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Dodger Thoughts


Friday, September 12, 2003


Dr. Miguelito Loveless

Bob Timmermann, known to many as Bob T. of Baseball Primer, forwarded me his great, 4,600-word article from the Grandstand Baseball Annual 2002 describing the history of the Dodger-San Diego Padre rivalry.

After reading it, and eyeing a series against the Padres beginning tonight that once again looks hopeful on paper but hopeless psychologically, it struck me that the Padres have become the evil Dr. Loveless to the Dodgers' James T. West and Artemus Gordon in The Wild, Wild (National League) West.

Here are some highlights from Timmermann's comprehensive article:

  • The rivalry is real but has yet to find its defining moment. Daily News columnist Kevin Modesti once asked San Diego manager Bruce Bochy for one, and Bochy replied, "To be honest with you. I can’t remember any."
  • The starting pitcher for the Padres in their first-ever game with the Dodgers was 1955 Dodger hero Johnny Podres, who came out of retirement to pitch for San Diego. Podres gave up six runs in the fifth inning and the Padres lost, 14-0.
  • "Although the Padres could only muster a 52-110 record in their initial season, they did manage to derail the Dodgers’ pennant hopes in 1969. The 1969 NL West was actually a very competitive race as every team but the Padres was close in the month of September. On September 4, 1969 the Dodgers traveled to San Diego Stadium to play a four game series against the Padres. The Dodgers were in second place just one game behind division leader San Francisco. Much to the Dodgers' complete shock, the Padres swept the series."
  • Sixteen of the Dodgers' Los Angeles-best 102 victories in 1974 came against San Diego. Dan Spillner got the only two Padre victories, both in late September.
  • More recently, many of you will recall that what should have been "been one of the most dramatic games in the history of the NL," a 1996 season-ending showdown between the Dodgers and Padres, tied in their first pennant race with each other, was subverted because the losing team was guaranteed the wild card.

    Dodger manager Bill Russell, who had replaced Tommy Lasorda earlier in the year after a heart attack sent Lasorda to the front office and out of the dugout, and Bruce Bochy were conflicted about how to manage the game. Would they manage it like it was a game for all the marbles? Obviously, it wasn't. Both teams would have to play again in two days. Bochy opted to replace his scheduled starter, Joey Hamilton, with Bob Tewksbury. Russell stayed with Ramon Martinez, but removed him after just one inning.

    Much to both managers' dismay, the game went to extra innings scoreless. In the 11th inning, Chris Gwynn, a former Dodger, better known in L.A. as "The Gwynn Who Didn't Hit Much" came off the bench to double in (Steve) Finley and his brother Tony for a 2-0 lead. Trevor Hoffman pitched a perfect 11th inning to give the Padres their second NL West title.
    This could have been the rivalry's defining moment. Instead ... it's a footnote.
Whatever heat may be lacking, there's no doubt tonight that the Padres are ready to resume their role as spoiler. It's disconcerting, but as far as spoiling goes, let's say this: at mealtime, I'd rather be the meat on the counter than the bacteria.

* * *

Jay Jaffe at The Futility Infielder has apparently been doing some housecleaning. You might enjoy walking through the treasures he found from his 1989 trip to see four spring training games at Vero Beach. (Scroll down to "Buried Treasure (Part II).")

I myself have my own picture of Manny Mota on his bike from my 1993 trip to the Grapefruit League - it's really a great sight.

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 3.8 percent
September 11: 7.1 percent
September 10: 9.7 percent
September 9: 9.4 percent
September 8: 5.4 percent
September 7: 5.3 percent
September 6: 4.8 percent
September 5: 3.5 percent
September 4: 4.3 percent
September 3: 7.9 percent
September 2: 4.8 percent
September 1: 7.9 percent
August 31: 6.9 percent
August 30: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of September 12
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
90 ... Philadelphia (55.1 percent)
89 ... Florida (38.6 percent)
87 ... Houston (1.1 percent)
86 ... Los Angeles (3.8 percent)
84 ... St. Louis (0.2 percent)
83 ... Arizona (0.1 percent)
82 ... Montreal (0.0 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)


An Evans-Tracy Standoff?

"Dodgers general manager Dan Evans and manager Jim Tracy barely speak these days, blaming each other for the offensive woes. Third baseman Robin Ventura is caught up in the power struggle and has barely played since being acquired."
- Bob Nightengale, writing "The Buzz" in this week's USA Today Sports Weekly

This item surprised and puzzled me, to say the least, but if it's true it's a big deal. This morning, I sent Nightengale an email that raised the following questions:

1) How is Evans "blaming" Tracy for the Dodger offensive woes? Is he saying that he's playing the wrong guys? Setting the wrong lineups? Not teaching them how to hit?

