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Sunday, October 05, 2008

The End Of Things, And The Beginning: Dodgers 3, Cubs 1

I have railed against this Dodger team from almost the moment it was assembled, and from the opening bell it seemed to bear me out; 13-13 in April, an eight-game winning streak from April 25 through May 3 against Colorado, Florida, and Colorado again made them look a bit better, but then they redescended to mediocrity or worse. The Dodgers finished the season spending only 67 days above .500, but that doesn't matter now. Ned Colletti signed Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt, neither of whom made the postseason roster, but that doesn't matter now.

The Dodgers have advanced, winning their first postseason series since 1988. To me, the elation of the news, while uncontestably present, is tempered by my wife's loss at the Cubs collapse. Somebody must win and somebody must lose, and this time it was the Cubs, whose ultimate, stinging, and frankly humiliating self-defeat in this first round will not be soon forgotten. (As will the Angels' first-round exit against the Red Sox. Again.) This was supposed to be The Year, the Cubs team that would pull it all together, the best Cubs team fielded since the 100-win 1935 edition, and yet inexplicably horrible performances by Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano, and last night's short outing by Rich Harden, all formed the quicksand into which the Northsiders helplessly sank.

There was something curious about Lou Piniella's decision to bench Hideki Fukudome when he did; it made sense at the time from the perspective of showing that he was serious about trying to do something to improve the team's chances. Yet at the same time, one of Fukudome's few chances of doing something useful in the entire series would have been against his Japanese compatriot and former competitor, Dodger starter Hiroki Kuroda. That thought didn't occur to me until Fukudome, who did not make the start, came in the sixth in a double switch; Fukudome proceeded to get one of the Cubs' eight hits the first (and only) time he appeared against Kuroda, in one of his two at-bats in the game.

The crowd was loud, yes, but not as consistently loud as the one at Angel Stadium on Friday; Friday, there was no setting I could turn my headphone radio to that would let me hear the radio call of the game, but I got Vinny and Charley consistently save for the loudest shouts of the game, most of which came in the raucous first inning.

That first inning was essentially the game; Furcal popped out, but then Russell Martin hammered an 0-2 pitch for a double. Manny Ramirez chased him to third on a single, and there was apparently a close play at third in which Martin turned the corner but barely returned in time to avoid certain death on the basepaths. That proved critical, as Andre Ethier struck out, but James Loney whacked a ball up the first base line to drive in both Martin and Ramirez.

Matt Kemp's lazy fly ball to center ended the inning, and while the two run lead didn't seem like much in front of the league's best offense, it was enough with Hiroki Kuroda pitching the game of his life. As they kept telling us from the radio booth, Kuroda pitched for the Hiroshima Carp in the J-leagues, a chronically cellar-dwelling team that never made it to the postseason. While Kuroda was on the mound, only one baserunner made it to third, Geovany Soto following Jim Edmonds' groundout to second. The Cubs had only six men in scoring position the whole night, and cashed in exactly one of those, Derrek Lee's leadoff double off Cory Wade in the eighth, sent home on Daryle Ward's pinch-hit, RBI single. There was something supremely ironic about an ex-Dodger being the only member of the Cubs to drive in a run.

Jonathan Broxton came in to nail down the save; he lit up the stadium scoreboard at 99 and 100 MPH with his pitches, and even if the radar gun was a touch fast, the Cubs' 8-9-1 batters scarcely had a chance. He was on and throwing strikes, and while I have had my doubts about him as a closer in the here-and-now at times this year, I have never said (or at least can't remember saying) that he'll never become a good closer.

Oddly, Manny Ramirez had little to do with the victory tonight other than scoring the winning run, for he was intentionally walked twice, a move that paid off both times. I have made my peace with the Manny trade; if the Dodgers sign him this offseason, the deal works, if not, he's just another rental, but in the interim, he is the greatest hitter I have ever seen in a Dodger uniform (and yes, that includes Pedro Guerrero). I am not in favor of rentals, but this one worked, and probably saved Ned Colletti's job, too. I suppose the Dodgers could do worse than that, but I would prefer it if they had a better GM; I would also prefer it if Frank McCourt and his brittle, self-loathing but oddly egocentric ownership weren't in place, either, but you dance with the one what brung ya. For now, dancing is what a lot of Dodger fans are doing.

And thanks to Helen's decision to bail out on her ticket, I went to see the game with my Dad, the first postseason game ever at Dodger Stadium for both of us. It was a special moment; Dad's got a lot of miles left on him, at least I hope he does, but it's something I'll treasure for the rest of my life. (Here I'm ignoring the two hours it took to get home.) Thank you, Helen, and thank you, Dodgers.

Some time soon, the NLCS, likely against and in Philadelphia, yesterday unable to accomplish a sweep with a 4-1 loss to Milwaukee. Soon enough.

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