Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’

Tommy John . . . And Stephen Strasburg

Friday, August 27th, 2010

The player for whom Tommy John surgery is named was one of the smartest and tenacious pitchers to ever throw from a major league mound. Check the record: John pitched for 26 years, compiling a 288-231 record with a career 3.34 ERA and 162 complete games. He threw well (he led his league twice in winning percentage and three times in shutouts) and often brilliantly for four good teams: the White Sox, Dodgers, Angels and Yankees. It’s a shame, truly, that Tommy John is remembered best for the surgery that was performed, first, on him — after he “blew out his arm.” For while we credit medicine with inventing “Tommy John Surgery,” the procedure that repaired his arm was really his idea and was performed at his insistence by Dr. Frank Jobe. That fact is important, because most (and damn near all) pitchers before Tommy John who suffered from “forearm stiffness” or “a dead arm” (the names then given to symptoms that pointed to elbow ligament damage) simply left the game. Tommy John didn’t.

Baseball commentators (Peter Gammons, Steve Kurkjian and others), sports talk junkies (ESPN  980’s Tom Loverro and Rick “Doc” Walker) and Nationals’ fanatics (me and you and God knows who else) seem to have come to three conclusions about the news that Stephen Strasburg will have to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. The first is that the Strasburg injury is “devastating” and potentially career ending, that the injury derails Nationals’ plans to contend in 2011 (or even 2012), and that the news reflects the fragility of modern pitchers — whose susceptibility to blowing out their pitching arm shows they aren’t as tough as “old school pitchers.” All three conclusions are false. And here’s why.

Okay, okay: the Strasburg news is “devastating” for Strasburg because it will keep him off the mound for 12 to 15 months; but the news is not fatal either to his career or to the long-term prospects of the Washington franchise. Others have had the surgery, many others, and have come back as good as new — or better. After having “Tommy John surgery,” Tommy John went on to win 164 games. A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Arthur Rhodes, Carl Pavano and Billy Wagner have all had the procedure and have come back — in some cases they actually pitched better after the surgery than before. Tommy John surgery does not simply repair a damaged ligament, it replaces it. The goal of the procedure is to make the arm stronger than it was before the surgery. And isn’t it an irony (or, if you prefer, isn’t it nauseating) that the Nationals got the news on Strasburg on the same day that Jordan Zimmermann returned to the mound 12 months after having his own Tommy John procedure — and was able to throw well and without pain.

Is the news “devastating” for the Nats? It would be crazy to argue that the Strasburg news will have no impact on the club. It will. There’s little doubt that the 2011 rotation will suffer without his presence. But to believe that Stan Kasten or Mike Rizzo (or Jim Riggleman), have stated that they are “stockpiling pitchers” because they just happen to love pitchers is perverse. They know. They know that a certain percentage of pitchers will blow a ligament, tear a cuff or strain an elbow — and somebody will have to come in to take their place. The Nats have plenty of young pitchers who want to be in the show, and while none of them have the talent of the phenom, the team is not without hope. Then too, the era of free agency ensures that, should a team lose its best talent to the D.L, it’s possible to sign a savvy and healthy veteran (like, well . . . Tommy John) who can revive a franchise’s fortune. In 1974, while Tommy John was rehabbing from the first-ever Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers finished in second place in the N.L West. But two years later (in 1977) the Dodgers won the pennant — because of Tommy John, who had his best year ever (20-7, 220 innings, 2.78 ERA). Tommy John’s injury was “devastating” for Tommy John, but not for the Dodgers — who did just fine without him. They did what all ball clubs do: they compensated.

Is the kind of injury that sidelined Tommy John — and that is now sidelining Stephen Strasburg — a new development? Does it somehow signal some kind of systemic problem with developing major league pitchers? Weren’t pitchers just “tougher” in past years, and aren’t “these kids” being coddled just a bit too much? This is complete nonsense. The reason that Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal (the two examples most prominently cited, because of the Spahn-Marichal marathon) were able to pitch as effectively as they did for as long as they did is not because they “sucked it up,” but because they never suffered career ending ligament damage. If they had (in the era before Tommy John surgery) their careers would have been over. They weren’t tough, they didn’t “suck it up” — they were lucky. High school baseball, football and basketball squads of the 1960s were littered with coaches whose damaged arms ended their careers. They didn’t refuse to tough it out: they were out of baseball because their arm was “dead.” The difference between then and now is not a difference in “character,” it’s that now we have Tommy John surgery — back then we didn’t.

