LOS ANGELES – If they were the least bit conflicted, the residents of Mannywood hid it behind their glee, their flying plumes of popcorn, their death grips on the bobbleheads they'd been handed on the way in.
Yes, give them the slightest nudge and they, too, will smile and nod vacuously.
There are places, however, that welcome absurdity, and moments that arrest reality.
"It's crazy," he said. "I can't believe it."
Somehow, the scripts are even cornier down the street, in Mannywood.
Benched by a bruised wrist he'd suffered the night before, paddling back from a reputation bloodied by the 50-game suspension for violating the game's drug code, hidden away on the very night the Manny doll filled the place, the man himself was summoned to pinch hit in the sixth inning.
The bases were loaded. The score was tied. The ballpark was geeked, people screaming his name, unborn babies being named after him.
And Manny hadn't even gotten to the bat rack yet.
The pitcher's place in the order was there. Vacant. Begging for only him.
"It was the perfect spot, obviously," Joe Torre said.
Manny climbed the steps, advanced to the on-deck circle.
"Man-NEE!" they cried. "Man-NEE!"
Masset, the right-hander, throws a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s. Turns out, he would throw a fastball. One.
Protecting his sore wrist, Manny did not take batting practice Wednesday. He did not hit a ball off a tee. He hardly took a warm-up swing. He had never hit off Nick Masset. He'd never heard of Nick Masset.
He simply waited for Masset to throw his practice pitches, then stood in the box, got his 96 mph fastball and hit it into the left-field seats, hooked down the line, top-spinned into the heart of Mannywood.
Craziest thing you ever saw.
Pinch-hit at-bat stuff crazy.
In these parts, as loud as Gibson. As jarring as Finley. As remote as back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
Well, it could be October. But it seems the Dodgers are building their October legs, their October spirit. If only they could build their October pitching staff.
One project at a time.
Meantime, this sinker that didn't sink, that Manny launched into the section that bears his name, it shook the old ballpark. Once he reached the dugout, offering only his right hand for the high-fives (he'd been hit by a pitch in the left), he mouthed the word everyone else was feeling.
"Wow," he said.
And then jangled his head from side to side, as if it, too, were on a spring.
He went to the top step to accept a curtain call, hoisting his helmet over his head. And when that was not enough for the folks who called his name and refused to sit until they got a final glimpse of him, he did it again, this time on the far end of the dugout.
It was, honestly, magical. It was possible to love the moment and wonder about the man. It was even possible to understand those who were not at all torn. There was hardly time.
"I don't know," Manny told him.
He laughed. He's been forgiven here, a process that took about seven or eight minutes. Now he's back and he's hitting and the team hardly ever loses. Almost every night, it seems, they find just enough pitching. And then, if it's not Manny at-bat, it's some other guy's. But not Wednesday. Not on his night.
He said he wasn't even looking for a fastball. Maybe he was looking for drama. Looking for excitement.
"It was one of the best moments of my career," he said. "I'm just glad it happened here in L.A."
The home run was his 538th, now two ahead of Mickey Mantle. The grand slam was his 21st, two behind Lou Gehrig.
All of that seemed unimportant, though. He'd stood amid the flashbulbs, amid the goofy wigs and Manny dolls and Manny idolatry and did what he does. He swung hard. He thrilled the people.
"I drove it," he said.
He did that.