ANAHEIM, Calif. – I have this dog and she’s in the top 10 or 12 people I know. She has this thing she does. Molly barks at the wind. Not at stuff blowing in the wind, near as I can tell. But the wind itself, her legs stiff and her tail taut and her fur spiked and her chest up and her eyes glassy. Yes, she looks like a regular diva in those moments.
Anyway, at the end of a week that had us all a bit wind-whipped, I got to thinking about Molly and this thing she does, and how we all tend to turn and rail against what we don’t quite understand. Or what doesn’t agree with us. Or what seems amiss, sometimes even slightly. Or what simply disappoints us. (Or we’re just hungry. Again.)
It’s the same in baseball. Maybe even more in baseball. And, especially – lately -- in Los Angeles. Weeks ago, if you were to pick two franchises that absolutely had capable starts, even reasonable starts, you might have gone with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels. Today, the Dodgers are 8-10, the Angels are 7-10, and folks from San Clemente to San Fernando find themselves aching for a football team.
Matt Kemp was booed this week at Dodger Stadium. Not loud. Not awful. Just enough to ask, “Hey, who are you and what have you done with Matt Kemp?” Down the road, it’s Josh Hamilton. From the right-field bleachers, they look upon the man who’d hit better than .300 against the Angels, who’d driven in 55 runs and scored another 44 in 73 starts against them and wonder why he’s still trying to beat them.
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Not even 20 games in, of course. Three weeks in. And Tony La Russa’s in town, and Troy Percival could be a pitching coach, and nobody knows what Arte Moreno might do next, and what do we really know about these Guggenheim people, and hardly anything’s working anywhere.
To that I say, it’s too early. And, woof.
The wind is blowing from here to Chavez Ravine. From here to Kemp, from here to Don Mattingly, from left side of the infield to left side of the infield. The Dodgers know it. The Angels feel it.
It’s impatience. It’s too many drama-free Octobers. It’s winning December and losing April through September.
So the Dodgers win a game in Baltimore on a Sunday afternoon before Labor Day, and it seems important to them. And the Angels, on a sunny afternoon in Anaheim, slog 13 innings to beat the Detroit Tigers, and it seems important to them. So now the Tigers go home 9-9, having been swept by a team previously being pushed by the Houston Astros, having sprinkled a little hope atop Moreno’s breakfast cereal, and so the wind blows down Woodward Avenue, too.
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This doesn’t mean there isn’t trouble ahead in L.A. There’s not enough pitching in Orange County and not enough good wood, apparently, up north. The Dodgers have gone from a surplus of pitchers to seeking volunteers. And the Angels watch as Albert Pujols gets intentionally walked a league-leading five times, because the guy hitting behind him is Hamilton. It happened twice again Sunday. The second time was with two out in the 12th inning, in a tie game, against a pitcher (Phil Coke) Hamilton had previously batted .375. Hamilton struck out on three pitches.
“It’s just pitches you can’t miss,” Hamilton said of an at-bat that came and went with fastball-fastball-fastball. “And when you miss them you’re like, ‘What the crap? How’d I miss them?’”
After a game Mark Trumbo won with a home run off Coke, Hamilton could muster a feint smile.
“Do it when you can,” he said of the intentional walks ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Hamilton has one hit since last Sunday, along with eight strikeouts, and is batting .176 on the season.
Yeah, here comes that wind.
“I feel good, man,” he said. “I’ve felt good for a while. It’s just, I don’t know, the only way I can describe it is baseball. Baseball is baseball.”
So he rolls into a ground ball out, or lines out twice to the outfield, or strikes out twice, and makes a play or two in the outfield, and hopes other guys do something big. He’s sure it’s temporary. He’s held up video of last April against this one.
“And there’s nothing different,” he said.
Except, obviously, where the ball goes. There are factors, of course. The week before last he batted .370. And the week before that, .050.
It’s a moving target. It’s a long-distance target. And in cases like that, as Kemp and the Dodgers know, as Hamilton and the Angels know, sometimes it’s best to play the wind. Because the alternative can be counterproductive and, besides, look a little silly.
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