The news on Strasburg is bad news. It’s very bad news. But Tommy John surgery is not a death sentence. Not even close. It’s an injury — and it will take time to heal. There will be months and months of rest, even before rehab. “The kid” is in for a long journey. But my bet is that he’ll return. Wouldn’t be nice for him to know that when he does — we’ll be there, cheering him on. It’s not time for Stephen Strasburg to suck it up, it’s time for Nats fans to suck it up.

Jonathans Are Wild

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The season may have ended yesterday for two storied franchises. The Red Sox and the Dodgers both blew late-in-the-game leads (the Sox to the Blue Jays, the Dodgers to the Phillies) and lost on the road as they attempted to chase down a wild card slot in their respective divisions. The Nation, who are four games back in the Wild Card race, look to be in better shape than the Trolleys — who trail in the N.L West by six-and-a- half. But the similarity between the two teams, and the reason they both may be done, is their fate-crossed closers. Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers and Jonathan Papelbon of the Sox sport very similar lines, and they’re not pretty.  Both closers have four losses, both have ERAs over 3.0, and both have blown an inordinate number of saves (Papelbon has blown six; Broxton has blown five). And both closers also took the loss yesterday.

The Dodger implosion was the more bloody of the two, with the Torre squad blowing a seven run lead with six outs to go. The only reason I continued to watch the game into the late innings was that I don’t like the Phils –while I’ve got an unexplained affection for the Dodgers. Basically, I wanted to see the Ponies getting drubbed. But, I’d forgotten about the Dodger bullpen (though that’s not hard to do if you don’t have one). Torre looked absolutely gray in the last two innings (especially in the ninth), when Broxton hit the first batter and then walked the second. Torre trudged to the hill to tell his man to “trust [his] stuff.”  Actually, he said it twice (you could read his lips). Broxton promptly walked the next batter, and then it was only a matter of time.

The Sox weren’t much better: they led the Blue Jays 5-2 going into the final frame, but they couldn’t hold it. Starter John Lackey started off the ninth and gave up a solo dinger; he was pulled. That said, Lackey had pitched effectively, scattering seven hits over eight innings with only one walk. Then Papelbon came on: and the wheels fell off. In one-third of an inning Papelbon gave up four hits and walked one. Fireballer Daniel Bard then entered the fray, but it was too late. While Bard got his man to fly out to center by then the game had been tied and the winning run had tagged from third to score.

The Dodgers are certainly done. Broxton looks absolutely lost on the mound. It’s not clear how, in the wake of the Broxton disaster, the Trolleys can rebound from “the Philadelphia Massacre.” And the Sox? Well, we’ll see . . . but it doesn’t look good. And it’s because of their closer. Effective closers don’t blow six save opportunities and keep their team in contention. It’ll be a mammoth test of the Sox stick-to-it-iveness to continue the march to the Wild Card.  They’ve certainly showed their mettle thus far, particularly given the almost unbelievable number of key players they’ve had on the DL this season. But with Kevin Youkilis gone for the year with a thumb injury its just not certain they can come back from their collapse in Toronto.

The Pride Of Porter Derails Dodgers

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Adam Dunn — the pride of Porter, Texas — is finally starting to get the attention he deserves. And it’s long overdue. The Nationals’ first baseman’s two home run, six RBI outing against the Trolleys in Los Angeles was the talk of baseball on Friday night. The “cavalcade of stars” on Baseball Tonight and the whoop-happy crew on MLBN’s late night offering (Plesac and Williams) spun up Dunn’s “Moon shots” in Dodger Stadum again and again. We can only hope the former Redleg and D-Back great is enjoying it. Ignored in the first round of the amateur draft, the victim of unfair criticism at the hands of a flap-mouthed former G.M., traded from team-to-team for younger unproven players, passed over for the 2010 All Star game and regularly relegated to second tier attention behind Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard (among others), Dunn is slowly laying claim to being one of the game’s elite players. Certainly Dunn’s skipper, Jim Riggleman thinks so.

