It was a warm autumn night in October, with a full moon hanging above a crowded Dodger Stadium. A sea of fans clad in blue packed the stadium for a rollicking Friday night with their beloved Dodgers. The hearty souls were frothing at the mouth in excitement for the start of the postseason.
It was, in the simplest terms, a game in which the Dodgers rediscovered their mojo. They suddenly have a magical formula, one that hasn’t run dry for them. It’s still early, but this is what we haven’t seen from them in the fall. In their postseason opener, the Dodgers accumulated hits and manufactured runs, the bullpen protected the lead and backed ace Clayton Kershaw once he left the game. The offense usually vanishes, the bullpen commonly blows leads and, well, Kershaw normally leaves the game in the seventh inning for his infamous meltdowns.
The rest of the world now can jump back on the wagon and wager a good deal of money on the Dodgers winning a World Series. This is the team that made baseball fun this summer, and finally, it recaptured its old swag just in time for October fun. Maybe it’s their year, after the Dodgers snake bit the Arizona Diamondbacks in a convincing 9-5 victory in Game 1 of the NLDS.
This one was tremendous from the get-go. That’s been a hallmark of this team, with the exception of a historic 12-game losing streak late in the season. The Dodgers have set themselves up for a dramatic postseason, if they can drive in runs and produce more steady pitches. It was, all in all, an enchanting night for them, and a city fell in love all over again with the Dodgers, who were heralded as the best team in baseball.
On this occasion, a fuzzy-bearded Justin Turner jolted his team awake. And, like magic, he drove the ball, a ball that was absolutely crushed, into the left-field pavilion to begin a five-RBI night and give the Dodgers an early 3-0 lead. The next batter, Cody Bellinger, singled, bringing up Yasiel Puig to face Diamondbacks starter Taijuan Walker. Puig, putting several extended at-bats together, licked his pine tar-covered bat before smacking the ball to the outfield wall for an RBI double that washed out the bad taste. And the Dodgers, believing they can make a run, set the tone with a four-run first inning. Even the babyface himself, Corey Seager, chipped in with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the fourth.
Crazy, right? Raise a glass, share a toast, and say cheers for the Dodgers. You probably know by now Puig’s affectionate nickname, “the Wild Horse,” certainly fits his personality. His unbridled enthusiasm and conviction had a positive impact on the Dodgers. In the seventh inning, he dove into third base for one of his two extra-base hits on the night and his third career postseason triple. Puig’s immediate reaction was to look up toward the dugout and give his best imitation of Michael Jordan, sticking out his tongue and wagging it at his teammates.
As many of you might recall, Puig was one of the most hyped phenoms in baseball a few years ago. For those who’ve forgotten, Puig was magical. That’s what he is now suddenly. Fans, numbed by a historic season, now hunger for more than just Dodger Dogs. This is a city with a fan base that wants a taste of championship glory.
Success in the postseason seems a mystery, even for a self-made force like Kershaw, the Game 1 starter. After years of misadventures and disappointing losses, Kershaw is aiming to overcome the pressure of past postseason failures. He’s a strikeout machine, hammered, nailed and screwed together by the Dodgers. For years now, particularly in the late innings, their robotic righty experienced a malfunction.
And, once again, as usual in October, he was a bit erratic, shaky and nerve-racking in his postseason start, giving everybody the chills for surrendering four solo home runs. After laboring in six innings of work, after becoming the first Dodgers pitcher to allow four homers in a postseason game, Kershaw couldn’t diminish the excruciating anxiety. This isn’t to downplay his success, but his seventh-inning postseason ERA as a starter is now 25.50. The chances for him to throw a gem and pitch a masterpiece, as you’ve been longing for since he made his playoff debut, is likely.
It wasn’t all enjoyable, put it that way. More than anything, it was brutal at times, another horrifying night at the Ravine for one of the best arms in today’s game. While Kershaw walked three batters and gave up four bombs and struggled mightily to throw strikes as his command was not sharp, he somehow survived what could have turned out to be a horror show. Through it all, this marked Kershaw’s first-ever playoff win at home. He can kindly thank his teammates for tacking on runs late and, also, credit the bullpen for backing him.
In the bigger picture, mind you, the Dodgers have pieced together a losing tradition in October. But for once, unlike the team’s prior postseason runs, it’s only realistic to believe the Dodgers are not in danger of an early playoff exit. This year’s team is a magic show in Hollywood next to the team of 1988 that pulled the improbable, the impossible happened. Maybe that’s the case for the 2017 Dodgers, who have reached the postseason 10 times without a World Series championship since ‘88, the longest drought in franchise history. Anything short of that would be a gigantic disappointment.
Less than 24 hours before the Dodgers throw the first pitch, Rich Hill is getting the ball for Saturday’s Game 2. With Arizona’s Robbie Ray as its probable starter, the Diamondbacks will try to even the series 1-1 apiece before traveling back to the desert. He has suffocated the Dodgers in his five starts against them this year with a 3-0 record, 2.27 ERA, 53 strikeouts and just 12 walks. But even if he’s given the Dodgers a tough time in each of his outings he’s faced them, the ball is suddenly falling everywhere in the yard for a team that has a star-studded roster with a group of disciplined and patient hitters. We can begin to wonder whether the Dodgers, either dominant or opportunistic, are a title-worthy squad.
This couldn’t have come on a better night, with a classy, humble, lovable Vin Scully, the legendary broadcaster, looking down from the press box and waving to the crowd, as it was time for Dodgers baseball.
It’s time for a Dodgers championship.