Half a Century of Credibility, Down the Drain

babe-herman.gifWell maybe it’s not that bad, but the way the Dodgers ran themselves into a double play yesterday brought back for Vin Scully “the old Brooklyn Dodgers” that he began announcing for in 1950. It reminded Thomas Boswell of the same thing, even though he’s closer to my age than Vin’s.

Throughout history, whenever too much is going right for the Dodgers, they are forced to run the bases.

In 1926, John Lardner wrote, “Babe Herman did not triple into a triple play, but he doubled into a double play, which is the next best thing.” For decades, that play inspired Brooklyn fans to respond to news that “the Dodgers have three men on base” by asking, “Which base?” To the Dodgers, a rally has always been a potential comedy skit in disguise.

tagging-drew.jpgThus it was again Wednesday. In Game 1 of the NL Division Series, the Dodgers lost, 6-5, to the Mets because they turned a line drive off the right field wall into a double play with two runners tagged out at home on the same play. The first runner was out by six feet, the second by a fascinating 10 yards. Nobody could explain why, though many tried. But neither Jeff Kent nor J.D. Drew was carrying a pastrami sandwich, so they weren’t on orders to “stop at the deli on the way home.”

A year before I was born, the Dodgers won their first World Championship, ending a six-decade drought that bought the Brooklyn Dodgers a reputation as a team just as likely to make you laugh as cheer. Since that 1955 breakthrough, the Dodgers have won five more titles, all in Los Angeles.

Six titles in 51 years doesn’t sound like a lot, but in that span, think of the other good teams in baseball. The Oakland A’s have won four titles, the St. Louis Cardinals three, the Cincinnati Reds three, the Pittsburgh Pirates three, and no other team has won more than two…well, except for the New York Yankees, who have won 10 titles since 1955. So the Dodgers are the second-most successful baseball franchise of the past 51 years.

It’s been a while since the Dodgers’ last one: 1988, two years before my son was born. No wonder he’s not a baseball fan. In the past 18 years, the Dodgers have had some pretty good teams, some pretty lousy teams, and, mostly, boring teams. A few fine players have come through here, like Mike Piazza, Hideo Nomo, Ramon Martinez, Gary Sheffield and, my vote for the greatest Dodger of the past 18 years, Eric Gagne.

But to use my son’s favorite word lately, the Dodgers of the past 18 years have been mostly Dullsville. Admittedly, contenders more often than not. A playoff team three times. But not close to a championship caliber team. Dull, but respectable.

This year’s been different. The Dodgers are exciting. They were exciting yesterday, almost winning the game despite the goofy play that cost them at least two crucial runs. For the past three months, the excitement has mostly resulted in winning, not losing. But Boswell wonders if the team will recover from this classic bonehead play:

Fortune has been in their corner for weeks. In one victory over the Padres, they tied the game with four solo homers in the ninth inning, then after falling behind, won 11-10 on a two-run homer by Nomar Garciaparra in the 10th. Such extended streaks of hot play — the Dodgers are 41-19 since July 28th — can only be snapped by omens of equal weight.

This game had that eerie feeling — cubed. Immediately after the double-tag at the plate, the next Dodger doubled. So, with competent conservative base running, L.A. would’ve had a 3-0 lead with a man on second and no outs with Maine on the ropes. Instead, pitcher Derek Lowe struck out to end the inning with just a 1-0 lead. When Carlos Delgado hit a 470-foot home run off the top of the three-story TV camera tower in center field and Cliff Floyd homered one out later, the Mets led 2-1.

The Dodgers tied it at 4 on a two-run double by Garciaparra in the seventh, but Kent, trying to hit one so far that he would have infinite time to circle the bases, struck out to end the inning. Finally, in the ninth, with a runner on second, Garciaparra struck out to end the game, leaving Kent on deck and Drew in the hole.

Which, all sins considered, is exactly where they belonged.

The Mets are a tough team — probably the best National League team this season. But the Dodgers have been a much better team lately.  So I think they will overcome this jinx, and win this round in five games.

Tonight will tell the tale.  If left-handed rookie Hong-Chi Kuo can tame the Mets like he did last month, we’ve got Greg Maddux going in game 3, which would put LA up 2-1 with two to play.  In Game 4, Brad Penny will be fighting for his credibility as an ace starter.  That game’s not too promising.  But Derek Lowe comes back in Game 5, and I think he’ll have better luck if he’s given a second chance at this lineup.

Go Kuo!

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