In the aftermath of Friday’s derailing of the Dodgers in L.A., Riggleman dissected Dunn’s at-bats, shaking his head in wonder: “What Adam did out there today, that’s really some big stuff because [L.A. starter Clayton] Kershaw has been really tough on everybody, particularly tough on left-handers,” Riggleman said. “For Adam to do that against him a couple of times in that ballgame, you are not going to see that too often against Kershaw.” But it was MASN play-by-play guy Bob Carpenter who said it best. “If Adam Dunn appears hunched over it’s because he’s carrying the Washington Nationals on his back,” he said. “And he can do it.” Dunn, meanwhile, underplayed his accomplishment, focusing instead on Kershaw.”He is not one of my top pitchers to face. I can tell you that,” he said. “He is really good. Look at his numbers. He is really good. He is only going to get better. How old is he? Twelve, 13? He is only going to get better.” Dunn’s night was complemented by a solid outing from John Lannan and a tough defense, which included a diving catch in centerfield from recent call-up Justin Maxwell. The Nationals will face off against the Dodgers again tonight in L.A. before wrapping up the series on Sunday.

Marlins’ Pitching Spears Nats

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

The Nats were reportedly displeased with their play over their last two days in Miami (“We’re definitely upset,” Willie Harris admitted. “We’re not like in the past, where you might think it’s just another ballgame. It’s different), but the truth is that, while the Nats could have played much better, they lost to two tough pitchers and a team of suddenly surging long ball hitters. It’s sometimes just this simple: the other team plays better and the guys they put on the mound are in command of their stuff. So it was on Saturday, when Chris Volstad’s knuckle curve subdued the Nats order, stifling a confident team in a visitor’s park. Which is simply to say: the Nats ran into a team that boasts pitchers who know how to throw complete games. The Marlins are tied with the Phillies for most complete games — having turned in complete performances from Volstad (who held the Nats to just four hits) Ricky Nolasco (beaten by Scott Olsen on Friday) and Josh Johnson — who was in complete command on Sunday.

Which is not to say that the Nats played (or pitched) well — they didn’t. Craig Stammen remained inconsistent through four innings on Saturday, pulled early by Riggleman when it was clear that he simply didn’t have his stuff. After two good outings, Stammen seemed to slip back to his old ways: serving up batting practice fastballs to a group of hitters who knew exactly what to do with them. John Lannan endured the same kind of outing on Sunday, though this time the Nats looked a little less like the defensive bumblers of ’09. Pitching was still the problem — Lannan gave up nine hits through five shaky innings and the bullpen wasn’t much better, with Brian Bruney as ineffective behind Lannan as Tyler Walker had been behind Stammen. Bruney was puzzled by his continued struggles: “Really, honestly, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said following the Marlins Sunday win. “I think you can just jumble everything together and say it’s frustrating.”

Chris Volstad is an imposing presence on the mound (6-8, 225), with a pitcher-heavy fastball and a smooth delivery. But his best pitch is a “knuckle curve” — what some players call a “spike curve.” Oddly, it (and not the fastball) is Volstad’s out pitch (or at least it was on Saturday) and when he throws it well (as he did against the Nats), he’s damn near unhittable. The knuckle curve features a semi-curve ball grip with one or two fingers curled back. To be effective, the ball is launched or pushed towards the plate instead of thrown. The master of the knuckle curve was Burt Hooton, a Texas phenom who pitched fifteen years for the Cubs, Dodgers and Astros. Hooton was the “next big thing” when he arrived in Chicago in 1971 — one of the few MLB players to vault from college directly into a team’s starting line-up.

