Winning The Dodger Way. Dodgers 3, Nationals 1

The key to the Dodgers’ improbable run to the championship in 1988 was not their ability to blow opponents away night in and night out.  It was to hang tough against every opponent.  They might not have led the whole way every game, but they always seemed to get just enough pitching and then get the big hit or the big play when they needed it the most.

In 1988 it was Kirk Gibson taking two bases on a passed ball to score in extra innings.  Orel Hershiser pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings and running off five straight complete game shutouts down the stretch and pitching 10 shutout innings in an eventual 1-0 loss against San Diego (after the division had already been clinched) to tie Drysdale’s record.  In fact, Hershiser threw nine innings or more in the last 9 games he pitched that season, rendering the Dodger bullpen practically unnecessary, while not giving up a single run in the month of September.  Then in the playoffs, Scioscia had his ninth inning game-tying blast against Doc Gooden, then Gibson had his 12th inning eventual game-winner at Shea.  And in the pentultimate event, a slew of Dodger relievers combined to hold the Oakland Athletics scoreless over the last seven innings of Game 1 of the World Series while the offense chipped away just enough to give Gibson the ability to hit the most dramatic walk-off home run in the history of baseball.

It’s hard to compare this team to the ’88 team because the payroll is much more bloated.  The players are guys you expect to win a lot of games and cause problems for their opponents based on reputation and salary.  But the way that they’ve become similar: a will to win.  The idea that every at-bat, every pitch, every play is important.  If the team falls behind, they believe they’re one swing of the bat away from being back in the ballgame.  There is an entirely different attitude this year amongst the players, one that seemed to start to grow in the wake of Yasiel Puig’s call-up and the brawl with the Arizona Diamondbacks, one that won 17 out of 22 games leading up to the All Star Break with seemingly every player on the team playing a role.

There was no one “guy.”  The focus was on Puig, and maybe that was part of the change, it took the rest of the players out of the spotlight, let them relax and enjoy the game.  But one night it would be Juan Uribe getting 7 RBIs.  One night it would be Matt Kemp with his legs stealing bases, the next with his glove robbing home runs.  One night it would be Andre Ethier with a big hit.  One night it would be Chris Withrow with extended relief.  Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez got big hits.  Puig made big plays.  Greinke, Ryu, Kershaw, Fife, Nolasco and even Capuano would make quality starts.  When things looked bleak during a 16-1 loss, the one major blemish on the team’s recent run, Skip Schumaker would take a load off the bullpen and the guys would shake it off and win the next day.

There is something special about the 2013 Dodgers, and now they sit a half game back of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  A month ago, the margin was 8 1/2 games.  The division and this team have turned around.

Zack Greinke made another solid start for the Dodgers despite not having his best stuff, surrendering one run on seven hits while mixing in three walks and three strikeouts.  The Nationals got their lone run off him in the bottom of the sixth.  Roger Bernardina singled to right, scoring Chad Tracy.  Bernardina was thrown out by Puig trying to take second to end the inning, but the Nationals drew first blood and took a 1-0 lead.

The Dodgers immediately struck back.  Zack Greinke, who has been hitting well lately (.406 season batting average), usually hits for himself even when being pulled.  However, manager Don Mattingly made a move that most would consider odd considering Greinke’s recent plate success and sent up Skip Schumaker to pinch hit for him.  The hunch paid off.  Schumaker nearly hit it out and sound up standing on second base with a double.  Mark Ellis then lined a base hit off Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez into left-center field to score Schumaker and tie the game at 1.

This one would require extras to finish off,  but the Dodgers would get the margin necessary in the top of the tenth.  Adrian Gonzalez led the inning off with a double.  Hanley Ramirez followed him up by lining a double off the center field wall, and absolute rocket to the deepest part of the park, scoring Gonzalez and giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.  A Juan Uribe sacrifice set up Andre Ethier, who hit a ball just deep enough down the left field line to score Ramirez from third on the sac fly for a 3-1 lead.

Kenley Jansen struck out two batters in the bottom of the tenth, then got a game-ending groundout from Chad Tracy to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to secure the Dodgers’ win.

Chris Withrow picks up the win in relief after pitching a scoreless bottom of the ninth, he improves his record to 1-0.  Craig Stammen picks up the loss for the Nationals, dropping his season record to 5-5.  Jansen picks up his 11th save.

The Dodgers and Nationals conclude their three game set in our nation’s capital today at 10:35 a.m. local time.  Clayton Kershaw (8-6, 1.98 ERA) makes his first start of the second half against Jordan Zimmerman (12-4, 2.58 ERA) with the Dodgers eyeing the game in San Francisco between the Giants and the Diamondbacks carefully as a Dodger win combined with the Diamondbacks loss will get the team back to the place they have been eyeing for the past month while this hot streak has been running: first place.

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