SAN FRANCISCO – From so near one end of the continent they could have – they didn’t, but they could have – hit a baseball into the Pacific Ocean, at least into a creek that feeds a cove that empties into a bay that eventually gets to the ocean, the Los Angeles Dodgers kept paddling. Kept their arms and legs moving. Swam with the current. Waited for help. Tried not to panic. Soothed themselves with thoughts — the St. Louis Cardinals lost, the Philadelphia Phillies were no longer in a position to harm them, the NL West wasn’t lost just yet. Is that a boat?
There wouldn’t be much sense in belaboring the details, how they’d come to find themselves floating in such desperate so-so-ness. Not yet. How it even mattered what an 87-win Cardinals team was up to as September died, how an 89-win, and a few hours later, 90-win Rockies team was spending its third-to-last day of the regular season.
On the final Friday of a slog that should have been easier, that probably shouldn’t have come to this, that revealed perhaps more of themselves than they’d intended to show, the Dodgers merely needed to win a stinkin’ baseball game, against a San Francisco Giants team lucky to have ducked under 90 losses, that white-flagged weeks ago and then canned its general manager. They did, 3-1.
The National League West remains unsettled, as does the entire National League. The Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies are in, in some way or another. The Dodgers and the Cardinals are in limbo, the Dodgers two games up with two games to play, both of those at AT&T Park, with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, their two best starters, scheduled through the weekend. Worst scenario, the Dodgers play the Cardinals on Monday in St. Louis for the honor of being the second wild-card team, to travel to that game by Tuesday afternoon.
Some of this, all of it as far as the Dodgers are concerned, to be settled here, as whimsy would have it.
Funny thing about a rivalry that defines baseball in the West – the Dodgers and Giants haven’t finished within three games of each other since 2004. The Giants have won all the World Series since. The Dodgers have won the last five division titles. But they generally operate on separate rhythms, see-sawing through summers, across new philosophies and leaderships and, eventually, eras.
Nobody – promise, nobody – cares who clobbered whom with a bat 50-some years ago. Or about a Joe Morgan home run hit before they were born. What Mike Piazza did one day in 1993.
So, not so long ago, the Dodgers were going to win, because they always win. Because, they’d become convinced, they were better, and probably smarter, and definitely had more to spend on it, in the off chance the first couple things weren’t working out.
It is possible they overthought this. So, by the end, there were too many moving parts and, for some, not nearly enough reps. Anyway, that’s for another day. For Monday, maybe, were the Rockies to ever lose a game, or if the Cardinals perk up. For Tuesday, maybe, if that’s where the wild-card game leads them, to Milwaukee or Chicago.
What it leads to, for the moment, is a full stadium, half the people here to boo Yasiel Puig, the other half (it seemed) to praise him, creating a brief inharmonious ruckus before local cops started hauling out uppity Dodgers fans so nobody cared about Puig anymore.
Hyun-Jin Ryu outpitched Madison Bumgarner, who delayed the final start of his season by two days solely for the opportunity to pitch against and try to beat the Dodgers. The Dodgers started nine right-handed hitters against Bumgarner, including Ryu, but not including Puig, who, in spite of his chest-puffing history with Bumgarner, is also a career .217 hitter against him.
“You know what’s funny?” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts observed pre-game. “That strategy hasn’t worked for us. … It’s not an advantage for us.”
So, Kikè Hernandez started in right field and stroked three hard singles and scored twice, the second time when Justin Turner lobbed a middle-middle fastball into the left-center-field bleachers. And now Hernandez is 19 for 39 in his career versus Bumgarner, which goes a lot further than having to be separated from Bumgarner a couple times a summer. The Dodgers turned five double plays. They got a scoreless ninth inning from Kenley Jansen. They’d done all they could, given the circumstances.
Same time, about 1,300 miles away, the Rockies partied. Like, not toast-to-a-playoff-berth (the specifics of which remain unclear) party, not a hey-so-far-so-good party, but a get-after-it party, all purple-y and golden and hot-damn-it’s-good-to-be-young party, God bless them. And you sort of wonder if the Dodgers remember what it was like, when it was so new, like a tiny miracle had not only happened, but happened to them, and also wheeled in tiny railroad cars filled with all the beer they could drink.
Hernandez read something Friday that Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said, “You can either quit or lay down or go out and play like your hair’s on fire. That really stuck with me.”
Wainwright got beat Friday, and now the Cardinals need all the luck. The Dodgers won Friday, and it’s still a slog. Ryan Braun has five home runs in four games for the Brewers, those homers becoming so routine they’re crawling over the fence for him. David Dahl has five home runs in five games for the Rockies, those becoming so routine the Rockies haven’t lost since they left LA nine days ago. The Cardinals have lost four in a row. Monday’s guaranteed, not that anybody really wants it, but they won’t kick it back if it comes.
“Um, sure,” Roberts said of having played themselves to at least another day. “I haven’t really, I think, we’re just kind of, whatever happens come Monday or Tuesday we just want to play good baseball. We win, obviously good things are in store for us.”
So they do that. And hope hope floats another day.
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