2) Ventura isn't playing, true, but that's because Tracy is playing another Evans' acquisition, Fred McGriff, and the Dodgers' hottest hitter, Adrian Beltre. In general, half or more of Tracy's lineup is composed of acquisitions by Evans: Jeromy Burnitz, Dave Roberts, Cesar Izturis, McGriff, and sometimes Jolbert Cabrera. And I don't think anyone's suggesting that Green or Lo Duca should be benched. How is it that Ventura being on the bench is reflective of a power struggle? Does Evans want Ventura to play over either McGriff or Beltre?

3) Finally, if it's possible for you to answer this, did this item come from your own observations, or a source or more within the organization, or somewhere else?

Nightengale replied a few hours later:

The source is a high-ranking Dodger official, and yes, Evans is blaming Tracy if they don't make the playoffs, and Tracy is blaming Evans if they don't make the playoffs. Evans would like Ventura to play more, but Tracy doesn't want him playing...

It has turned into a nasty situation...
I still find it incredible that Robin Ventura could be the camel-breaking straw. (And I wish this wasn't based on an unnamed source.)

In any case, I had always assumed that the fates of Tracy and Evans were tied together. Ultimately, any split that has materialized between them is the result of excessive expectations from others, and/or from themselves, that they should reach the playoffs in 2003.

No matter what happens this season, if the Dodgers can clear away the bile, they have every reason to enter the 2003-04 offseason more optimistic than they entered the last one. They know more clearly what their problems are, they will have some dollars to spend, and they have a farm system that is a year closer to contributing significantly.

Put simply, the simple act of "blaming" is counterproductive at this point.

But if the bond between Tracy and Evans is in jeopardy, the long-awaited calm that has come to the Dodger staff is in danger of disintegrating.

Thursday, September 11, 2003


Ya Think?

In reference to 20-year-old prospect Edwin Jackson's winning debut Tuesday, the Times says in the headline of Ross Newhan's column today, "So That's Why Evans Didn't Give Away Farm."

But even in this column, Dodger general manager Dan Evans can't escape criticism from Newhan:

[Player development is] a job too long sacrificed by the Dodgers, who at some point had to pause, step back and give their system time to revive.

There are those, of course, who will maintain that the club's 2003 financial investment demanded that some of that future be sacrificed to obtain a hitter.

Considering the way Edwin Jackson pitched in his debut, however, maybe the criticism is backward.

Maybe the beleaguered Evans should be asked: Why wasn't he up sooner?
And maybe the increasingly hypercritical Newhan should be asked: Is it possible that Evans' timing was simply right on?

You know, I never, never would have expected to find myself in the position of chief defender of Dodger management, but there is a "They can do no right" attitude permeating the Times that needs to be, at a minimum, mitigated.

To decry the rash behavior of the Dodger management of the past, then insist that the team should have done something immediately - no holds or payroll limits barred - to save this season, future be damned, does not stand as rational reasoning.

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 3.8 percent
September 11: 7.1 percent
September 10: 9.7 percent
September 9: 9.4 percent
September 8: 5.4 percent
September 7: 5.3 percent
September 6: 4.8 percent
September 5: 3.5 percent
September 4: 4.3 percent
September 3: 7.9 percent
September 2: 4.8 percent
September 1: 7.9 percent
August 31: 6.9 percent
August 30: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of September 12
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
90 ... Philadelphia (55.1 percent)
89 ... Florida (38.6 percent)
87 ... Houston (1.1 percent)
86 ... Los Angeles (3.8 percent)
84 ... St. Louis (0.2 percent)
83 ... Arizona (0.1 percent)
82 ... Montreal (0.0 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)


A Happier 9/11

Twenty years ago today, Dodger Stadium hosted its greatest game.

It began swathed in bright blue skies and triple-digit temperatures. When it ended, 228 crazy brilliant minutes later, shadows palmed most of the playing field, and every Dodger fan who witnessed the spectacle found themselves near joyous collapse.

The game was between the Dodgers of Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero, of Greg Brock and Mike Marshall ... and the Braves of Dale Murphy, of Bruce Benedict, of Brad Komminsk.

In the end, however, it came down to one man. A rookie named R.J. Reynolds.

