Big-market mixers in three cities

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

LOS ANGELES – Early evening in Chavez Ravine, the San Gabriel Mountains are leaning over the left-field bleachers, the palm trees green and crisp against smoggy gray skies.

Below the press box, men in shorts and blue polo shirts wheel a batting cage from behind home plate. Another waters the area around first base where James Loney and Casey Kotchman will play.

By then, Carlos Delgado had littered Yankee Stadium with nine RBIs, four on a home run against Ross Ohlendorf. Not only did Delgado set a Mets record for RBIs in a game, but it's halfway through the season and he'd increased his RBI total by 26 percent. In a single game, with yet another game later, and in an entirely different part of town. A few hours later, the Mets were hammered in Queens, and everybody had moved on to the Sidney Ponson reclamation story.

And Nick Swisher, who showed up for work batting .232, hit a grand slam on Chicago's South Side against Ryan Dempster, who had allowed a mere 30 earned runs in his first 16 starts yet was pounded for eight in his 17th.

In New York and Chicago, these are apocalyptic baseball moments on a marquee weekend of the regular season. Bragging rights are bragging rights, even if they expire in a few months, a few days, a few hours. They live on in the subways, on the El, on downtown streets teeming with people who declare hardball allegiances at birth.

Out West, the Freeway Series is a decent way to kill parts of a weekend and see a little ball, but not much more than that. For Angels fans, it's a chance to come see what Joe Torre-managed team they're going to beat this time. For Dodgers fans, a few days to catch up with Mike Scioscia, and to count the Dodgers managers since Scioscia became an Angels' icon (that would be four). At game time Friday, large pockets of yellow and blue seats were empty down the lines at Dodger Stadium, both in the lower and upper decks.

The Dodgers, in case you haven't heard, aren't very good and haven't been for about a generation. The NL West has been kind enough to wait on them this season, and so far that's not been charitable enough. For the better part of three months, Torre has said he wouldn't pay attention to the standings until the Dodgers were a .500 team. At that point, Torre might log onto the standings page and find himself in first place, which would be convenient.

Scioscia moved on long ago. Asked specifically how he, as a long-time Dodger, felt about his former club slipping as far as it has, Scioscia said, "I don't, uh, in looking at, uh, organizations, uh, our organization is something we have our priorities on. … They're going to be good for a long time. Reports of their demise and slipping (are) probably exaggerated."

Reminded it had been 20 years since the Dodgers had a World Series winner, Scioscia replied, "They got in the playoffs. Look at the young talent. Hey, our plate's full worrying about our club."

The Angels, meanwhile, have remade themselves into one of the solid organizations in the game, somewhat like the Dodgers used to be, the way Scioscia learned it.

But communities of red and blue fans don't generally overlap here. The ballparks are too far apart by L.A. standards, separated as they are by 30 miles of some of the worst late-afternoon traffic on earth. If they tried to play a home-and-home doubleheader like they do occasionally in New York, gridlock would force them to stop the buses and play in, like, Downey.

Even Friday afternoon, with the Dodgers hoping to hit themselves out of a horrible slump and the Angels generally hoping to play the way they usually play, the biggest story had to do with New York, and Torre's contention that he would have passed on a chance to join the National League's All-Star coaching staff at Yankee Stadium had Clint Hurdle extended the invitation. Willie Randolph, Torre's former bench coach who was fired last week by the Mets, will be replaced by Lou Piniella, but Hurdle and Torre did exchange voicemails on the subject.

"Let's put it this way," Torre said, "I'm glad he didn't ask me. That way I didn't have to give an answer."

Ultimately, he said, it was too soon to return to the Bronx. As it is, he might never set foot in the place again.

"I don't think it was the right thing based on the fact I left there so recently," he said. "The All-Star game is a special time. I shouldn't get any attention. It's not for me. I didn't think it was something that made any sense, let's put it that way."

Just, you know, typical New York stuff.

So on a weekend in which three major-market interleague series hold six of baseball's top eight payrolls, there's just not as much to see, not as much at stake, in Los Angeles.

There are no curses here, though the Dodgers do appear to have sacrificed something with that Kirk Gibson home run.

There is, perhaps, a growing desperation for the Dodgers to be World Series capable again, but it doesn't approach what the Cubs carry.

The payrolls are big, but not New York big.

The city is divided, but not Chicago divided.

So, Dodgers-Angels has its moments and can be interesting, but it doesn't have Ozzie, it doesn't have a single Steinbrenner, and it doesn't ever get stuck on the Triboro Bridge.

"Eh," Torre said dismissively, "we got a police escort."

And it doesn't have police escorts. The mountains and palm trees, though, are lovely.

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