Tuesday, September 19

Dodger Game for the Ages

Just when i was finishing my previous blog "For love of the Game", a dedication of sorts to the Great Dodger commentator Vince Scully, the Dodgers kept hitting the balls out of the ballpark. That magical Monday night game all started last week when i looked at the Dodgers schedule. Slated on the bill was a 4 day weekend with the surging NL West 2nd place San Diego Padres. It immediately occurred to me the playoff implications... To add to the drama the Dodgers were coming off a disappointing series against the Cubs losing 2 out of 3 consequently shrinking their NL west lead to a scant half a game. That Friday i told my friend Tony, a big Dodger and Angel fan, that we should pick up tickets for one of the games, but due to schedule conflicts with her young daughter and work he couldn't attend any of the games, which left me with Adrian who wouldn't leave work that day to pick up tickets (lol).

My first choice would have been the Chad Billingsly game on Saturday which would have turned out to be a bad choice because the Padres destroyed the Dodgers (11-2). Jonathan Broxton gave up the losing run in the top of the 8th inning on the Sunday game, surrendering the NL West lead in the process. Besides i work on Sunday so i couldn't make that one anyhow. This left me the only logical choice of the Monday night game. But as fate would have it i couldn't find anyone to go with...

Although the Dodgers have lost 12 out of 14 to the Padres and trailing by a half a game in the NL west leading up to that Monday night, you got the feeling that the sold out game was going to be a doozy. I must admit though-- at least for this season, i had given up on the Dodgers beating the Padres... Despite the sell out and the implications of another lost in the Western Standings, i was just happy it was the last game against the Padres this year, the game was simply a kind of season farewell, a good riddance so to speak... But as a minor encouragement, Brad Penny, the Dodgers best starting pitcher was on the mound that evening. However, reprisal came quick as the Padres roared out of the gates scoring a total of 4 runs in the 1st inning... Having the feeling of resignation even prior to the game, i wasn't surprise our best pitcher with 16 wins thus far this season was drilled for that many runs in 1 inning. But Vince Scully ever the baseball enthusiast claimed there was plenty of baseball left in the game... Boy was he ever right. He even implored the late comers take their time and be safe driving into the Stadium. Was it a sign of things to come perhaps?

By the 4th inning, although Brad Penny had spent a lofty 90+ pitches, he'd settled in while his offense scrapped together 4 runs to tie the game gainst Jake Peavy who has owned the City. The sold out crowd that was abruptly subdued in the 1st inning had awakened into a frenzy. The real drama was about to unfold... The 6th inning was a key inning because Brett Tomko found himself in another pickle which has been quite frequent in his last several relief appearances. Somehow he got out of the Jam to a standing ovation, yes, a standing ovation, that LA crowd was well aware of what was at stake. In the bottom of the inning Marlon Anderson, who ended up with 5 hits that fateful night, led off with a triple followed by two walks to load the bases with no outs. Dodger stadium was ready to explode... The anticipation however was short lived because Rafael hit a weak grounder to short, Marlon was out on a force play at home, while Kenny lofton subsequently hit into a double play to end the inning. This, surprisingly, did not abate my spirits. Its late September and were in the middle of a pennant race, this is exciting stuff, and i simply smiled it off. "Lets get em' on the next inning" i told myself as i clasped my hands together as if to say a prayer. But my prayer was not answered as the usually reliable Jonathan Broxton gave up 2 runs in the top of the 8th. In the bottom of the inning, with 1 run in and two outs, Marlon singled (his 4th hit) followed by a Kenny Lofton bloop double into right sending runners to 2nd and 3rd with Nomar coming up. That was it, it was like a fairy tale wish come true, because if the Dodger fans themselves had to choose who they would like to hit in that situation, it was Nomar Garciaparra. Surprisingly, Nomar took the first pitch right down the middle, then swung at a slider way outside, then, swung and missed at a high fast ball to strike out. You could hear the entire stadium filled with 55 thousand hopeful souls SIGH collectively. "What a moment" i said sullenly...

Worse yet, trailing by 2 runs, they had to face the Padres daunting closer Trevor Hoffman who hasn't blown a save against the Dodgers in more than 4 years (24 in a row). How's that for a tall task in a pennant race? However in the top of the 9th the Padres scored what would seem like 3 insurance runs against the Dodgers best reliever Saito to go up by 4. These insurance runs would somehow become the Dodgers saving grace because it made it a non-save situation, thus Trevor was not sent in to mow em' down. Kent sent the first offering deep into the night over the centerfield fence followed quickly by another homerun by JD Drew before i turned my head from my PC to see about the pitch to JD. I mean it was like 'Snap' 'Snap' two home runs gone... Frustrated with his reliever, Bochy the Padres long time manager, called up Trevor to try to restore order who incidentally was 3 saves away from the all time record. Incredibly, Martin, the Dodgers rookie catcher hit a rope into the left field pavilion off of Trevor's very first pitch for the Dodgers third consecutive home run. Next up was Marlon Anderson who already was 4 for 4 that evening and i began to feel there was something magical about the sold out Monday night. After all how many 55 thousand-strong Monday night baseball games do you hear about? Maybe a Yankee-Redsox game or a Dodger-Giants one but the Padres? At this point of the game my gaze was fixed on the tv and apparently the fans who started piling out in the top of the inning felt the magic as well because they began rushing back into the stadium. And not a moment too soon because amazingly, Marlon saw one pitch and sent what Vince Scully calls a 'no doubter' over the right pavilion sending the Dodger dugout and the entire stadium into complete pandemonium. To put it into perspective, 4 consecutive homeruns have not been done in 42 years... It was the most improbable of all comebacks. Trevor would settle down to get the next 3 batters out.

The Padres who have one of the best bullpens in baseball blew two 4 run leads. One thru the first 4 innings and another in the 9th. But because neither team were hardly retired in order throughout the game and the way the evening was going you would expect the Padres to score again in the 10th inning. It would only be fitting, wouldn't it? At the end of the top of the 10th inning, Aaron Sele walked off the mound having given up a couple of hits but only 1 run. After that unbelievable 9th inning and an up and down game overall i wouldn't be surprised if the Dodger fans were grateful he only gave up 1 run yet. In the bottom of the 10th, trailing by 1 run, the entire stadium was on their feet cheering with expectant faces, awaiting a picture perfect ending to the dramatic composition that they themselves scripted. I have never seen anything like it. Magic was indeed in the air... First up was Kenny lofton, who if you recall, hit into the bases loaded double play to end the inning in the 6th. A real heart breaker. Redeeming himself, Kenny got the count to full and took a slider inside for a walk. "Here we go" i said to myself, psychologically and physiologically preparing for the Nomar Garciaparra at bat. At that moment when he came up the magic in the air was so thick it was palpable, the entire stadium and everyone that witnessed every pitch and every at-bat up to that point knew the end to what has been an extremely emotional baseball game was eminent... I don't think i exhaled the entire time Nomar was in the batters box as he waited for a pitch to drive, but when he got it, a 3-1 fast ball right down the middle, he hit it and knew instantaneously that he just won for the Dodgers, for the fans in the Stadium, at home, for me, the single most special and greatest game i have ever witnessed.

I didn't even say anything when the ball went out. I did shed a tear i was so happy...