A Brave Battle
Los Angeles entered the game with a two-game lead in the National League Western Division over Atlanta. Their battle for the division crown came a year after a near-epic contest in which the Dodgers rallied from a 10 1/2-game deficit to the Braves in 12 days and took the lead, only to falter and have a home run by the Giants' Joe Morgan off Terry Forster knock them out on the final day of the season.

On September 11, 1983, coming off an extra-inning loss to Atlanta the night before, Los Angeles took the field behind starting pitcher Rick Honeycutt, making his fifth start for the team since being acquired from Texas in exchange for Dave Stewart, a player to be named later and $200,000. (Supplementary information in this article courtesy of Retrosheet.

After a scoreless first inning, the Dodgers tallied two runs in the second off Braves starter Len Barker. With two out, catcher Jack Fimple, near the height of his brief but shining heyday as a fan favorite, doubled home Brock and Marshall.

Murphy brickwalled the Dodger momentum in the next inning, displaying the form that left his contemporaries certain he would become a Hall of Famer. In the top of the inning, Murphy hit a three-run home run, his 32nd of the season. In the bottom of the inning, he crashed into the center-field wall, glove extended above and beyond it, to rob Guerrero of a two-run homer.

Stunned at the end of the third, the crowd had no idea that the frenzy was only beginning.

Four on the Floor
With the kind of mathematical symmetry normally found in Schoolhouse Rock cartoons, the Dodgers used four pitchers in the fourth.

Honeycutt got the first two batters out in the top of the fourth, but then gave up back-to-back singles to Jerry Royster and Rafael Ramirez. Having seen his starting pitcher allow seven hits, two walks and a hit batsman in 3 2/3 innings, and with Murphy again at the plate, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda brought in Pat Zachry.

Ramirez stole second base, and then Zachry walked Murphy.

With the bases loaded, Lasorda made another move, bringing lefthander Rich Rodas - in his second major league game - to face Chris Chambliss with the bases loaded.

Rodas walked Chambliss to force in the Braves' fourth run, then allowed a two-run single to Komminsk that made the score 6-2 Braves.

The fourth Dodger pitcher of the inning came in ... a young, young-looking guy by the name of Orel Hershiser. Compared to Rodas, Hershiser was a veteran. This was the Bulldog-to-be's third major-league game. To the naked eye, Lasorda was trying to win the way Buttermaker relied on Ogilvie and Miguel in The Bad News Bears.

Hershiser loaded the bases again with a walk to Benedict. The ninth batter of the inning, third baseman (no-not-that) Randy Johnson, came up with a chance to bury the Dodgers, but popped out to his hot corner counterpart Guerrero to end the top of the fourth.

The score stayed at 6-2 for two more innings. Marshall and Brock, who combined to reach base seven times in this game, led off the bottom of the fourth with singles. Reynolds, however, grounded into a double play. Fimple followed with a walk off Barker, but future Braves hero Sid Bream grounded out batting for Hershiser.

Burt Hooton, a longtime Dodger starter who went to the bullpen shortly after the acquisition of Honeycutt, became the team's fifth pitcher in the fifth. The teams gave the fans a breather with an uneventful inning, and Hooton retired the Braves in order in the top of the sixth.

Then the surreal moment arrived.

No, You're Not Even Warm
After Marshall flew out to open the bottom of the sixth, Brock walked, Reynolds singled him to second, and the Midas behind the recent Yankee dynasty, Atlanta manager Joe Torre, replaced Barker with Tommy Boggs.

Rick Monday, his heroic days behind him, batted for Fimple and was called out on strikes for the second out. But Ken Landreaux, the Dodgers' regular center fielder, pinch-hit for Hooton and walked to load the bases.

Torre went to the mound and signaled for a pitcher to replace Boggs. None other than Terry Forster - the fall guy of 1982 - emerged from the right-field bullpen.

But then a strange thing happened. Torre signaled again - for a right-handed pitcher.

The strange thing was not that Torre wanted a righty to face Sax. It was that he wanted a righty when none had been warming up.

On the telecast, Vin Scully reported that Tony Brizzolara had warmed up earlier in the game, but in this inning, it had clearly been Forster who was backing up Boggs. Brizzolara had been cooling off for some time.

As a puzzled Forster stood on the edge of the warning track and the outfield grass, looking back and forth between the mound and the bullpen, Torre insisted that Brizzolara come in to face Sax.

In Brizzolara came. He threw four pitches to Sax - in the dirt, low, low and high. In the Dodgers' third run came, and out went Torre to replace Brizzolara with Forster.

