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Sunday, September 2, 2012
Mattingly: 'Short window' means chemistry derived from wins, adversity

By Arash Markazi

LOS ANGELES -- When Bobby Abreu walked into the Los Angeles Dodgers’ clubhouse Sunday morning, he could hardly recognize the players surrounding him.

He had been gone for only one month after being sent down to Triple-A Albuquerque when the Dodgers traded for Shane Victorino on Aug. 1. But Victorino was just one of the many new faces that had joined the team over the past month.

“It’s different,” Abreu said. “It’s totally different.”

While the players the Dodgers have acquired over the past month arrived with high expectations, most of them have yet to reach those standards while they are still getting acclimated to their new surroundings. It’s an understandable process. But if the Dodgers hope to make it to the postseason with their revamped roster, the fast-forward button on that process needed to be punched soon.

Adrian Gonzalez, the most high-profile new face on the team, may finally have hit that button Sunday with his walk-off double that scored Victorino and Mark Ellis to give the Dodgers a 5-4 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After Victorino slid home, he was lifted up by Ellis as the rest of team proceeded to surround Gonzalez and rip off his jersey. With his jersey gone, Gonzalez attempted to make it through an on-field interview after the game while being sprayed with water by Aaron Harang, then having a bucket of water dumped on him by Matt Kemp.

In the clubhouse, Victorino was humming Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling” as he and Kemp goofed around with the children of Ellis and Andre Ethier.

For all the closed-door, open-door and side-door meetings the team has had over the past month, nothing brings a team closer together than a walk-off win. Few players are humming songs and playing catch with their teammates’ kids in the clubhouse after a loss.

“Winning games now is what’s going to put this thing together,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “We’re getting to a point now where you’re not going to have time to learn guys' families and go out and get dinner, or whatever it is. At this point chemistry is going to come from winning and being in tough spots.”

It was a message Mattingly tried to drive home to the team after the game, as he specifically looked at many of the new players who were due for a turnaround at some point.

“Don brought us together and said we’re all great players and we’re all good,” Victorino said. “We know what kind of lineup we have; just go out there and let it happen. Don’t press, don’t do things out the ordinary; just be who we are. That was the easiest thing for us to understand. There’s no pressure; just go out there and play hard.”

Coming into Sunday, Gonzalez and Victorino were a combined 3-for-24 during this homestand and started the game a combined 0-for-6 before turning things around and playing huge roles in the Dodgers’ comeback win against the D-backs. It was the positive reversal Gonzalez was hoping would happen sooner rather than later. He wasn’t sure when it would take place until he was mobbed by his teammates after his walk-off double.

“I felt great the first couple of days, and then I got a little quick and I was trying to work through a couple of mechanical things,” Gonzalez said. “In baseball, every day is a new adventure and you just have to work through it.”

Mattingly has talked to his players about working through it, knowing it will take time for them to reach their former levels. He also has been totally realistic when talking about their struggles, understanding there’s a real possibility they might not reach their expectations by the end of the season after being traded so late.

“It’s a short window,” Mattingly said. “Guys are going to reach their level. Matt Kemp is going to do his thing. Adrian is going to do his thing. These guys are going to do their thing over the course of a season. You just don’t know what they’re going to do over the course of 30 days. Are they going to get hot or are they going to have a bad month? We don’t know what’s going to happen in a short window.

“It’s just different putting something together so quickly. It’s different for me, because I don’t really know these guys and they don’t know me. And they don’t necessarily know their teammates. It doesn’t have to be that way to work, but it’s just different.”

For as many question marks as the Dodgers may have coming into the stretch run of this season, Mattingly admits he doesn’t have much time to second-guess himself or his new roster. The Dodgers’ playoff hopes will live or die with this current group and their ability to play back to the level they were accustomed to before changing addresses.

Sunday’s walk-off win was one short step in the right direction of a long journey the Dodgers may or may not have time to complete this season.

“These are our guys,” Mattingly said. “If we’re going to go, they’re going to carry us there. That’s just the way it’s going to be. It’s too late to be trying to trick something into happening. We either go or we don’t go with these guys.”