For a time in Chicago, Hooton looked like the real deal. He struck out 15 in one of his earliest appearances in 1971 and in his first outing in ’72 he threw a breathtaking no-hitter against the Phillies. But Hooton struggled with the Cubs the rest of the way and was dealt to L.A. in 1975. Hooton was 19-8 for the Trolleys in 1978, his best year. In 1981, Hooton was named the NLCS MVP for his stellar pitching performances against the Expos and went on to pitch well against the Yankees in the ’81 World Series. But while Hooton was the master of the knuckle curve, he was never the master of the strike zone — and never equaled in his later career the lights-out promise of his 1972 no-hitter. Hooton has served as a pitching coach in the Astro’s organization since his retirement and, in 2009, was inducted into the University of Texas Hall of Fame, along with Astro’s slugger Lance Berkman.

Olsen Dominates, Nats Head To Chicago

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Scott Olsen’s seven inning gem against the Dodgers has Nats fans (and the Washington Post) oohing and ahhing about the team’s new attitude. “Instead of saying ‘Get ’em tomorrow,’ the Nats have finally assembled a tougher, more irritable group that actually does it,” Post columnist and leading baseball pundit Thomas Boswell writes. Boswell goes on to note: “It’s not just the Nats’ record that is different this spring. The Nats themselves are. They’re starting to resemble the first gritty crew that brought baseball back to D.C. after a 33 year wait.” Tougher? More irritable? Gritty? My first reaction was to scoff: forget irritable and gritty — we need front line guys who can throw strikes. Please, please, please Tom (I know you’re the best, or close to it), but you know (and I know, and it’s no secret) that a rotation of Lannan, Stammen, Olsen and Hernandez are not going to get it done.

But in studying yesterday’s box score, I began to question by own cynicism. The difference in the Nats 1-0 win yesterday (a beautifully pitched game, if ever there was one) from any of their wins last year was obvious. For right there, in the middle of the line-up, were two players the Nats needed, but didn’t have, in the ’09 campaign. When Mike Rizzo signed Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy in the offseason, he not only filled two special needs, he added two gamers to the clubhouse — players who not only know how to win, but want to. While Rodriguez and Kennedy went a combined 0-6 yesterday, their role on the team has been indispensible, providing much needed leadership to a crew of talented, but young, players. Mike Rizzo added a caveat: “We’re a long ways from where we want to be.” Yeah, true. But you’re also a long ways from where you were.

The difference between the ’09 and 2010 Nats becomes more obvious when you go through the line-up of the Chicago Cubs, whom the Nats face in Chicago starting tonight. The North Side Drama Queens are a team of head cases and disasters-waiting-to-happen: Alfonso Soriano’s penchant to drop flies in left field is damn near agonizing, the perpetually petulant Carlos Zambrano has been demoted to the bullpen, the perennially injured Aramis Ramirez is a fracture away from putting the Cubs in the cellar and Kosuke Fukudome is overpaid and (undoubtedly) on the trading block. I know, I know — the Cubs just swept the Brewers and can hit the hell out of the ball. But the name of this game is pitching, and the Cubs don’t have it. Forget the starters (or don’t — if you really believe that Carlos Silva is the answer), and focus on the bullpen. The line-up of Berg, Grabow, Gray, Russell and Marmol is a patched together crew of rookies and semi-veterans (like Marmol) who have yet to prove they can hit the strike zone. Put another way, we would be justified in saying that the Cubs bullpen collapsed in the first two weeks of the season, but we’d be wrong. It had nothing to collapse from.

Cubs fans are on a death watch. Nats 320 has an outstanding interview with Cubs blogger Joe Aeillo of View From The Bleachers, and while Joe sounds positive enough, you can almost hear the ‘Oh-God-wadda-we-gonna-do’ tension in his voice. Joe talks about Uncle Lou’s bullpen problems and notes that Zambrano has been “the weak link” in the rotation so far this year, but the icing comes when Nats 320 asks about Soriano. “I’ll give you $20 right now, straight cash homie, if you convince the Nationals to take him back,” Joe says. That’s a deal we can pass up: we’ll keep Willingham. Soriano, the bullpen — they’re all problems. But the real problem facing the Cubs is down the road in St. Louis. The Cubs don’t have anyone who matches up with Chris Carpenter, Brad Penny or Adam Wainwright. I can’t stand Penny (he should just rob a 7-Eleven and get it out of his system), but the former Dodger bad boy is pitching brilliantly — with three wins and a 0.94 ERA. That’s a record that Zambrano can only dream about.