Atlanta was rattled, a thespian who had forgotten his lines on Broadway, but Los Angeles got the minimum out of the comedy, as shortstop Bill Russell struck out against Forster and left the bases loaded.

Joe Beckwith, the losing pitcher in the previous night's game, laid anchor for the Dodger bullpen, throwing three innings and scattering two singles and a walk. Meanwhile, the mythic Donnie Moore provided a dose of calm for the Braves, retiring the Dodger side in order in the seventh and the eighth.

And then came the bottom of the ninth.

With a Flick of the Wrists, It Begins
Jose Morales, 38 years and 116 pinch hits old, led off, batting for Beckwith. Against a change from Moore, Morales' off-balance swing, arms well behind his hips, wrists trailing his arms, presaged Kirk Gibson's flick at the backdoor slider from Dennis Eckersley five years and one month later. Morales' ball flew into the left-field corner, and Morales easily won a battle of his old legs and Brett Butler's weak arm, cruising into second with a stand-up double, and giving the master improvisationalist, Scully, his modest opening line ...

He just kind of felt for the ball.

Dave Anderson entered the game to run for Morales. As Sax batted (with S. Sax on the back of his uniform, to distinguish himself from his brother Dave for the easily confused), the television camera found a much-in-need-of-SlimFast Lasorda, sitting near Dodger coach Monty Basgall.

Lasorda, Basgall dying a little bit in the Dodger dugout. Tommy's not feeling well anyway. He's got a cold for about a month.

Gene Garber, sporting the kind of beard you just don't see ballplayers wear anymore, was warming up in the bullpen as Moore went 3-1 to Sax. One inside pitch later, Torre was out of the dugout with a hook for Moore. As Moore, the victim of a devastating playoff home run in October 1986, left the game, Tom Niedenfuer, his October 1983 counterpart, began warming up for in the Dodger bullpen for the 10th inning.

Russell, sporting the kind of physique you just don't see ballplayers compete with anymore, then struck out in his second consecutive critical at-bat.

Dusty Baker, in his last season with the Dodgers before his acrimonious departure, was the batter with one out and two on. Even Baker, with more than 200 career home runs, was thin back then.

Baker swung and missed at Garber's sidearm delivery, then took one low and outside. On the 1-1 pitch, Baker hit a pop fly that fell between second baseman Royster and right-fielder Claudell Washington, a defensive replacement for Komminsk. The bases were loaded with the tying runs.

This crowd is on its feet and pleading. They're all getting up. It is that time of day. Never mind the seventh-inning stretch. This is the wire.

Cecil Espy came in to run for Baker, and Guerrero came up to the plate. His at-bat took more than six minutes.

'This Is Hanging Time'
Guerrero swung and missed at the first pitch, took one low and outside, then hit a grounder just foul.

Boy, what an exhausting finish to a long afternoon at the ballpark. Well, it figured the Dodgers and the Braves are gonna put you through the ringer, right down to the last day. So naturally, they do it right down to the last minute.

Guerrero took one low, evening the count, 2-2. Then he grounded one by third base, just foul.

The table is set and the big man is in the chair.

Pitch No. 6 of the at-bat was six inches off the ground, outside - and still fouled off by Guerrero.

Boy, he was late. He just did get a piece of that. After you get that palmball trickery of Garber ... it was almost in Benedict's mitt.

No. 7: another grounder, just foul.

And the tension remains ...

With Garber about to throw the eighth pitch, Guerrero stepped out at the last moment and called time. Vinny, laughing:

Oh yeah, these are tough to take, I tell you what. Guerrero just had to back out. I mean, this is hanging time. Woo!

Garber bounced the resin bag back and forth on the front and back of his right hand. Guerrero stepped back in, and Garber threw. Low - ball three.

It is almost too much to take ...

Guerrero went back in for the ninth pitch of the at-bat, then called time again.

You can just imagine the pressure - you'd have to be a block of wood not to feel it.

Here came the pitch. Two feet outside. Guerrero flung the bat away backhanded and strutted to first base.

Anderson scored the first run of the inning, cutting the Braves' lead to 6-4. The ballpark shadows have just reached Garber. Third-base coach Joe Amalfitano counseled the next batter, Marshall.

Garber slipped on his right foot in delivering the first pitch outside for ball one. The next pitch was outside as well.

Marshall then hit a long drive to right. Washington, with his glove on his right hand, went toward the wall with his back to the right-field stands. But the ball was slicing behind him, and Washington turned his body 180 degrees to try to find and catch the ball in the late-afternoon sun.

