“In A Year That Has Been So Improbable…” Dodgers 7, Rays 6

They were done.  They were dead.  They were down 6-0.  Then 6-1, but they couldn’t sustain a rally. On top of it the around-the-league scoreboard showed that the Diamondbacks had beaten the Mets.  Mistakes were made.  Puig made plays in the outfield that were more bush league than big league and that reminded us all that he’s 22 years old and probably not a center fielder (which is where he was playing while giving Andre Ethier the night off.)  Jerry Hairston, Jr. took a route on a fly ball in the second inning so tentative, so unsure, that it almost looked like he was trying to track the ball with a compass.

Everything looked bad.  Why wasn’t Andre Ethier starting?  Why wasn’t Carl Crawford starting?  Why did we have a utility guy in left, a utility guy in right, and Puig out of position in center?

People were shaking their heads.  “Mattingly’s lost it.”  One comment on social media before the game, upon posting of the lineup, was “why is Don Mattingly playing his B lineup against an A team?”

Prior to the game, the team held a moment of silence for Joshua Jones.  Jones, who many fans remember from the viral video of Matt Kemp giving away his jersey, cap and shoes to, passed away on Tuesday night from terminal brain cancer.  He was 19 years old.

James Loney made his return to Dodger Stadium and had two hits, including a 2 RBI single.  The former Dodger first baseman is hitting over .300 in Tampa and has put together quite a year for himself, so The Blog sends its greetings to Mr. Loney and wishes him continued luck and success in his new role. The team put together a video scoreboard tribute to him up early in the game that gained light but significant applause from the fans in attendance.

It’s almost not worth mentioning how the Rays got their six runs, how Chris Capuano watched his defense fail behind him.  The pain and agony of watching Capuano run out of gas in the fifth inning.  Three runs on miscues.  Puig missing the cut-off man trying to throw guys out at home that he had no business trying for.  Puig miscommunicating with Schumaker as a ball that should’ve been a routine out for Kemp, Ethier, or even Schumaker had they placed him in center field.

Three Tampa Bay runs in the second inning on what should have been a testy-but-shutout inning for Capuano.  Three more as he ran out of gas.  A 6-0 Tampa Bay Ray lead heading for the late innings.  Left-handed ace David Price dealing with a full deck, the Dodgers unable to sustain much of anything.  In the dugout, Adrian Gonzalez was losing his cool with Yasiel Puig.  The Blog was in the park watching social media and reading text messages.  One friend reported “you can’t see it from where you are, but Gonzalez just gave Puig an earful in the dugout, they showed it on T.V.”

You could almost feel the shades of ’88.  The cameras panning the dugout.  “And Kirk Gibson is nowhere to be found.”  Except on this night, it was the whole team’s winning attitude that has propelled them to a now 35-8 record since June 22nd that looked like it was nowhere to be found.

As it turned out, that earful Gonzalez gave Puig was just the beginning of that Dodger Stadium spark that lit a fire so hot that the Rays, a team that in many regards have been equally hot, could not contain it.

We’ll pick up the action in the bottom of the seventh.  David Price, starting to tire, began to look a little bit hittable.  Jerry Hairston, Jr. drew a walk to lead off the inning.  Juan Uribe hit what could have been a double play ball but was spared on a throwing error by Evan Longoria, putting Dodgers at first and second.  Tim Federowicz grounded into a double play, but Skip Schumaker laced a double to left to score Hairston and break the shutout.  However, the Dodgers couldn’t sustain a two out rally, left Schumaker, and still trailed 6-1.

The eighth inning featured another chip.  This Blogger, being superstitious, bought a helmet soft-serve.  However, only pink helmets were left.  Figuring “what the heck, I can give this to my three year old daughter,” I went ahead and bought the soft serve.  Baseball superstition – take what’s offered to you at a baseball game and make the most of it.  Then the Dodgers scored two more runs.  Jake McGee replaced David Price on the mound.  Mark Ellis led the inning off with a walk.  Nick Punto struck out, and Adrian Gonzalez moved Ellis to second with a slow groundout to second.  Then Yasiel Puig lined a ball down the right field line just past Ben Zobrist that skipped into the stands for a ground-rule double, scoring Ellis and making the score 6-2.  Jerry Hairston, Jr. drew a walk and then Juan Uribe worked the count 3-2 against new reliever Joel Peralta.  Uribe laced a single to right-center to score Puig and put the score at 6-3.

The ninth inning comeback brought an interesting wrinkle and I’m going to write it based on a lining up of what I personally experienced and what watching the ninth inning replay twice (once with Vin Scully calling it, the other time with Tampa Bay’s announcers calling it so I could hear their reaction) taught me about it.  With the team down three runs, I went with my friend behind the Pavilions to line up for the fireworks show.  The Blog is not in the habit of leaving early, but had brought a guest who had never been on the field at Dodger Stadium, so we made our way down, getting bits and pieces of the game from the MLB At-Bat app on my phone.  As we waited to get in, P.A. announcer Eric Smith announced that the Rays had brought in Fernando Rodney to close out the game for Tampa Bay.  I said to my guest “you know, sometimes Rodney blows up in games like this, maybe they’ll come back.”

