CAN ANY ONE HERE PLAY THIS GAME?
----Casey Stengel, while managing the Mets
My suspicion is that most of the country---along with a vast number of Los Angeles Dodger fans—are by now either perplexed or outraged or overjoyed by the play of what Sports Illustrated only months ago featured on its cover as “The Best Team Ever.”
Illustrious of their sudden slide into mediocrity from the 20-game lead they held in the National League West was the final humiliation of losing a rain delayed messy affair in San Francisco last night to a team that is 30 games out of first place. The Giants are bad. They are very bad. Despite having much of the talent that carried them into the playoffs last year there is something seriously wrong with them. No one seems to be able to say what it is, but no Giant team has ever been 30 games out in September or for that matter any other time during the season. Their manager, Bruce Bochy, a man for whom I have great respect, stands mute in the dugout staring onto the field as his team goes about its busy schedule of throwing to the wrong base, striking out, leaving runners on base, and generally playing as if they were the Lansing Lugnuts.
But I digress.
The mighty Los Angeles Dodgers came into the season as the favorites to win the division. They held a 20 game lead through August when they were playing apparently so far over their head they did not touch the ground. Every pitch which now looks like an aspirin tablet, looked like a grapefruit, ripe to be hit to any field and over fences with great regularity. Every pitcher that “took to the hill” as they say, spun pitch after pitch that was unhittable by the mere mortals that tried. Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball was magnificent but paled in comparison to a fellow named Hill who became the first Dodger rookie since Clem Labine of the days in Brooklyn to win 11 games without a loss. These were heady days. The stands were full of rabid and—in my humble opinion---annoying fans, who discussed such arcane subjects as what size and shape of the World Series Rings should be. They were winning, winning big and the city was a happy as Dave Roberts the manager who controlled all this talent.
Then it all—as the saying goes—went south. On a crisp day on August 28th the Dodgers were shutout by the Milwaukee Brewers. The manager said: “There will be days like this,” with a smile. All managers say that when they lose a game. At that point they had won 91 games, why should he think differently? Yeah, baseball is a funny game, you have those sorts of games now and then. Yet at that moment one of the worst stretches in franchise history began, and no one has found a way to stop it. They bought a pitcher, they bought an outfielder. You never know, it might be the answer and surely, they needed another pitcher to be certain they had the rotation right for the playoffs. His name is Yu Darvish. He is the youngest player in history to reach 1,000 strike outs. Yet the last time I saw him he was ducking into the dugout after being yanked in the third inning, having given up 3 runs on 14 pitches (not an especially distinguished feat) to the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers went to Arizona to play a very good team that has lurked in second or third place for the entire year. Yes, they were 20 games back but after all, the Dodgers were the best team ever, weren’t they?
The collapse was in full swing. Four games played, Four Games lost. It happens, even to the best. They moved on to San Diego, long the dustbin of the division and lost three more, winning 1-0 because Kershaw pitched superbly and a young man named Oscar Lunet made one bad pitch to the large, hirsute third baseman Justin Turner that left the ballpark.
It was time to go home and face the Colorado Rockies who, like Arizona, had been in and out of second place most of the year. Three games later, the Dodgers had now lost 10 in a row and 15 of 16 and packed for San Francisco where they promptly made it 16 of 17.
Everyone in the city, in baseball, even in my house has a theory why this is happening. My own is that they are not the greatest team in baseball, they are good, but shaken in their confidence. Yogi Berra’s quote that the game is 50% physical and 90% mental seems apt. It has gotten in their heads. Who knows if the can exorcise those demons before the end of the season. For the fans now it is nearly a death watch as the long reluctant march to the end of the 162 game season and into the playoffs. Arms hurt, players are tired, it’s a cruel game and a long year.