It didn't take. The drive landed right at the base of the wall. Murphy, coming over to back up the play, nearly collided with Washington as the latter threw the ball back. Two runs scored on Marshall's double - tying the game at 6 - but Guerrero was held at third. On-deck hitter Brock stood near home plate, raising his hands behind his head like he thought Guerrero could have scored, but the replay showed that Amalfitano probably was wise to hold Guerrero.

With the winning run on third and first base open, Brock was walked intentionally - the first wide one barely snagged by a staggering Benedict.

The batter will be the kid, R.J. Reynolds, with a chance to win it.

Holding Back to the Last Second
Reynolds stood at home, looking at Amalfitano, and stretched the bat over both his shoulders.

And now, with the bases loaded, the infield is up, the outfield looks like a softball game, and the batter is R.J. Reynolds.

The first pitch is outside. Reynolds looked at Amalfitano again.

Gene Garber is battling to stay afloat.

If this was a game of Bad News Bears moments, this was Ahmad's.

Reynolds didn't give it away. In slow motion, the bat doesn't even start to come off Reynolds' shoulder until Garber's pitching arm is all the way back.

But then ... Reynolds' left hand finds the barrel of the bat. He lays the bat forward, relaxedly, at a slight downward diagonal pointing below his waist, then corrects it to a straight horizontal line to meet the ball.

Reynolds pauses a millisecond to watch. Garber's follow-through carries him toward the third-base side of the mound, but the bunt rolls toward the first base side.

The SQUEEZE! And here comes the run!!

By the time Garber reverses field and lunges for the ball, Guerrero is 15 feet away from home plate. Before Garber is even upright, Guerrero touches home, banging his hands together in exultation.

He squeezed it in!

Backs of jerseys from our past - Yeager, Thomas, Maldonado, Landestoy, Rivera - come out to rain congratulations on Guerrero. Lasorda risks smothering Reynolds in a headlock.

By the way, if you are keeping score in this madhouse, not only did R.J. squeeze, he got a base hit and an RBI. And Guerrero brought the winning run home. BEDLAM at Dodger Stadium.

Replays and images of celebrations pass in front of us for several seconds, without comentary - you know this is Vinny's way, to let the moment be the moment. We catch Ross Porter, in short-sleeved shirt and tie, is in the dugout to prepare to interview Reynolds.

Finally, Vin is ready to speak again.

The pictures told it all. There isn't any way I could improve on the picture. What a story. The squeeze in the ninth. The Dodgers score four times and pull it out and beat the Braves, 7 to 6. They show the squeeze on Diamond Vision and the crowd, EUPHORIC in its joy, roars again.

R.J. Reynolds has put the Dodgers in the right direction.

And so he had. The victory put the Dodgers three games up in the NL West, and three games up in the NL West is how the Dodgers finished the 1983 season.

Reynolds was a hero. A baseball hero, at least.

And a game for the ages, a game worth remembering, I hope, even on the saddest of anniversaries, was over.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003


More Playoff Scenarios

For the latest, greatest look at potential playoff tiebreaker suggestions, mouse your way over to Christian Ruzich's free article at Baseball Prospectus.

I was going to break this down as it potentially affects the Dodgers, but time is short and it's too damn complicated. Suffice it to say, if there are multi-team ties, it's going to make the California recall election look sedate.

30 inches, 40 ounces

Is it possible, after all the hubbub about Jack Clark and George Hendrick, that the solution to the Dodger hitting woes was Manny Mota and his magic bat?

My brother writes:

This man, in my opinion, can do no wrong. Still my favorite Dodger after all these years. And you can quote me.


Gagne Underrated?

Reader Mushtaq from Boston writes:
I read (Kevin) Modesti’s piece with interest; I think contribution to wins is an excellent way of looking at how valuable Gagne is. Here are three reasons I think he is somewhat undervaluing Gagne’s performance:

1) I think that the blown save to win ratio is more like 4:1 than it is 2:1.

2) Modesti is not counting Gagne’s help in winning ball games in which he does not get the save. Note that he would also get some blame for losses in which he pitched. Similarly, Gagne is not credited for the games in which he has won.

3) Gagne has been able on a couple of occasions to pitch 4 games in a row; something that very few other closers are able to do. As such, it is probably not completely fair to say that another closer would be able to successfully save 42 of 49 opportunities because those closers would probably have a couple fewer opportunities.

