Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hollywoodland


The Dodgers pulled off a miracle last night. It was something that you would call unbelievable if you saw it in a movie. Down by 4 in the bottom of the ninth, and by 1 in the bottom of the tenth, the Dodgers used the long ball (in case you haven't heard, chicks dig the long ball) to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Padres and Dodgers sent out their best pitchers in the finale of a four game set between the two rivals. Jake Peavy and Brad Penny started the game with the promise of a tight pitchers duel in Chavez Ravine. The notion was shattered immediately as the Padres put up 4 runs in the top of the 1st inning. Down 4-0, the Dodgers rallied to tie the score by the end of the 3rd inning.

The anticipated pitchers duel began in earnest in the 4th inning as the pitchers held the offenses scoreless until the eight inning. That's when the fun began. The Padres scored two runs in the top of the eighth to take a 6-4 lead. The Dodgers responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to one. To put this game in context, the Padres had a 1/2 game lead on the Dodgers coming into this game. This would be the last meeting between these two teams in the regular season, barring a tie breaking one game playoff. Los Angeles held a slim one game lead in the wild card race, with the Phillies breathing down the necks of both teams. Neither team was in the position to lose this game. The Dodgers would fall 1-1/2 games out of the division lead with a loss and possibly into a tie for the wild card lead and the Padres would fall out of the division lead and possibly drop to only a 1/2 game lead on the Phillies for the wild card.

It is with all this hanging over this game that the teams entered the ninth inning. 6-5 Padres and the season of both teams possibly hanging in the balance. The Dodgers brought in their closer for the purpose of keeping the game within one run so that they could mount a comeback in their half of the inning. As with the best laid plans of mice and men, the plan backfires on the Dodgers. Saito, who is their closer only because of a season ending injury to Eric Gagne, promptly implodes and gives up 4 runs. The score is now 9-5. The famed "Dodger faithful" start heading to the exits. Their team is down four runs and the Padres have Trevor Hoffman in their bullpen. Hoffman is about to become the all time leader in saves and hasn't blown a save since July. The mood in LA is gloomy. Losing 3 of 4 to the Padres at home is not exactly what they had in mind. LA is notorious for their less than enthusiastic crowds. Sporting events have become a place to be seen, and not necessarily a place to cheer for the home team. The fans turned out for this 4 game series to the tune of almost a quarter million. It was the highest attended 4 game series in Dodger history and it was all about end with a crushing defeat.

The manager of the Padres inexplicably decides to start off the ninth inning with a set up man instead of Hoffman. It is not a save situation because of the 4 run lead, but with the huge implications of the game, it would seem to make sense to send your closer out to end the game. Alas he does not. The Dodgers first hitter of the inning is future hall of famer Jeff Kent(I'm guessing at this one, but he is the all time leader in home runs for second baseman. I know he's a jerk, but in all likelyhood, he will be inducted into cooperstown one day. But I digress). Jeff Kent works the count in his favor, gets a fastball and deposits it over the centerfield fence. The score is now 9-6. It is a save situation at this point and Hoffman is getting warm in the bullpen. The first pitch to the next batter is promptly deposited in the right field stands. The fans who had left the game after the top of the 9th and were just about to drive away, now turn their cars around and head back to the stadium. The score is 9-7 and the Padres manager finally decides to call on Trevor Hoffman.

Hoffman is three saves away from the all time record. He will be the first pitcher to 500 saves and cooperstown is already preparing his plaque. Hoffman is a rare breed as a closer. He doesn't rely on an overpowering fastball to get people out. In fact, his fastball hasn't seen 90 since the days of the George Sr. administration. Hoffman relies on a devastating change up to get batters out. His first pitch to Russell Martin is a fastball right down the middle and Martin hits it into the left field stands for a home run. The score is now 9-8. There is still no one out and the Dodgers have crept to within one run. Of course Hoffman has protected a lot of one run leads in his career. His first pitch to the next batter is again over the heart of plate and this time it is hit into the right field stands. That is 3 home runs on 3 straight pitches and the score is tied at 9. There is bedlam at Dodger stadium. For only the fourth time in Major League baseball history, a team has hit 4 home runs in a row and certainly it has never been done at such a key moment. Hoffman settles down after that and retires the next three batters but the damage has been done.

The Padres managed to pull themselves off the canvas and score a run in the bottom of the 10th. They actually missed a chance to do more damage as they left the bases loaded. The score is now 10-9 heading into the bottom of the 10th. The Padres replace Hoffman with Rudy Seanez. We would later learn the Hoffman has been battling some soreness in his shoulder, but the Dodgers must surely be heartened by the fact that he is not on the mound. Seanez promptly walks the first batter bringing Nomar Garciaparra to the plate. Nomar has had an up and down season for the Dodgers. He started the season on the DL, came back and saw his average hit a high of .360 on July 1. He went on the DL again in the middle of season and his average has dipped to just above .300 at this point. Nomar would later say that he thought about taking himself out of the game because he is nursing a sore quadricep. Nomar hit the first pitch he saw into the LA night to set off a celebration the likes of which Dodger stadium hadn't seen since the night Kirk Gibson came off the bench in the World Series and launched himself along with a fastball from Dennis Eckersley into baseball lore. The fans who had been so quick to abandon the Dodgers in the 9th now didn't want to leave. They stayed around celebrating for the next hour before being ushered out of the stadium.

The Dodgers, who have hit the fewest home runs of any team in the national league, hit 5 home runs in two innings to overcome two deficits and reclaim the lead in the division. They hit two of the home runs against arguably one of the top 3 closers of all time. It was a fairytale in Chavez Ravine. The kind of night that only Hollywood could produce. I'm not sure I would believe it unless I saw it with my own eyes. Roy Hobbs couldn't have done it any better.

Ain't baseball grand!

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