to haunt a pitcher but that's not true. Sometimes they are left harmlessly on the bases. Sometimes it's the team that draws the walks that is haunted by scoring position failures. The two hits the Dodgers had before Loney were soft nothings. There were a couple of hard line outs but that was not enough to make me think the Dodgers could hit him. I guess I was hoping Loney could get a single when he first came up. I remember him doing that lately, getting bases loaded singles. That would have been fine by me. Instead he went down 0-2, overmatched. And that was it. The only reason I kept watching was because I felt I was supposed to. As a fan I have to pretend there is hope, but all I was really doing was recording a new layer of failure, setting it down on top of the layer where two men got thrown out at the plate.

Then Loney launched a ball into the heavens that battled the wind and won. And I was in shock. My wife, who does not have 20 years of Dodger fan frustration layers built up in her mind, was simply ecstatic. That was great to see. That's what I want to get back to, that kind of reaction.

These games remind me of the two in Arizona after the 8 game losing streak, when the Dodgers won 6-2 and 8-1. They went into an opponent's stadium and just destroyed two very good pitchers. Look, even without those errors yesterday the Dodgers outplayed Chicago. Billingsley was the better pitcher. Martin has found his power again. The home runs and doubles are back! And so is Furcal, with his jaw-dropping bunt hit. That was just pure fun. The Dodgers haven't even needed Manny, and he's still delivered a couple of show-off shots.

The series isn't over yet. You could make the argument that the Cubs should be favored in every possible game remaining. I couldn't make it, though. I'm not saying that the Dodgers are certain to win the series, because they're not, but this is a good team playing even better than they are right now. The home fans are going to joyous on Saturday. Ready to cheer and never give up. I'll be there too. I can't wait.

01 October 2008

The Feeling of Victory

The feeling of defeat is an adjustment of expectation, the release of hope. There are brief moments of rage, but anger fades into the gray background of the droning, soothing mantra: it is only a game. It is only a game. It was, and always will only be, a game. This is the mantra of the defeated. It was only a game. It is also the truth. Those who are caught up in the feeling of victory are oblivious to the truth. To be an active fan of a sporting contest is to construct a great and fantastic lie: that the outcome of the contest matters, in a personal and emotional way.

So it is. We have all chosen this lie, or have become ensnared in it. The feeling of defeat is the price we pay. We pay it every season. The oscillating nature of the Dodger's ride through the NL West this season brought Dodger fans very close to the feeling of defeat several times. Many may have embraced it fully, when things looked their darkest. I did --- or came close --- or maybe I only experimented with it, without ever fully giving up. I did watch those two games in Arizona after the eight game losing streak with some dim hope for the season, for the chance of victory at the end.

What comes after the victory at the end? Always the goal is to keep playing, to never stop, through the regular season and the tiebreakers and the division round and the league round, until the World Series, when no matter who wins or loses there are no more games. Maybe we could play Japan! No, it has to end eventually. What if the Dodger beat the Cubs, and then the Phillies and then the Red Sox and then hoist the trophy with all the flags on it --- what feeling will that be? I guess it's a feeling of complete and utter delusion. The delusion that it was all important, that we have invested ourselves in greatness. This is not a criticism: for from a distant and impersonal enough perspective anything will appear unimportant.

We are deep in the delusion now, we Dodger fans, anticipating the games against the Cubs. I love the feeling of the playoffs. Especially before the first game, when anything seems possible. Later on we may shake our heads sadly and lament that the Cubs were just too good, but right now we wait for the moment when we can see the potential and hoped for 2008 Baseball Champions of the Universe Los Angeles Dodgers take the field, and to cheer them as if they were us, holding our fates in their gloves.