Here's my reply:

1) I don't know who's right. I'm not sure it makes that much of a difference in the larger argument.

2) Again, I don't know how significant this is. Gagne's performance in non-save situations has in fact been underrated, but I don't think that you could compare it favorably to, say, Hideo Nomo or Kevin Brown's role in no-decisions that the Dodgers ultimately win.

3) A valid point. But one that only establishes Gagne's greatness as a closer, not one that locks him in as a Cy Young winner.

As a big fan of Gagne's, I still think Modesti's piece is pretty dead on. Is Gagne great? Undoubtedly. If you could only have one pitcher this season, would you take Gagne over a guy who can give you 200 innings, like Prior or even Nomo? Possibly, but certainly debatable.

Fun to debate, though. With Smoltz, Nomo and Brown fading from contention, Gagne is certainly in the final four for the Cy Young with Jason Schmidt, Mark Prior, and unfortunately, Russ Ortiz.

Can't Afford to Blink

A couple of weeks ago, the wild-card race looked like a blooper reel. Now, it's more like Web Gems.

The Dodgers have won 10 of 12. The Phillies have won 10 of 12. The Marlins have won 10 of 12.

In the words of Col. Peron in Evita, "So what happens now?"

You know that aside from playing Arizona, epic struggles await the Dodgers in the form of their biggest psych-out teams, San Francisco and San Diego.

After a day game against the Mets today, Florida plays 13 consecutive games against the top two teams in its division, Atlanta and Philadelphia, before finishing with three against New York.

The Phillies, on the other hand, have 10 games left with their top division rivals, but also three against Pittsburgh and three against Cincinnati.

From a Los Angeles perspective, this still looks like Philadelphia's race to win. People in the City of Angels tend to be mighty afraid of the Padres.

And the pendulum has swung both ways with the Dodgers all season:

W-L ... Dates
9-13 March 31- April 24
35-16 April 25 - June 21
10-26 June 22 - August 2
23-11 August 3 - September 9
?-? September 9 - September 28

But the Dodgers have been conquering some demons, real and imagined, over the past week. If they find a way to expose the last-placedness that lies within San Diego, we may witness somethin' somethin'.

'You Just Hope He Never Changes'

So said Vin Scully about Edwin Jackson last night, and I couldn't agree more. Especially because Vin was talking not only about Jackson's pitching, but his smile.

Call me a sentimental fool, but there is nothing like seeing a young baseball player thrilled. And to see that ballplayer balance his excitement with poise - that's pretty much the pinnacle of enjoyment for me as a fan.

If it weren't for the television coverage and the 36,000 people in attendance, it would have been the same as watching a second-grader excel in the lead role of Tomato in the school play, Les Vegetables.

Anyway, it was a night the most casual observer could appreciate. As I wrote in April, a large part of appreciating baseball is just understanding the characters in the movie.

As for Jackson's moundsmanship ...

In his six innings against Arizona, Jackson allowed four hits, struck out four - and in a particularly amazing feat for a pitcher who walked or hit nearly four batters per nine innings in AA ball, he walked no one.

The righthander threw 80 pitches, 49 for strikes. He did not throw many first-pitch strikes: 11 out of 22 batters faced. But on only three occasions did he reach a 2-0 count, and only once did he go to 3-0. In fact, he went to three balls on only three batters.

He threw with heat - reports said he reached the high 90s - and movement. He had the requisite pitch tailing down and away that always foils batters like Raul Mondesi (who struck out twice against Jackson and once against Eric Gagne). Jackson also had a pitch that moved outside to inside on righthanded batters, almost like a screwball.

With Andy Ashby following Brian Jordan on the disabled highway out of Los Angeles, speculation has arisen that the Dodgers would add Jackson to a potential postseason roster in the same manner that the Angels added Francisco Rodriquez last season. Don't count on this happening.

For one thing, the Dodgers seem very conscious of nurturing Jackson, and aware of the risks of stressing Jackson's arm at age 20. Additionally, the Dodger staff is deeper than the Angel staff was in 2002 - a guy like Steve Colyer, who throws hard and from the left side, seems like a more likely addition. And that's assuming that the Dodgers even went with 11 pitchers in a postseason that has more off days than the regular season does.

But with Hideo Nomo's return date uncertain, and Kazuhisa Ishii's September performance unsteady, there is every possibility that we haven't seen the last of Edwin Jackson and his young man smile this season.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


Who Says Hitting Coaches Do Nothing?

With two men on in the top of the eighth inning of a tie game Monday night in Phoenix, Jeromy Burnitz swung at a pitch that was headed spiraling down toward Lima, Peru.

