LOS ANGELES – “Blahahahaa,” Yasiel Puig said, or something like that.
“Blahahahaa,” he said again, and he grinned, and Justin Turner reddened and giggled so hard his body shook, like this was about the most absurd thing he’d ever seen. That is, Yasiel Puig re-enacting the triple and the tongue flap that followed, that looked like a fish gasping for breath on a dock and sounded like a flat tire on the 405 freeway.
“JT liked it,” he said.
Except JT turned away.
“Hey, look at me,” he said.
And JT cast his eyes right, just to get this over with, and Puig, wouldn’t you know, did it again, and JT covered his eyes.
“Like that,” he said.
And, well, this is how the Los Angeles Dodgers’ postseason began, with Yasiel Puig’s wagging tongue appearing from a cloud of dust at third base, and reappearing later in a fog of questions about who the Dodgers are and who they can be, now that they’d played another postseason game and won it, now that it’s time to win again, now that it’s time to learn if they can.
Yeah, JT finally admitted, if only to make it go away, “That’s exactly how he did it.”
For the fifth time in five years the Dodgers played into October as champions of the National League West, on Friday night on the wing of Clayton Kershaw and 104 wins and also the perception they are vulnerable, in spite of all that. Maybe it’s a case of Dodger fatigue in a sport that latches on to a new lovely every postseason, or maybe it was that 1-16 wobble near the end, and maybe they are vulnerable. The baseball games will tell. Regardless, the Dodgers were here to take another shot at October, led by Kershaw and the memories of a lot of recent Octobers ultimately gone wrong.
Tommy Lasorda stood and saluted from beside the Dodgers dugout, and Sandy Koufax sat nearby looking pensive, and Vin Scully waved from a box near his old television booth.
They do a lot of the past here, probably because that’s where all the biggest wins lay and, in case anyone had forgotten about that, Dennis Eckersley sat behind a microphone on the fifth floor of the place and analyzed today for them. He’d been here for the last big win.
They beat the Arizona Diamondbacks on a Friday night that was clean and ferocious in spots, raggedy in others, but they’d take 9-5, carry it around for a while, hoist their tongues at some of it, and try for a little more of the same in Game 2. Kershaw threw 96 pitches that were just fine, four more that ended up in the seats, and won a postseason game at Dodger Stadium for the first time. And Turner drove in five runs. Puig drove in two. And, maybe hardly anyone noticed, but Brandon Morrow threw seven pitches in the seventh and eighth innings, all of them fastballs, and, when the leads was just three runs, got four outs straight through the heart of the Diamondbacks’ lineup.
This is all part of it, the habit of rolling the rock back up the October hill, falling in behind Kershaw, trembling against the final inches. It falls again to the roster constructed by Andrew Friedman, the clubhouse fostered by Dave Roberts, and to the game played here for going on three decades that hasn’t quite been good enough.
They’ve stood precisely here before, in a first round that has tested them, and the Diamondbacks will do that before somebody gets to three. They will again be good enough or not. That’s the deal, right?
So they put up seven early runs against a pitching staff weakened, or at least thrown out of its preferred order, by a chaotic wild-card game two days before. And Kershaw again pitched into the seventh inning, where he stumbled again into a couple bat barrels. They’d done enough by then, enough by Turner and Puig and Corey Seager and Morrow and Kershaw. They’d a few hours before passed a handwritten sign in their locker room, in blue marker, that read, “Dodgers, Ready your breakfast & eat hearty for tonight we dine in Hell!”, a line from the movie “300.” They’d had a laugh at Puig. Or with him. Or something.
It would do for a night they had to leave those 104 wins behind, as they also got to leave those near-three decades behind, which would seem a fair trade. The true outcome remains out there somewhere, and the path is still uphill, and the lift is still heavy. Just like last October. And the October before. And the one before that.
So, because why not, because he’s him, because sometimes stuff just happens, Puig has taken to licking his baseball bat for luck, and then fluttering his tongue at triples, and for some things there doesn’t need to be a reason.
“Because my teammates,” he said, “I see my teammates so excited on the bench, I don’t know. I don’t know why, I feel maybe ice cream in front of me or something like that.”
Yes, something like that.