The Cubs haven’t had a team since Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were five outs away from the World Series. Remember? Prior was a USC power pitcher with Cy Young stuff and Woods struck out 20 in his rookie season. And then . . . and then, in the 8th inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS a little pop foul that should have been caught did them in. It was their last shot. Neither Prior nor Wood have been the same since; Prior became a surgeon’s dream and is now out of baseball and Wood is in Cleveland, dealing with a cranky back. Looking at Prior (a shoulder, an achilles tendon, a hamstring, another shoulder), you can understand why Mike Rizzo wants Stephen Strasburg in the minors — and why he insists that any member of the Washington club have a winning attitude. Put another way, the problem with Cubs comes down to this: Carlos Zambrano throws the ball in the mid-90s and is capable of a 20-win Cy Young season. But wouldn’t you rather have Livan Hernandez?

Nats Leave 15, Lose In 13

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

The Washington Nationals came within inches of pulling out a victory against the Dodgers on Saturday, but a quick throw to home by L.A. third baseman Casey Blake on a slow roller by Ian Desmond caught Ivan Rodriguez at the plate in the bottom of the 13th inning — and the Trolley’s went on to win a 4-3 13 inning squeaker at Nationals Park. The play-at-the-plate call brought boos from Nats fans, but after the game Rodriguez said he believed the umpire made the right decision: “I went in and saw the replay and I was out probably two or three inches. He made a good call,” Rodriguez said. The Nats had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but left 15 men on base against L.A. starter Clayton Kershaw and a host of Dodger relievers. “I thought we played real good baseball,” Nats’ manager Jim Riggleman said in the clubhouse after the game. “We got some timely hits. Pitching was good. It was a pitching and defense game. I wish we could have gotten the runs in. It just didn’t happen.”

The itchy-close contest included another stellar outing from Washington starter Craig Stammen and a 3 for 7 day from fleet-footed speedster Nyjer Morgan — whose controversial sixth inning decision to try for third on a ball hit over the head of left fielder Xavier Paul was the talk of the post game commentators. After the game, Morgan admitted he had made a base running mistake. “I was being aggressive, but not intelligent,” Morgan said. “But my thought was they were trying to [throw out] Stammen. I should have stopped about halfway, but I was locked in. I had tunnel vision there and didn’t understand the situation a little bit. I have to be smarter in that situation. It was an aggressive play. I was thinking they would throw out the pitcher instead of trying to get me at third. I should have known better not to make the last out at third base.”

The “Forgettable” Senators of 1961

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

There’s lots of things that happened on this date in history: in 1912 the Titanic set sail from Southampton (to meet its untimely demise five days later) and in 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published. Oh yeah, and in 1961 the expansion Washington Senators took the field for Opening Day at Griffiths Stadium. Of the three events, the last is the most forgettable, even if it most closely resembles the Titanic’s ghastly fate. These were not your daddy’s Senators (those Senators had boarded a plane for Minneapolis, where they became the Twins), and they certainly weren’t memorable: the Senators were cobbled together from an expansion draft of team leftovers when the men who then ran baseball decided that a team in Washington would balance the new high-end la-de-da franchise set to open in Los Angeles — and called (get this) the Angels.

