The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, October 06, 2006

 

Riding the Octobercoaster, Part I

Ladies and gentlemen! Step right up for the thrills, chills and spills of fall! The whiplash-inducing, widow-making, heart-breaking ride of postseason baseball! It's death-defying, brain-frying and satisfaction-denying, with large objects flying and small children crying! Ride the Octobercoaster if you dare!

The biggest drawback to pulling for two teams in the playoffs is the chance that on a given day, your emotional rollercoaster -- that damned Octobercoaster -- will crash not once but twice in a given day. That was my Thursday; Wednesday wasn't so hot either.

To backtrack a bit (we'll skip the backstory that's fueled this site since its inception for the moment; you can read about that elsewhere)... As part of my season ticket group, I found myself with two tickets to the Yankees' game on Wednesday evening, Game Two of their Divisional Series with the Tigers. The Bombers had looked great the night before, rolling up five third-inning runs on Detroit starter Nate Robertson, pummeling the Bengals into submission with a lineup as fearsome as any in memory.

But as excited as I was to go to the game, I was also flustered, because the start time meant having to cut short my viewing of the Dodgers-Mets opener, which began at 4 PM. The Yanks' placement in the Division Series has become routine; they've won the AL East every year we've been doing this ticket package, back to 1998. But this is only the second time the Dodgers have made the postseason in that span. They're the team nearest and dearest to my heart, and there's no novelty in their reaching the playoffs. On the heels of last year's 71-91 debacle, their wild (card) ride into October has been a joy to behold, and their matchup with the Mets sets off fond memories of 1988, their last World Championship, when Orel Hershiser and a gimply Kirk Gibson led a rag-tag crew to one of the most unlikely titles of my lifetime. Couple that with the current Mets' banged-up rotation -- with Pedro Martinez out for the season with a rotator cuff tear, and his replacement, Orlando Hernandez, also lost to a calf muscle tear sustained on the eve of the series -- and visions of an upset danced in my head.

Such visions quickly gave way to a frustrating reality on Wednesday: the Dodgers can't win the series without avoiding the kind of mistakes that a good team -- particularly one that waltzed through the regular season as the Mets did -- will take advantage of. So it was when the Dodgers threatened against replacement starter John Maine, with Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew lacing back-to-back singles to start off the second inning. When Russell Martin ripped a double into the rightfield corner, things were looking up -- one run, maybe two. Instead, in one of the most unlikely plays you'll ever see, both Kent and Drew were thrown out at the plate on the same play, one so crazy that Vin Scully invoked the ancient memory of the team's ancestors:
“Here comes a throw on that runner and here comes another runner, and Lo Duca is going to tag both of them out and the Dodgers become the Brooklyn Dodgers of old,” Scully said during the second inning of Game 1 of the Dodgers-Mets National League Division Series. He sprinkled in a tale about Babe Herman tripling into a double play -- a joke about the bad old Bums. And he said, “We turn the clock back to the daffy days of the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
Oy gevalt. My grandfather once told me that he became a Dodger fan when he saw Babe Herman get hit on the head by a fly ball, but the team has come a long way since then, shedding the aura of hapless bums, breaking through the game's bitter legacy of segregation, moving across the country and becoming a model franchise with a rich history sprinkled with championships. This return to the roots was too much, even for a team that came into the game having won seven straight, and even for a fan who smiles at the memory of my grandfather relating such antics.

The problem for the Dodgers is that while Kent had waited to see whether Martin's drive would be caught, Drew had bolted, and was practically running up Kent's back as the ball was relayed back into the infield. Third base coach Rich Donnelly couldn't put up the stop sign for the latter without it being interpreted as for the former, winding up with two men on third base like some all-too-familiar slapstick comedy come to life. Kent dove and catcher Paul Lo Duca turned and tagged him out, then whirled back around to nail Drew as he arrived. As Thomas Boswell recounts:
Because Kent was in a funk, Drew was presented with the rare chance to make three base-running mistakes on one play. He hit the trifecta. First, he ran up Kent's back between second and third base, forcing third base coach Rich Donnelly to wave Kent home to avoid two runners on third. (Herman would be proud. He ignited the three-Dodgers-on-third fiasco.) Next, when Donnelly yelled for Kent to "Go, go!" Drew thought Donnelly was yelling at him -- neglecting to observe that, under such a scenario, he would be out at home by the length of the Triborough Bridge. Finally, while Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca was wallowing in the dirt, tagging Kent, then jumping up and spinning to show the ball to home plate umpire John Hirschbeck, Drew froze for a second in the baseline 40 feet from home plate before resuming his headfirst suicide mission.

"Donnelly was getting ready to stop Kent [at third] but J.D. was running all the way [from first]. He was about 10 yards behind Kent, so it kind of altered his decision on Kent," Little said. "If he [Drew] continues on without stopping, I don't know if Lo Duca gets them both. He might have snuck in there."
Ugh. In any event, the Dodgers did come away with a run in that inning, when Martin scored on Marlon Anderson's subsequent double, but the lost opportunity lingered. In the fourth inning, the team's ace, Derek Lowe, surrendered solo homers to both Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd, putting the Mets ahead 2-1. It appeared the Dodgers might retaliate in short order when they chased Maine with two on and one out in the top of the fifth, but relievers Pedro Feliciano and Chad Bradford retired Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra, respectively, to end the threat. The Dodgers slipped further behind when Lowe faltered in the sixth, surrendering a two-run double to David Wright following singles by Lo Duca and Delgado. It took Met manager Willie Randolph's decision to let reliever Guillermo Mota bat with two outs and the bases loaded to avoid further damage.

But if the Dodgers have proven one thing this year, it's that they're a resilient team, one unwilling to simply surrender to their worst slumps or their dumbest gaffes. When Anderson reached on a bunt to start the seventh, then was safe at second on a throwing error by Jose Valentin on a fielder's choice, they suddenly had the tying run at the plate. Pinch-hitter Julio Lugo struck out, but Rafael Furcal brought Anderson home. A long fly ball by Kenny Lofton sent Wilson Betemit, who'd reached on the error, to third base, and then Garciaparra laced a double down the leftfield line to plate both runners and tie the game. NOMARRRRR!

As soon as Kent struck out and the seventh-inning stretch began, I had to depart for Yankee Stadium, leaving behind a 4-4 tie. My wife and I planned to meet on the dining concourse of Grand Central Station to grab a quick bite before the game, and as we awaited our order, I peeked into a bar where the Dodgers had coughed up the lead. Only later would I learn that manager Grady Little had called upon Brad Penny -- he of the 6.25 second-half ERA, the bad back, and the one-inning start the prior week. What the hell was he thinking? Penny had surrendered two walks, an RBI single by Delgado and then an RBI double by Wright to open the game back up. I was lucky I'd missed it; back home I would have probably embedded several objects in our living room wall at the simple sight of that overweight doofus, the Bad Penny, taking the hill.

By the time we finished our meal, the bar had emptied; the Dodgers had mounted one last comeback effort but had fallen 6-5, with Mets closer Billy Wagner striking out Nomar with the tying run at second base. Ouch!

Score that one swift kick to the ribs.

to be continued...

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