Monday, September 23, 2013
The Dodgers Take a Victory Swim
The home team doesn't like watching the visitors clinch a title in the home team's house. But concerning the Los Angeles Dodgers' pool party to celebrate clinching the National League West in Arizona, a few observations:
1) There was a point during the season when the Dodgers had hit rock bottom, or close enough, while the Diamondbacks were hitting the high notes and the high standings. It isn't exactly out of the bounds of reason to suggest that, on the assumption that the Dodgers had a resurrection in them, which wasn't an assumption many were willing to make at that point in time, there could be nothing sweeter than to finish it at the Diamondbacks' expense. Especially considering...
2) The Brawl-Star Game of June 11. You remember, surely. Zack Greinke caught Cody Ross with a pitch quite by accident when the game was scoreless, and Joe Kubel followed up by hitting one over the right field fence, both in the fifth inning. Bottom of the sixth, who knew why, Ian Kennedy zipped one into Yasiel Puig's snoot, and only a fool or a Diamondbacks fan believed it wasn't a purpose pitch. Well, now. The rook shook it off, took his base, and Andre Ethier stepped up next to hit one not too far from where Kubel's blast landed. Greinke exacted revenge the right way, when he threw a not-too-hard one at Miguel Montero's back opening the seventh. (Sidebar: Puig batted cleanup for the Dodgers that night; Montero batted likewise for the Snakes. If you're going to answer a drill on your cleanup man, Greinke did it the right way, waiting for theirs.) The benches cleared on that one but that was about all, other than the warnings from the umps to both sides.
But in the bottom, Kennedy threw one marked for Greinke's coconut, warnings be damned, and Greinke was probably lucky he only caught it in the shoulder. The benches cleared again. Including a few rounds between men with whom you could have fielded half a 1980s all-star team, Mark McGwire (Dodgers coach), Alan Trammell (Diamondbacks coach), Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks manager) and Don Mattingly (Dodgers manager).
3) The Dodgers at that point were sapped with injuries. They went on to win the Brawl-Star Game, 5-3, but sat 7.5 games out of first place. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks must have forgotten that Greinke himself was barely back from the disabled list, having gotten there early in the season when the San Diego Padres' Carlos Quentin charged the mound after Greinke — who wasn't even thinking about throwing at someone to open an inning in a one-run game on a full-count pitch by putting the potential tying run on base — caught Quentin on the bicep. Greinke suffered a broken collarbone in the melee, and there were those concerned genuinely for whether losing him meant losing the Dodgers' season before it had, really, gotten underway in earnest.
4) Until 21 July, the Diamondbacks had spent the majority of the season at the top of the NL West. Why, they'd even unload Kennedy, once a 21-game winner for them, on the Padres at the non-waiver trade deadline, thanks to his 5.23 ERA in 21 starts for the Snakes. On which day the Dodgers managed to scratch back to the top of the NL West, with a 2.5 game lead over the Diamondbacks. From July 21-31, the Snakes went 5-5, while the Dodgers went 8-1 in the same stretch. Since July 31? The Dodgers have held first place and fatted that calf at just about every turn, going 31-16 including a staggering 10-game winning streak (August 7-17). They even had one stretch along the way in which they were a transdimensional 42-8.
5) A couple of times the Dodgers looked as though they might risk blowing key ground even as they got their, ahem, water wings back in earnest. They had a pair of four-game losing streaks and, from September 13 until Thursday night, were 4-9. Some thought the grind of trying to keep their hard-earned lead despite a few too many key injuries wore them down just enough. Including Hanley Ramirez limited to just two games in the past week with a barking back.
But come Thursday night he yanked the Dodgers onto that balky back. He blasted a mammoth 3-run homer off Wade Miley to open the scoring and put the Dodgers up 3-0; the Snakes slithered back into the game at Ricky Nolasco's expense, but Ramirez hit one solo four rows up the left center field seats to tie it at 6 in the seventh. Then A.J. Ellis hit the first pitch of the top of the eight (off Josh Collmenter) over the left field fence, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jensen made it hold up, and the West was won the hard way. For Ramirez, it had to be plentiful satisfaction in a season he began on the disabled list, having missed the first two months recovering from surgery after tearing thumb ligaments on a play in the World Baseball Classic title game.
6) Imagine manager Mattingly's feeling today. His May opened with an eight game losing streak that caused calls for his head on a plate. Then he gets Puig as a June callup, Puig becomes must-see baseball for most of the time since, the Dodgers continue figuring out ways to win through the injuries and a few inconsistencies (notably the bullpen at one point), and he's gone from execution eve to a postseason journey.
7) Let's remember, too, that in April the Diamondbacks asked a group of Dodger fans sitting behind the plate to change their shirts or change their seats. The fans were wearing Dodgers shirts. (Officially and as a team, the Dodgers don't do that sort of thing in Dodger Stadium, by the way. Neither do their historically hated rival San Francisco Giants.) Not to mention the headhuntings of Puig and Greinke.
And, it turns out, the Diamondbacks — knowing there was an excellent chance of the Dodgers clinching the division the Snakes had owned for much of the season in the Snakes' pit — even asked the Dodgers not to celebrate the clinching on their field. Not even George Steinbrenner asked the enemy for that. In fact, when the Red Sox finished their surrealistic comeback American League Championship Series conquest in Yankee Stadium, The Boss said, "They earned it. Let them have their fun." I don't think the Diamondbacks would enjoy being seen as having slightly less sportsmanship than the late, notorious Yankee Reaper.
8) The Dodgers found their own way to heed the Diamondback's request. Other than the customary mobbing around the infield, the Dodgers didn't celebrate on the Diamondbacks' field. They had some champagne and dancing in the clubhouse. Then, they scampered across the field to the pool behind the right field fence. "For me," said pitcher Clayton Kershaw, he with the Koufaxian, league-leading 1.94 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, "if they were celebrating at our home field, they would have the right to do whatever they wanted."
Quite a difference from Diamondbacks pitcher Willie Bloomquist: "I think it's tired and disrespectful. It's surprising because they have a lot of veteran guys on that team that I thought were classier than that. But there's a fine line between going overboard at someone else's place and doing that, I think. But what are we going to do about it? There's not much we can do about it now. They've clinched the division this year, but if that's how they're going to act and be classless, that's their gig, that's their clubhouse. I just think it's disrespectful and classless."
9) Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times kind of nailed the entire hoopla down to the proverbial brass tack: "If the Diamondbacks are really going to get their panties in a bunch over this, then I have two suggestions: 1) Don't build a pool in your ballpark, and 2) don't let the other team clinch on your field." So did Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy, proving that Bloomquist's wasn't exactly the entire team's party line: "Celebrating is fun. I don't care how and where you do it. Only thing to care about is what we need to do to celebrate in our pool next year."
10) Arizona team president Derrick Hall put it this way: "I could call it disrespectful and classless, but they don't have a beautiful pool at their old park and must have really wanted to see what one was like."
11) Say I: The Diamondbacks ought to look before they leap. The pool that counts just might be empty. The Dodgers have some beautiful things in their old and still beautiful ballpark, too. Twenty-two pennants and six World Series trophies, to name a few of those things. Surely the Diamondbacks must really want to see what that many flags and trophies might resemble at the same franchise address.