Washington seemed an afterthought: a balancing act to the new west coast team — and its expansion draft reflected it. There just wasn’t that much talent available, and the talent that was available played in New York. Former Cubs great Dale Long came over from the Yankees to play first base, the beautifully named but limping Coot Veal came from the Tigers to play shortstop (which he did, but not often — and poorly), the aging Gene Woodling (38) came down the road from Baltimore to play the outfield and righthander Dick Donovan came in from the Pale Hose to anchor the staff. It wasn’t a surprise that the expansion Senators finished ninth that year — the surprise was that the Kansas City Athletics (then a virtual farm team for the Yankees) were actually worse: though both teams had the same 61-100 season. The Angels, on the other hand, finished ahead of the Senators by some nine wins. They had drafted better (Leon Wagner, Eddie Yost, Earl Averill, Ken Hunt!) and started to build a farm system.

Senators’ fans registered their disdain for the “Afterthoughts” by voting with their feet. The new expansion team drew just 597,000 fans, though the team’s owners thought this might improve — the next year the Senators were slated to move into the newly built “D.C. Stadium,” a then-state of the art facility that would later be named for Robert F. Kennedy. In all, there are only two good reasons to remember the ’61 Senators: Gene Woodling — whose career was revived by a surprising.313 season — and Dick Donovan, as classy a pitcher as there was in baseball. But Woodling’s surprise year was truly a surprise. A 38-year-old could not carry on forever and while Woodling would be remembered for his years of near-greatness with the Indians, he could not replicate them with the Senators. By 1963 he was out of the game.

Not so for Dick Donovan, a righthanded fastballer whose best year as a pitcher was still ahead of him. Donovan, who was originally signed as an amateur by the Boston Braves in 1947, had one day in the sun, though it was a long time coming. After three years of mediocrity bouncing between Boston and the minors, Donovan was signed by the Tigers, who (after eyeballing their wild new “ace”) sent him back to the Braves. “No thanks.” But in 1955 the Chicago White Sox took a gamble on Donovan and were rewarded, in large part because the New England righthander had developed a sneaky slider to complement his above-average fastball. The result was a 15-9 season and a spot at the top of the White Sox rotation. He thereafter served up four steady (and two not-so-steady) seasons before arriving in Washington.

Donovan’s claim to baseball fame, however, came in the third game of the 1959 World Series, when he pitched the best game of his career. Facing off against Dodger great Don Drysdale, Donovan gave up just two hits in 6.2 innings, while Drysdale served up eleven hits to the normally hitless Hose. But the White Sox were the hard-luck losers: after Donovan ambled to the dugout in the 6th, the Chicago bullpen collapsed and the Trolleys took the game 3-1. Donovan must have sensed the impending doom. While waiting for their new stadium to be completed in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers played at the converted Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the short porch in left was guarded by a looming forty foot screen. As Donovan was warming up prior to facing Drysdale, he looked out at the screen and shook his head: “I wonder how a fellow ever gets the side out,” he said. “I guess you gotta be a positive thinker.”

Donovan was only 10-10 for the ’61 Senators, but he led the AL in ERA and might have become a feature of the new team’s rotation. But the Senators’ front office didn’t think he’d get much better and they dealt him (with Jim Mahoney and Gene Green) to Cleveland for Jimmy Piersall. It was a mistake. Piersall hit .244 for the Senators, while  Donovan won 20 games for the Indians. He was just so-so in the two years that followed and, after pitching only 22 innings in the ’65 season, he retired to his boyhood home in Massachusetts. For the next twenty years, Donovan was a successful businessman and a well-known figure in Weymouth. He died in 1997 at the age of 69.

The Grudge Match

Friday, October 16th, 2009


Tommy Lasorda is a ubiquitous presence in baseball and a legend in Los Angeles. The camera finds him in Dodger Stadium during nearly every game of the week, he’s constantly interviewed, and his baseball judgment is considered nigh on saintly: Tim McCarver mentions his name in a worshipful (almost liturgical) tone (“there’s Tommy”) and reporters scribble furiously when he talks, which he does — a lot. He’s even supplanted the late Walter O’Malley as “Mr. Dodger,” certainly he’s more worshipfully remembered than Walter Alston, whose managing career matches Lasorda’s. When Lasorda retired as the Dodger’s manager, back in 1996, he spent untold hours sidling up to Hollywood legends and walk-of-fame wannabes, hobnobbing with producers and starlets, and befriending crooner Frank Sinatra. Tommy’s done everything but the perp walk, but you never know.

