SAN FRANCISCO – In a decision made about 30 minutes before game time Saturday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers opted not to have the guy in the neck brace bat third.
Adrian Gonzalez had injured himself running into an umpire, not to be confused with Jerry Hairston Jr., who required stitches over his eye after running into a desk in his hotel room. Or Zack Greinke, who broke his collarbone running into Carlos Quentin. Or even Hanley Ramirez, who blew his hamstring running into an out at third base.
All this adhered itself to about a half-dozen other medical crises in the Dodgers' clubhouse, through which Gonzalez eased into the pregame wrapped in a cervical collar and heating pad, though on a nearby bulletin board he was to play first base and hit third against the San Francisco Giants, and very soon.
"I could still change the lineup at this point," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, and then he did, as apparently Gonzalez could not turn his head quite far enough to see the pitcher from the batter's box, which would seem the absolute minimum as far as effective hitting goes.
As a result of the excess of infirmed, when Mattingly stalked to the mound in the second inning to remove a starting pitcher who a month ago was 10th on the organizational depth chart, the infielders who fell in with him were – from left to right – Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon, Skip Schumaker and Hairston. They stood where Luis Cruz (batting .098), Ramirez (hamstring, nee thumb), Mark Ellis (quadriceps) and Gonzalez (neck) were supposed to be standing, which isn't at all what the Dodgers had in mind when they began spending and thinking so big and entertaining the notion of a budding dynasty before a pitch had been thrown (or a disabled list filled).
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Suddenly, a rivalry born – or reborn – of Giants acumen and Dodgers mad money seems intent on running off without the Dodgers for a while, as between slumps in the lineup and lumps in the clubhouse, the Dodgers have little to defend themselves with. And the Giants, they're the same old Giants.
They may wonder what's up with Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong. They may squint and strain to see the old Tim Lincecum in the new Tim Lincecum. The starting pitching has been so good for so long, they almost forget what it's like to have to alert the bullpen before the seventh inning. So, they score runs at about the league average, they air out the bullpen a little, they figure Cain and Vogelsong will figure it out soon enough, and before games they do not fret like the Dodgers do, they dance.
One of them does, anyway – outfielder Andres Torres. But, when he stands before that boom box and twists the knob to loudest and does his thing, he perhaps speaks for the Giants; focused and carefree, confident and self-deprecating, and sure they're kind of sexy. If you could be just one kind of happy for the rest of your life, you just might choose the intersection of Andres Torres and salsa music.
Down the hall, before the Dodgers held a rare in-series hitters' meeting that bled into their batting practice time, they'd drawn for Kentucky Derby horses. On a day a list of unavailable Dodgers included Gonzalez, Ellis, Ramirez, Greinke, Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, that a list of struggling Dodgers included Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and near anyone holding a bat with a runner in scoring position, Mattingly pulled the thoroughbred Falling Sky.
A couple hours later, the Giants led, 5-0, his rookie had pitched himself out of the game after four outs, and about 40,000 people at AT&T Park had joined Andres Torres.
"I look at our lineup today," he'd said, "and I see a team that's capable of winning. I mean, we're capable of winning today. We're good enough to win a game some way."
As life would have it, the sky held for a few hours. Through five weeks having outhit only the Chicago Cubs in the National League with runners in scoring position, the Dodgers rallied for seven runs in the fifth inning alone. And they stood tied, 9-9, with the Giants into the 10th inning. And the night after Buster Posey's ninth-inning home run beat them, and they'd lost another middle-of-the-order bat, and GM Ned Colletti had been heckled by fans walking the hallways, and they'd reluctantly summoned Dee Gordon from Albuquerque, the Dodgers scored at least eight runs against the Giants and still lost for the first time in 25 years.
Guillermo Quiroz, the last position player on the Giants' bench, swung at a two-strike slider from Brandon League and hit it over the left-field wall. Like that, it was 10-9 and the Giants were dancing again.
"It's been a rough 24 hours for all of us," said Hairston, his forehead stitched, swollen and black and blue. "That's life. Things are not always going to go your way."
By the end of more than four hours of baseball, the Dodgers were somewhat optimistic Gonzalez would play Sunday. He actually appeared in the on-deck circle twice Saturday night, but the moment passed without an at-bat.
The Dodgers are 13-16. Of all the things they're running into, they are not running out of time. So there's that. But, just in case, Hairston has a plan they might all heed. The night before, he'd walked through his darkened hotel room, stumbled over a suitcase, and hit the desk forehead first.
"Once I'm in bed," he said, "I'm going to stay in bed tonight."
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