29 June 2009

The Magic is Gone

I knew for certain the magic was gone in the third inning on Saturday, when Ethier was confounded in deepest, darkest right field. Russell Branyan had ripped a ball down the right field line, and Ethier waited in the corner by the foul pole for the ball to bounce over to him. He and the corner were like an old married couple, comfortable with each other, no surprises --- you send the ball over to me, corner, and I'll throw the ball in and Branyan will stand on second with his double and that will be that. But the corner made a cuckold of Ethier. It was faithless, and sent the ball off at a strange angle, and Ethier froze, for a moment, shocked. I don't know you, corner, he seemed to say in that horrible, slow-motion moment. When he finally took the ball, and threw it in, Russell Branyan was at third base, with a triple. A triple. Humiliation.

I feel bizarrely confident in saying that every triple Russell Branyan has ever hit was a soul-crushing moment for the fans of the opposing team. He only has 8 of them in his career, you know. That triple he hit Saturday was his first of the season. Branyan is slow. He's not a tripling man. When he hits a triple, it's to send a deeper message.

The magic is gone. That's the message. The Dodger magic has vanished. They have lost two series in a row. They lose pitching matchups they should lose, and then the lose pitching matchups they should win. Their starters are struggling. The offense is straggling. Just watch them and you can see it, feel it. This is not the team we saw in April and May.

The magic is gone. The skeptic must surely challenge this statement. I would challenge this statement if it came from any other source. Evidence is required. And here it is: the Dodgers have been outscored in June. There is no irrational interpretation of a triple in that. It is simply a number. Negative three. Not a good team, not a bad team. A middle team, at least in June. They haven't been outscored by much. Indeed, the Dodger magic lingered long enough into June that they won several come-back games and their record this month is 13-11. You could argue against the end of the magic if you wanted to. But you'd be wrong. It's gone.

The Dodgers are not doomed. You can win without the magic. The Dodgers can make the playoffs without the magic. They have a seven game lead. There is no call to panic. The Dodgers have all the same players they had. And more, coming in. Manny, certainly, and maybe someone in trade, though I do not wish for trade. A trade is too much like panic.

The magic could come back. I do not say it is gone forever. Maybe Manny can bring it back. But I am skeptical. We have aready seen that one man, even one Manny, does not make as much difference as we might have otherwise thought. The Dodgers did not lose the magic when Manny went out. They lost it later. It leaked away, in drips and trickles, until the day when it was clear it was all gone.

I want the magic back. It felt like 1988 again, until it went away. I think it can come back. But when? How? I don't know.

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