But despite what Trolley fans might think, Lasorda’s not perfect. In 1993, he questioned whether then-Dodger prospect Pedro Martinez (5-11) was big enough to be a good pitcher, prompting the Dodger’s front office (which spent their time back then listening for the whip-crack in his raspy voice), to trade him to Montreal in exchange for second sacker Delino DeShields. Martinez rewarded Lasorda’s skepticism the next year: he pitched nine innings of perfect baseball for Montreal, compiling a 17-8 record. And he went on to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. Anyone can make a mistake, but apparently Pedro holds a grudge, not least because the endlessly yakky Lasorda was so outspoken in his criticism of his diminutive pitcher. It’s one thing to say a guy is “too small” to the front office, it’s another to say it in pubic. Then too, Pedro is not the kind of guy who’s known for steering away from controversy — and neither is Lasorda.

Back in 2005, Lasorda picked a fight with the Phillie Phanatic on his blog after the Phanatic took a Lasorda jersey, put it on a dummy, and ran over it again and again before a Dodgers-Phillies game. “This should not be shown in ballparks, especially in front of children,” Lasorda complained. “It exhibits disrespect and violence.” The next time the Dodgers were in town, Mr. Thin Skin (during a clubhouse lecture he gave on compassion, he told a player who interrupted him to “shut the f … up!”) body-slammed the Phanatic to the ground. And bragged about it. Say what you will about Martinez’s defense in fending off Don Zimmer: at least he didn’t attack a mascot.

The Martinez-Trolley feud would be enough to make tonight’s Trolley-Phuzzie match-up worth watching, but it’s not the only story of this series. Head hunter Vicente Padilla is scheduled to start for the Dodgers against his old team, who traded him to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later — a “here, we don’t want him” swap that ruffled Padilla’s feathers and got under his very thin skin. Padilla was not well-liked in The City Of Brotherly Love, whose fans mercilessly dogged him about his wildness and mound antics and remained silent when he was traded. That wasn’t true for other Phillies: Randy Wolf (also now a Dodger) had a thick-as-syrup “Wolf Pack” following that howled when he appeared, while Jim Thome’s apologists were so vocal, so slathering, it was almost embarrassing. Padilla went on to become a felon in Texas, but has apparently cleaned up his act in L.A., where his teammates testify that he’s the brother of Mary Poppins. Of course he is: pitchers actually have to enter the batter’s box in the National League (where the game is played among men) — which means any Padilla fastball aimed at an opposing player’s ear is likely to result in his being carted from the field. Right past Lasorda’s box.

The silence you hear tonight when the Philllies take the field in the bottom of the 1st will have a lot to do with the importance of a second-of-seven NLCS  match-up: but the cameras will be trained on Lasorda, Martinez and Padilla, and not on the scoreboard. And any up-and-in fastballs are likely to be interpreted as more than pitches designed to move the hitter off the plate. This is for all the marbles in the National League, but this isn’t LA-St. Louis, or Philadelphia vs. the Rockies. This is an old fashioned grudge match between teams and players that don’t each other very much. And it will be pure entertainment.

Rockies Even Series; Trolleys Stun Redbirds

Friday, October 9th, 2009

The Colorado Rockies held off the rallying Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday to take the second game in their five game series, 5-4. The key for the Purples was an unlikely two run homer off the bat of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who hadn’t had a four base knock since May. Torrealba’s knock was complemented by solid pitching from Rockies’ starter Aaron Cook and bullpen aces Jose Contreras, Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt, Franklin Morales and all-world closer Huston Street (above). The Heltons, who won during the regular season by counting on the bats of an unlikely mix of new heroes, depended on the bat of yet another unknown newcomer: in this case it was left fielder Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez. Gonzalez — a former Showboat prospect and a throw-in in the off season Oakland-Colorado Matt Holliday-for-Huston Street trade — spent much of the last two seasons in triple-A, while Denver’s front office waited for him to pan out. Gonzalez got his chance this year, after a series of injuries made room for him in the Colorado outfield. On Thursday, the fleet Venezuelan went 3-5 to spark the otherwise sleepy Rockies’ line up.

