“There’s never been a team like this, that’s won the way they’ve won.”
ESPN baseball analyst Jayson Stark said this during his Monday morning guest appearance on Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney, ESPN’s flagship baseball podcast.
Maybe this season’s craziness is because the longest-tenured sports broadcaster — the voice of Los Angeles and an MLB legend — Vin Scully, exited into the twilight as humble as his entire career has been, on the road against the Giants exactly 80 years after “a little red-haired kid fell in love with baseball.”
Or maybe it’s because this whole season has been on a tightrope for the Dodgers team after their ace, starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, went down in June, in addition to owning the MLB season record with 28 different players being placed on the DL.
Or maybe it’s because Kershaw has erased a long overdrawn narrative to come back in October, not only as a starter but delivering two-out relief in an instant postseason classic in D.C., and because he and closer Kenley Jansen have pitched 45 percent of Los Angeles’ innings going into Game 3 of the NLCS this postseason.
Maybe it’s because Andrew Toles, a man who was bagging produce and groceries last year, now has not only made the postseason roster but has also become a postseason hero as he scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth in a crucial elimination game at home — one of a crucial three runs on his four hits in this postseason.
Perhaps it’s because, since Kershaw went down in June, the starting rotation (if someone could call it a rotation) for the Dodgers has not repeated the same five starters, yet with the touch and leadership of first-year manager Dave Roberts, the Dodgers won their fourth NL West division title in a row.
Or it could be because notorious role-player Justin Turner penned a letter in the Players’ Tribune to the Los Angeles natives, both explaining the togetherness of the team and also connecting to the city in a way that I haven’t seen a Dodger do in my entire life as a spectator. And since promising Vin a farewell parade through the streets of LA, the redheaded third baseman has hit .333 along with five runs and five RBI.
On Baseball Tonight, Stark went on to finish, “I’ve just never seen a team like this that defies all rational or traditional analysis.”
Whatever it is, this Dodger season has become something both unbelievable and magical, as the Boys in Blue have continually overcome any tough situation that has presented itself. Even in the postseason, Los Angeles continues to be undervalued by this nationwide love affliction with the lovable losers from Chicago, which evidently has dictated that all primetime games belong in the North Side, not to cross-country travelers.
The Dodgers were forced to play four daytime games out of the five total games in the series, adding onto the already grueling cross country travel and schedule. In addition, the Dodgers-Nationals Game 2 was prematurely cancelled during the early afternoon, despite a completely clear night that followed, allegedly due to MLB’s concerns with the game interrupting the Cubbies and their potential ratings.
That postponed game meant that Rich Hill would have only three days rest, instead of the scheduled four, before his elimination Game 5 start in Washington D.C., in which he ended up leaving the game after 2.2 innings.
Regardless of the Cubs, the Dodgers’ season has continued to defy any traditional belief, and the grit that the entire team has shown to close out the season without Kershaw, their team leader, from Andrew Toles stepping into the lineup while a newly acquired Josh Reddick took time to adjust or a minor league second baseman named Charlie Culberson, who stepped into a Major League moment and crushed a walk-off home run to clinch the division during Vin Scully’s last broadcast from Chavez Ravine.
That’s what this season has been about for this Los Angeles team: playing hard for all 27 outs, no matter what is thrown at them in the process. Going down 2-1 in the NLDS after dropping a crucial Game 3 at home, the Dodgers didn’t quit, but instead rallied behind magnificent, out-of-the-ordinary relief performances, started by Jensen’s first career seven-out relief appearance and finished by a legendary two-out shutdown from Dodger frontman Clayton Kershaw.
When Kershaw went down early in the season, Turner said that the team didn’t call a meeting like other teams perhaps would have. Instead the manager, Dave Roberts, decided to keep moving on without hesitation.
“We didn’t get together and make speeches or get all rah-rah or whatever. No one was like, ‘Hey, now we all have to try harder because Clayton’s down.’ We all just kind of knew what we had to do.” Turner wrote in his letter, titled “Goosebumps.” “We didn’t need to talk … we just needed to play. Hard. Together. As a team.”
Now, four games into the NLCS, the Dodgers have had their struggles with consistent production, ultimately losing their grip in Game 1 and Game 4, but they continue to show their grit, both as individuals and as a collective. Whether it’s reintroducing Chavez Ravine to Jake Arrieta with a four-run outing in Game 3 of this pennant race or former-grocer-turned-playoff-starter Andrew Toles providing key runs throughout the entire postseason run, this Dodgers team has shown diligence, mental fortitude and a lot of magic.
Entering into tonight’s Game 5, the Dodgers and the Cubs are deadlocked in a contest between two great teams having two great years. Only one will survive this series to face another day of baseball before the wintery offseason, and regardless of who that may be, Los Angeles baseball really proved itself as something more than a flashy name without championship substance, something that has plagued Southern California for all my life.
When the Dodgers take the field on Sunday, all that I will think about will be Justin Turner’s words to legend Scully in the press box:
“‘When we win this whole thing,’ I told Vin that afternoon a few weeks ago, ‘you’re gonna be the grand marshal of the greatest parade this town has ever seen, and it’s gonna be frickin’ crazy.’
Vin chuckled for a second, and then he looked at me and said with a smile, ‘That would be pretty special.’”
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