LOS ANGELES – A Thursday night in L.A., the Lakers between series, the Dodgers secure in first place, more than 50,000 meet at the old ballpark on the hill, a good number of them clogging the neighborhood streets an hour after rookie James McDonald's first pitch, a ball, fatefully.
In the first of 11 consecutive home games for the Dodgers, a good week-and-a-half against four opponents rattling around at .500 or below (including two games against the incendiary Washington Nationals), the place is alive.
Management has named a sliver of seats down the left-field line “Mannywood,” and the local paper (the only one covering the team at home and on the road anymore) dutifully dispatches a reporter to sit among the inhabitants.
The mayor himself trots into left field, triggering sparks of light from his constituency. Later, he'd hit them a double and a home run, and Orlando Hudson would hit a home run, too, and the Dodgers would amass 14 more hits and eight more runs, and center fielder Matt Kemp would spend another evening growing into a glove that might someday turn golden, and that old ballpark would sway under everyone's feet.
Through a month, this is what the Dodgers are. They have scored the second-most runs in the National League, and lead in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. The lineup general manager Ned Colletti built and the market delivered has an American League shine to it. It is on a pace to produce more than 900 runs, more than any Dodgers lineup in better than a half-century, when Roy Campanella and Duke Snider were stroking 40 homers apiece in Brooklyn. They are really good – borderline terrific – defensively.
But, a month in, it's about the O. The O-Dawg. The O-Wow.
What they're trying not to think about is the uh-O. Because it's out there.
So it was that Joe Torre sat behind his desk later Thursday night, about the same time those neighborhood streets were thick with cars heading the other direction, passengers aflutter after an 8-5 win, and uttered the words that will carry their season.
“The fact of the matter is,” he said, “if we can get any kind of pitching, we feel we're in every game.”
If they get any kind of pitching...
They win the NL West, going away.
They win the NL pennant.
Meantime, McDonald takes the baseball with a one-run lead and ball one leads to four walks and two hits and three runs and five outs.
And a night earlier, Eric Stults can't pitch out of the third inning in San Francisco, allowing five runs before leaving.
And in the previous series, Clayton Kershaw, their 21-year-old lefty, doesn't survive the fifth again, and now his ERA has bounded into the 7s.
And nobody really knows when Hiroki Kuroda returns from an oblique strain, or what he'll look like when he does.
Being dragged along by emerging ace Chad Billingsley and veteran Randy Wolf, Dodgers' starters' ERAs are running about three-quarters of a run above last season. They're leaning hard on the bullpen, so much so that Torre asked for and received a 13th pitcher before this game against the San Diego Padres, explaining he didn't need much of a bench if he's hardly ever pinch-hitting for anyone. He'd use five more relievers, beginning with Jeff Weaver's first big-league innings in two seasons and ending with a seventh save in eight tries by Jonathan Broxton, who in less than four weeks has been asked to get five outs three times.
“It's early,” catcher Russell Martin explains. “Numbers are skewed when it's early.”
It's a month.
“I think we have the potential,” he says. “I think we have young guys that are going to keep getting better every time out.”
It's the nice thing to say. And, yes, Kershaw is gifted. And McDonald won't always be this wild. And when Kuroda returns, that puts McDonald back in the bullpen, where he belongs at this point in his development, assuming he throws strikes.
He hasn't yet bitten on Pedro Martinez or Paul Byrd or Odalis Perez or Freddy Garcia, and likely won't. It's too soon for a trade. What the Dodgers need is for clubs with some movable pitching parts – the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, these Padres – to fall from contention. But that's months away, if ever. He needs David Price to pitch his way to the big leagues, freeing Jeff Niemann in Tampa Bay. He needs another trading deadline like the last one, when everything he needed came to him.
Observed one scout: “There's plenty of pitching available. None you'd want.”
So here they are. They're not alone, of course. There's just not enough pitching to go around. Typically, this has been other people's problems, not the Dodgers', not Joe Torre's.
Now they'll live on the bat barrels. Theirs'. Other people's. See how that goes for a while.
“You hope somebody can plug a hole,” Torre said. “We just have to find a way to get through a game. And hopefully we pitch well, because we're going to score some runs.”