LOS ANGELES – The baseball found Nomar Garciaparra's mitt on the backhand side, the way the ball had found teammates' gloves and mitts and bat barrels for more than a week, the way the game has found the Los Angeles Dodgers for more than a week.
He rolled in the dirt just left of first base and arose waving that mitt in the air, about the time Jonathan Broxton's big, meaty heart started beating again and Conor Jackson's helmet hit the baseline with a two-handed slam.
In nine days, the Dodgers had gone from 4½ games down to a game-and-a-half up in the National League West, their eight-game winning streak (immediately chasing an eight-game losing streak) including five wins against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are starting to look like they've never done this September thing before.
And now you'd like to throw yourself into the arms of the Dodgers, to believe in Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez and the lug in the ninth and a starting rotation that has been the anchor from the moment they broke camp. Now you'd love to think 20 years of heartache and drama and turnover has become something close to proficient and reliable, certainly as it plays in a division soft on little skills such as finishing at-bats.
How to put this delicately.
Eight wins after eight losses. Torre pushed a hand through his hair, which seemed thicker in New York.
"It means that over the last 16 games," he said, "we're a .500 team."
And over 143 games, they are only three over .500.
The Dodgers' outfielders met in shallow center field late Sunday afternoon and caromed off each other, celebrating as "I Love L.A." drifted toward the San Gabriel Mountains, a town dying for a winner not wearing red swooning over the promise of something, you know, real. A handful of Diamondbacks trudged past them from the bullpen.
They'd played a funky, almost desperate game to match their funky, desperate season. The Dodgers propped up and then covered for their 20-year-old starter, Clayton Kershaw, who could barely keep his fastball in the ballpark, either direction. They'd struck out 11 times in five innings against Diamondbacks rookie Max Scherzer, Russell Martin memorably screaming after swinging through a bastard off-speed pitch, "What the (heck) was that?" A changeup, moving left to right, diving, seemingly circling.
"I think it was something illegal," Martin said, laughing. "It went around me. A scuff or something."
They'd made two goofy errors, and you'd be stunned to find out Ramirez made one of them. They'd leaned on Broxton for five outs, and the last pitch he threw, his 33rd, should still be rattling around in the right-field corner. Two Diamondbacks on base, a two-run lead, Broxton red with exertion, the bat-on-ball loud and discouraging.
"I really didn't see it," Broxton said. "He hit it hard."
Garciaparra, driven into utility duty by Angel Berroa (seriously), did not start. He had swapped gloves and moved from third base to first the previous inning. He'd driven in a run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. He's hanging on here, batting .234, running out of contract. He launched himself right, he stretched right, he hoped right.
"Dive," he'd thought. "Knock it down somehow."
The ball hit him where winning streaks live.
"I'm glad it stayed in there," he said. "I didn't want to get up and throw it to Broxton."
Yeah, that worked out great, since Broxton hadn't taken a step toward first.
"Lost it in the stands," Broxton said.
He spoke as teammates stepped over dozens of duffel bags. The long, narrow clubhouse was thick with September call-ups and get-away day bustle. Buses waited at the end of the tunnel, waited to take them back out there, this time to San Diego, Colorado and Pittsburgh. Last time out, they'd lost their first eight games before winning again, nearly ending their season before saving it with a lot of pitching and a little Manny, a little Andre Ethier, a little James Loney, a little Blake DeWitt, whoever came along.
I'd wait. A lot can happen in 10 games on the road. It did last time.
"Remember," Ramirez said, "we've still got two more weeks."
That'd be three.
Three more weeks.
Really, it's going to be up to Ramirez, too. He was altogether Manny again Sunday, turning around 98-mph fastballs in the first and sixth innings, pushing Ethier from first to third both times, Ethier eventually scoring both times. Then he'd dawdled on defense after a single in the fourth inning, dropped the ball, threw late, turned it into a man at second.
But, hey, maybe it gets boring in left field.
Sun's beating down, your shadow's pooled around your feet like a pair of unhinged clown pants, and the game's mostly being played outside the strike zone or way over your head.
A man's mind wanders.
A week ago, Manny was so excited to face Arizona's Dan Haren he told Torre on his way to the batter's box, "If he comes inside on me, they're going to have to get a new baseball."
When he hit an inside fastball into the left-field bleachers, Ramirez arrived back at the dugout gushing, "Get a new baseball!"
The Dodgers won that game and haven't lost since. So, yeah, you'd like to throw yourself into Manny's arms, believe again.
I get it.
But, I'd wait.