LOS ANGELES – The guy wore plenty of neon, some orange, some lime, and he pedaled his bicycle furiously through the front gate at Dodger Stadium mid-day Wednesday. He wore a helmet with those tiny round side mirrors that show like something between a puma’s whisker and a dentist’s tool. As vigorously as he toiled, the high-end bike moved at a pace just above that of a book club’s power walk, as clearly he was in first gear and the pavement below was straight pedal-stomping, quad-burning, my-lungs-are-a-kiln uphill.
In the throes of this apparent misery, his back hunched, his neck jutted, his lips thin as the edge of a lineup card, the guy turned to spy a passing car. In his red and twisted face there bore a passing resemblance to Bob Geren, bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, only way sweatier and possibly hemorrhaging something somewhere. He waved and regripped in one jerk of his left hand, forced a no-problem half-grin, did not teeter over. It was Bob Geren.
Five minutes later, he rolled his rig into an elevator. A Dodgers player looked him up and down. So much to take in.
“Porsche in the shop, Bob?”
Because that’s what players say, especially to older gentlemen wrung out from the last mile and in no condition to defend themselves.
“The parking lot,” Geren admitted, “is the hardest part.”
The last mile. The last effort. The part where you look back with some satisfaction and think, “So that happened.” The parts where everything hurt. The times where others observed, quietly, No matter how bad my day goes at least I won’t be that guy. The hopeless times, when the deficit was nine games. Or eight. Or seven. When others thought, “Geez, these guys might not be very good.” The hopeful times, that day in the third week of September when the lead was 2½ games, the largest of the season at the nearly very best time of the season to have it, that night you finished a sweep of the second-place (formerly and recently first-place) Colorado Rockies, that time you cleared some room in your otherwise taut, game-face psyche in order to consider a sixth consecutive NL West title.
Eleven days left, nine games left, the Dodgers look to be doing it again, not guaranteed to be, but of the mood to be.
Which would leave, of course, October. Again.
Something still could go terribly wrong for the Dodgers. Or, for that matter, terribly right for the Rockies. That said, the end-to-end most talented team in the division and maybe the National League this weekend required some advancement in the wild-card race and beat the St. Louis Cardinals three times, then this week needed room in its division and beat the Rockies three times.
Over three nights, the Rockies, who have not won a division title, lost those three games and also their shortstop, Trevor Story. First Joc Pederson hit two home runs, then Chris Taylor hit a walk-off home run, and then Yasiel Puig came off the bench to hit a three-run homer, and he circled the bases with his biceps flexed, passing his bat he’d chucked into the grass nearly half-way to first base. An NL West race that had been muddled for 5½ months, that at times seemed to wait on the Dodgers to get their act together, was now in danger of being won.
By the team with not enough bullpen. By the team that lost its own All-Star shortstop in April. By the team that couldn’t or wouldn’t be bothered by the slog of the regular season, that had been beaten down by a loss on the first day of the prior November, that was betrayed by its plan to throw depth at every problem, that was betrayed by its third baseman’s wrist, its ace’s back, its closer’s heart, its right fielder’s squirreliness. By the team, sure, with the man-sized payroll. And still, six in six years, if it is to be, is a more than reasonable run, while still there is not a flag above Dodger Stadium that reflects anything of note from the past three decades.
In five seasons, the five before this one, the Dodgers have won 23 postseason games. The Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals: 18. They have flags. The Boston Red Sox: 12. They have a flag. The St. Louis Cardinals: 14. The Houston Astros: 13. A flag. The San Francisco Giants: 13. A flag.
The next hill.
On the penultimate Wednesday night of the baseball season, in front of more than 50,000 in a stadium that expects more but hollered its lungs out anyway, that dragged a triumphant Puig to the top step, the Dodgers finished a week in which they won six times. They won twice in games started by their ace, Clayton Kershaw. And twice in games started by their emerging ace, Walker Buehler. Puig homered six times. The bullpen, housing as many as three reluctant relievers, found its footing in front of Kenley Jansen. And Jansen found his, as well. As though the Dodgers had it all along, that they’d get there eventually, and anyways they had an excuse for running a little late.
The Porsche was in the shop.
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