When the Oakland A’s got Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies in the Huston Street trade back in November of 2008, they thought their search for a big bat was over: the Stillwater, Oklahoma native was a three time all star and three time silver slugger and he’d been named the 2007 World Series MVP. But Holliday didn’t seem to fit in in Oakland (he hit an otherwise anemic .286 with 11 home runs in 93 games), and on July 24, 2009 Oakland A’s guru Billy Beane swapped him to St. Louis for three top prospects: Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. In St. Louis, Holliday tore the cover off the ball — hitting .353 with 13 home runs in just 63 games, and propelling the Redbirds into the post season. He was just what Tony La Russa ordered.

Holliday’s post season experience gave St. Louis the confidence they needed against L.A. With Albert Pujols and Holliday in the middle of their order and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright their big guns as starters, St. Louis was set to head into L.A. to face Joe Torre’s big bats. L.A. took the first game, with a surprisingly shaky outing by Carpenter. But St. Louis came back to dominate the second game: and it looked like the Redbirds were set to even the series at one game apiece. But with two outs in the ninth ining and St. Louis leading, the otherwise sure-handed Holliday dropped a sinking liner off the bat of first sacker James Loney to give the Dodgers new life. Casey Blake then walked and former Nats Ronnie Belliard singled home the tying run, before Mark Loretta’s short centerfield single provided the 3-2 walk off win. “It’s tough to swallow,” Holliday said after the game. “Obviously, I feel terrible. But I just missed the ball. It hit my stomach. I think I can catch a ball hit right at me.” The Trolleys now lead the series, 2-0.

100 Losses

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Just before losing a back-and-forth tussle with the Dodgers at Nationals Park on Thursday (final score: 7-6), the Nats front office apparently decided it was time to start preparing for next year. The things-are-looking-up offensive had the distinct odor of being planned to coincide with the Nats’ 100th in-season loss, a kind of Mendoza line for franchise futility. The “let’s talk up the good news” program included an on-line fan exchange featuring Mike Rizzo, a fan appreciation reception just before the Nats game with the Dodgers, a website feature on Ryan Zimmerman’s amazing season, and select “don’t worry, we’re on the right road” post game quotes from Jim Riggleman and company. “I’m just so proud of these guys,” Riggleman said after the Dodgers loss. “With exception of a ballgame or two — from the All-Star break on — we have been outstanding in terms of effort and attitude. Our fans responded to the energy on the field . . .  The Dodgers are going to popping champagne any day and we [are going to be right there soon].”

Well, maybe. Nats fans continue to show up at the ballpark, but Mike and Company shouldn’t be fooled: the team is on a short leash. Good teams are strong up the middle, but successful franchises are characterized by strong front offices. This 100 loss season can be put down to bad pitching and poor play, but Nats fans know that the most chilling aspect of ’09 didn’t take place on the field. Last January (four months to go before opening day) the Nats’ brain trust had already decided that Joel Hanrahan would be the closer, that its young pitchers were ready to carry the team to respectability, that there was no need to sign a strong glove to anchor a shaky infield, that Dmitri Young would return to provide clubhouse leadership — that Lastings Milledge was on his way to stardom. When Jim Bowden resigned as the team G.M., he predicted “a championship season.”

It’s possible to be wrong about a player, to spend too much money signing a prospect, to make a bad trade, to over value a free agent — that happens to the best teams and it’s forgivable. But to pin your hopes on the bats of Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Dmitri Young and the arms of Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera is beyond strange. It’s nearly perverse. The Washington Nationals ’09 campaign is a “lost season” not simply because the team lost 100 games (though, there’s that) but because the team spent the first three months of the season building what it should have been building for the last five years: a group of development experts and talent assessors who are capable of being honest about what’s on the field. So let’s not mistake what happened yesterday: the front office of the Washington Nationals decided to divert our attention from what has been happening on the field – and for good reason.