Veteran baseball players deserve some rope, but sometimes enough is enough. When a player approaches a critical plate appearance with the focus of a pre-repair Hubble Telescope, sometimes you have to get up off the bench, or in my case, couch.

Twelve inches from the TV screen, I got in Burnitz's face and demanded that he focus.

And the rest was history. A game-winning three-run home run.

* * *

Kevin Brown on Monday: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K, Game Score 55

Russ Ortiz on Monday: 6 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 5 BB, 5 K Game Score 50

But if you ask Joe Morgan, Russ Ortiz is clearly the better pitcher. Why? Because even though Ortiz went out and allowed four runs in the first inning of his game, his Atlanta Brave teammates rallied to score five runs off Kevin Millwood in the next six innings, so Ortiz got the victory.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers didn't score their winning run until the inning after Brown left. So Brown doesn't get the victory. And that's the most important stat when evaluating pitchers, according to Morgan.

Honestly, you could just as effectively judge pitchers by barometric pressure readings as win-loss records.

* * *

I don't know if there is a better newspaper columnist writing about the Dodgers than Kevin Modesti of the Daily News. Modesti brings solid perspective to the Eric Gagne for Cy Young debate today, looking at both sides of the issue even-handedly. (I think that's redundant on my part, but you get the idea.) Too many writers are over-eager to take a dramatic stand. Modesti will go as far as he can, but without leaving reason behind.

* * *

Vin Scully pointed out that not only is it Edwin Jackson's 20th birthday today, it is Randy Johnson's 40th birthday tomorrow. Almost perfect, but perfect enough.

Johnson has not allowed fewer baserunners than innings pitched since his no-decision against the Dodgers on July 25. Here is his game log for the season.

Perhaps the most encouraging news surrounding Jackson is that instead of letting him start on the final day of the regular season, with a chance to earn a Southern League strikeout title that management could have trumpeted to the press, the Dodgers decided he needed to rest. It's scary to ponder whether Jackson's game inactivity will combine with rookie jitters and the fact that he was only a 3.70 ERA pitcher in AA to create a combustible major league debut tonight, but at least I'm not scared of what might happen if he does well.

Jeff Elliott of the Jacksonville Times-Union raises the question of whether the Dodgers might start Koyie Hill, who was Jackson's starting catcher for most of the season at Jacksonville and is also now on the major-league roster. Interesting notion, especially with Paul Lo Duca banged up, but my guess is that the team will want a veteran influence behind the plate.

* * *

Since the All-Star Break ...

Adrian Beltre has more home runs (12) than walks (8).

Beltre is tied for third in the league in RBI.

Shawn Green has an on-base percentage of .402.

Mike Kinkade has three hits and has been hit by three pitches.

Jeromy Burnitz is second on the Dodgers with nine home runs.

Dave Roberts has been caught stealing 43 percent of his 21 attempts. The rest of the team has been caught 30 percent of its 20 attempts.

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 9.4 percent
September 8: 5.4 percent
September 7: 5.3 percent
September 6: 4.8 percent
September 5: 3.5 percent
September 4: 4.3 percent
September 3: 7.9 percent
September 2: 4.8 percent
September 1: 7.9 percent
August 31: 6.9 percent
August 30: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of September 9
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
89 ... Philadelphia (50.3 percent)
88 ... Florida (32.6 percent)
87 ... Houston (3.4 percent)
86 ... Los Angeles (9.4 percent)
85 ... St. Louis (1.3 percent)
83 ... Arizona (0.3 percent)
81 ... Montreal (0.0 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)

The Dodgers' run of nine wins in 11 games has raised their wild-card chances to a high since Dodger Thoughts has been tracking them. Baseball Prospectus' formula also finds for the first time in this period that the Dodgers should play better than .500 ball the rest of the way.

Monday, September 08, 2003


Tops in Pops

Less than three weeks ago, I had reason to post a list of the all-time best games at the plate for baseball's worst regular hitter, Cesar Izturis. Now, the game's most unlikely leadoff man has topped them all.

The way Izturis lost out on hitting for the cycle, tagged out at second by a hair, can only be compared to a pitcher losing a perfect game on an infield tapper by the 27th batter.

In 67 appearances at the No. 1 spot in the lineup, Izturis is now batting .354, basing .373 (thanks to his two big walks), slugging .538 and OPSing .911.