The crowd noise had me checking my phone after each play to find out what was happening.  Ben Zobrist was moved from right field to left as part of the late game change, and Sam Fuld took over in center field.  This turns out to be relevant to the outcome of the game, particularly the Zobrist move, as three balls he didn’t get to, including two in the ninth (the other was Puig’s ground rule double in the eighth when he was in right field,) turned out to be a large difference in the game.  Skip Schumaker led off the inning with a single to center.  Dee Gordon, pinch-hitting for Dodger reliever Ronald Belisario, struck out hacking at three pitches.  Mark Ellis then scorched a ball toward the left field foul pole.  Zobrist took off after it at full speed, dove….and missed!  The ball bounced past him and into the corner, scoring Schumaker from first base.  Mark Ellis stood at third base with a triple and the lead was 6-4.

Then as if Zobrist’s nightmare wasn’t bad enough, on the next pitch, Nick Punto hit a screamer down the left field line that started to hook foul.  Except it didn’t hook all the way.  Zobrist appeared to ease up a little as the ball was coming down, then watched the ball sink fair by about a foot and a half, take on some nasty english, and carom off the padded wall down the left field line.  Punto wound up on second base with a double and the Dodgers had closed the gap to 6-5.  The crowd was explosive.

Right around this time, we found out that the crowd might have been explosive in its response, but the fireworks wouldn’t be.  The City of Los Angeles has an 11 p.m. curfew for such shows, and Dodgers staffers alerted us all that the show had been cancelled.  In a display that was, frankly, a little disgusting, they then moved to make sure that people trying to get back into the park to watch the rest of the game couldn’t get in.  The Right Field Pavilion gates were shut and security moved to keep fans out.  I took my companion and headed for the field level down the right field side where workers were sprinting into place.  “I’m going back in,” I declared.  “Sir, where are your seats?”  “Reserve level, but if I walk around I’m never getting there in time for the end of this thing, I’m going back in and if it goes to extra innings I’ll take the elevator.”  “Sir, you can’t come in.”  Yes, The Blog admits that as 30-40 people look on, The Blog took on a defiant tone and as the crowd noise raised and Adrian Gonzalez’s double went down the left field line to tie the game, two Dodger staffers who realized they couldn’t keep me calm and saw 30-40 people gathering behind me, finally let us all in when I said “that just tied the game.  You are letting us into this ballpark RIGHT NOW.”  The score was now 6-6 as we got in, high-fiving each other.  Yasiel Puig drew an intentional walk.  The Blog and the companion grabbed a standing room spot in back of the Tampa Bay bullpen.

What happened next is a blur.  Jerry Hairston, Jr. hit a comebacker to Fernando Rodney.  It looked like a double play ball.  Gonzalez broke for third.  Puig for second.  The throw should have gone to Tampa Bay shortstop Yunil Escobar who was coming to the bag and had his momentum carrying him toward first, perfect for the throw.  However, whether by design or by sheer slip of the ball, Rodney threw the ball toward second baseman Ryan Roberts who was breaking behind the play to back up the throw.  Neither man got the ball.  The ball broke away from Roberts, behind his back.  Sam Fuld, in center field, ran to attempt to retrieve it as Puig arrived safely at second base, eliminating the force, and Adrian Gonzalez broke for home.  The one chance Fuld had to keep the game alive was blown as he looked up right before the ball got to him, reached down with a bare hand, and missed it.  Gonzalez came sprinting, skipping, jumping, almost dancing home.  The Dodgers exploded out of the dugout.

And this writer?  Objectivity was out the window.  I took off in a sprint down the first base corridor of the reserve level whooping and hollaring.  I high-fived people coming down the corridor.  I came back.  I lifted my companion into the air.  And there were 51,000+ in the park doing similar things in their seats, in the concourses, frankly anywhere that people were, there was whooping, hollaring, dancing, high-fiving, people-lifting.

Bill Shaikin, in his recap of the game, declared Dodger Stadium to be a “creaky old stadium” roaring to life.  Bill missed the point.  The Dodgers are a whole new blue and the crown jewel of Chavez Ravine is certainly not creaky, nor on this night was it old.  A better line would be that the solid, timeless ballpark lighting up the night above the downtown skyline became the center of the city on this night.  And a ball team that refuses to lose, a team that won’t give up until 27 outs are recorded, gave fans another moment they will never forget in a season that has truly become improbably.

Somewhere, the late Joe Buck took it in and from his spot in broadcaster heaven stated, as he did 25 years ago when he watched the flight of Kirk Gibson’s hobble-off blast against the Oakland Athletics, “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

Lost in the scheme of things, the pitchers of record were Ronald Belisario who was the last pitcher in for the Dodgers, he takes the win to improve to 5-6 on the season.  Fernando Rodney blew his seventh save of the season and picks up the loss, falling to 4-3.

The Dodgers and Rays play an afternoon game today, a 1:10 start at Dodger Stadium for Hideo Nomo Bobblehead Day.  Zack Greinke (9-3, 3.40 ERA) takes on Roberto Hernandez (6-11, 4.75 ERA) for a well-sold, nationally televised game.  As always, The Blog advises those of you who plan to attend to use patience getting into the ballpark today.

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