Sunday, June 17, 2012
2012 Dodgers inspiring memories of 1988
LOS ANGELES -- The thought had crossed my mind several times during this increasingly compelling, increasingly magical season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the thought crossing my mind and the thought crossing the Hall of Fame lips of Tommy Lasorda are two very different things. So when the latter happened Saturday, the old skipper engaging reporters during his first visit to Dodger Stadium since suffering a heart attack a couple of weeks ago, about a dozen pens were set into furious motion.
"It's a lot like my 1988 team," Lasorda said. "We didn't have an overabundance of guys who were great, but we had guys who were great together, and I think that is what you are seeing now. At least that is what I see."
Well, it's what I see, too. And I have a strong suspicion that a lot of other people are seeing the same thing.
I viewed the '88 club mostly from afar, being a college kid in Arkansas, catching the Dodgers whenever they appeared on national telecasts -- which weren't nearly as ubiquitous then as they are now. But I found them fascinating, the Kirk Gibson impact, the Orel Hershiser scoreless streak, the inevitable collapse that just never came, until finally, they were popping champagne in the bowels of what was then known as the Oakland Coliseum.
The Dodgers, fresh from another victory Sunday -- this time 2-1 in 10 innings over the Chicago White Sox before a Father's Day sellout of 53,504 at Dodger Stadium -- are headed back to that same concrete doughnut this week for an interleague series against the Oakland A's, beginning Tuesday night. They will take with them, somehow, the best record in the majors (42-25) and a five-game lead in the National League West.
What they won't take with them is a stockpile of top-level talent or any discernible swagger or any convincing reason why any team that encounters them should be in any way intimidated. So far, though, these Dodgers haven't needed any of those things. All they have needed is that same refusal to quit, that same quiet confidence, that same belief that no opponent is unbeatable and that no deficit is insurmountable.
All traits, of course, that marked that '88 world championship team. And so, to that extent, perhaps Lasorda's comparison should be viewed as the ultimate compliment to this 2012 club, if only they had more than a vague -- and in some cases, non-existent -- recollection.
"I was just born in '88, so I didn't get to see them," Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon said. But there was Gordon, who has been struggling at the plate as long as just about anybody can remember, delivering a walk-off single against White Sox reliever Matt Thornton in the 10th inning, bringing home Tony Gwynn Jr., who is a good guy and a serviceable player but nowhere near the hitter his Hall of Fame father was.
This after veteran Bobby Abreu, a guy whom the Los Angeles Angels gave up on earlier this season, singled to start a game-tying rally in the ninth, one that was helped along by a key single from an infielder named Elian Herrera, who most casual Dodgers fans didn't even know existed until a few weeks ago. The rally was capped by a sacrifice fly from another player, Juan Rivera, who also had been given up on by his former club, the Toronto Blue Jays, less than a year ago.
Where this will lead in a few months is anyone's guess. But we all know where it led 24 years ago -- to a place no subsequent Dodgers team has been able to reach.
Keep in mind, this is a team playing without its superstar, center fielder Matt Kemp, and probably will be doing so at least through the All-Star break. Consider, though, that the Dodgers have gone 19-12 in the 31 games Kemp has missed so far.
It's one of those teams for which everything seems to fall in place. Case in point: on Sunday, Andre Ethier, the team's main, middle-of-the-order power threat without Kemp, went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and an intentional walk, prolonging a hitting slump that is closing in on a month now. But Ethier, a two-time Gold Glove right fielder, may have saved that game with three spectacular catches, each of which took away at least a single and the last of which took away at least a double at a critical juncture in the ninth inning.
Consider also that the Dodgers have gotten little to no production out of the leadoff spot, where Gordon usually hits; that they have gotten such inconsistent production out of James Loney that first base has become a platoon situation; that second baseman and second-place hitter Mark Ellis has been on the disabled list for a month and may be there for another month; that reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw has been merely good, which is a precipitous drop from otherworldly, which is what he was the second half of last year.
And yet, despite all that, here the Dodgers are. As intriguing and compelling as they have been, arguably, in a generation. Oh, and just like in '88, they also have pretty good pitching, entering Sunday with the second-best team ERA in the majors. They also have played more one-run games than anybody else in the majors, including each of their past four games, and they have gone 18-13 in those games.
Don Mattingly, the Dodgers' current manager, spoke one day on the just-completed homestand about how rare it is to encounter a team like this, a team in which every individual seems to be on the same page, working toward the same goal, subordinating himself to the team for the good of himself and his teammates.
Mattingly said that of the 14 seasons he spent as a major league player, all with the New York Yankees, only one of them, the last one in 1995, fit that bill. When Derek Lowe and Bill Mueller were with the Dodgers, they used to wax nostalgic all the time about their 2004 Boston Red Sox team, which also boasted that once-in-a-lifetime type of chemistry on its way to famously breaking an 86-year World Series title drought.
There is no denying that this is one of those teams. That guarantees nothing, of course. The collapse that never happened in '88 could happen in '12.
But whatever the destination, it is becoming easier now to actually buy into the notion that it is going to be a lot of fun watching these Dodgers get there.