Edwin and Ramon

First thought upon hearing that the Dodgers will start Edwin Jackson on his 20th birthday Tuesday against Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks: Ramon Martinez.

Martinez made his debut as a 20-year-old in the championship season of 1988 and threw seven shutout innings before allowing a run in the eighth of a game the Dodgers won in extra innings over the Giants.

The game, however, that imprinted itself in my mind forever came the following year. Martinez did not start 1989 with the Dodgers, who began the season following their last World Series title with a rotation of Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Tim Belcher, Tim Leary and Mike Morgan. On June 5, however, needing an extra pitcher for a doubleheader in Atlanta, the Dodgers called up Martinez. He threw a shutout, allowing six hits and one walk while striking out nine. Despite the sterling performance, the Dodgers sent Martinez straight back to Albuquerque after the game, and he did not return for good to the Dodger rotation for another five weeks.

It's safe to say that Martinez began his career in a saner environment than Jackson, who by starting the game on his 20th birthday, will become the youngest Dodger pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela in 1980 and the youngest Dodger starting pitcher since ... Dick Calmus. (Ever heard of him? Calmus was 19 years, 8 1/2 months old when he started and lost to the Milwaukee Braves on August 23, 1963.)

The 1988 season was a crazy one for the Dodgers, as in crazy fun. This season has just been crazy.

The Dodgers continue to hang in the wild card race. Manager Jim Tracy even pronounced Los Angeles an "excellent team" in the Times today - this based mainly on the fact that the Dodgers actually scored some runs in ... wait for it ... Coors Field. Admittedly, the Dodgers did much better this weekend than they had in other recent forays to Denver.

Now the Dodgers head to Arizona. Amid all the hullaballoo that Jackson is facing the great Randy Johnson, few seem to have noticed that Johnson is at best the No. 4 starter in the Diamondback rotation. Brandon Webb is by one measurement the leading pitcher in the National League. Curt Schilling has recovered from injuries to regain most of his former form. And in games started by tonight's Arizona pitcher, Miguel Batista, the Diamondbacks are 17-8.

The Diamondbacks are just about out of the wild card race, but they gave San Francisco a tough time in Pac Bell Park over the weekend and are still a tough opponent for the Dodgers and Jackson.

Jackson went 7-7 with a 3.70 ERA for the AA Jacksonville Suns. (Yeah, he's so good, the town appears to have named itself after the pitcher.) He struck out 157 in 148 1/3 innings, but walked 53 - which makes him a near-perfect replacement for the wild and wooly Hideo Nomo.

Jackson was not even the best pitcher on the Suns. That was Joel Hanrahan, who led the Southern League in ERA at 2.43. In addition, Jackson's ERA was higher than Jacksonville's team ERA of 3.50. However, Jackson was second in the league in strikeouts, and apparently it is on that figure that the Dodgers are pinning their hopes.

Anecdotally, pitchers making their debuts can confound hitters who aren't used to their motion - assuming those pitchers can get the ball over the plate. So there is every reason for the Dodgers to hope that Jackson's debut will be more Ramon Martinezesque than Dick Calmusish.

Whether or not Los Angeles can bring their Coors Field offense to Phoenix remains to be seen.

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 5.4 percent
September 7: 5.3 percent
September 6: 4.8 percent
September 5: 3.5 percent
September 4: 4.3 percent
September 3: 7.9 percent
September 2: 4.8 percent
September 1: 7.9 percent
August 31: 6.9 percent
August 30: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of September 8
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
89 ... Philadelphia (59.8 percent)
87 ... Florida (23.7 percent)
87 ... Houston (4.9 percent)
85 ... Los Angeles (5.4 percent)
84 ... St. Louis (1.4 percent)
83 ... Arizona (1.0 percent)
82 ... Montreal (0.2 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)

Sunday, September 07, 2003



Defying the pace they set in June, the Dodgers hit their 100th home run Saturday.

And as I write this today, in scoring their second run of the game, the Dodgers scored their 500th run of the season. Finally.

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 5.3 percent
September 6: 4.8 percent
September 5: 3.5 percent
September 4: 4.3 percent
September 3: 7.9 percent
September 2: 4.8 percent
September 1: 7.9 percent
August 31: 6.9 percent
August 30: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of September 7
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
89 ... Philadelphia (62.6 percent)
87 ... Florida (22.9 percent)
87 ... Houston (3.7 percent)
85 ... Los Angeles (5.3 percent)
84 ... St. Louis (1.3 percent)
83 ... Arizona (0.8 percent)
82 ... Montreal (0.2 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)

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