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Friday, September 7, 2012
The best-laid plans to nowhere

By Mark Saxon

Brandon Crawford
Brandon Crawford scores a key run behind catcher A.J. Ellis during the Giants' victory over the Dodgers.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Don Mattingly wasn't even thinking of taking Josh Beckett out of the game when he left the top step of the dugout, but his mind could have changed by the time he got a closer look.

"I wanted to look in his eyes to make sure he didn't look like he was kind of doubting himself," Mattingly said. "I think he felt good about the situation, so we wanted him to have it."

It might have been the wrong decision -- everyone is entitled to an opinion -- but it wasn't as if Mattingly didn't have reasons. Beckett went into the seventh inning having breezed along on just 78 pitches. Marco Scutaro hadn't taken a healthy swing off Beckett all evening. In fact, few of the Giants had.

But, as has happened so frequently around this team, planning and good intentions went nowhere.

"He hits a ball off the end of the bat down the line, simple as that," Mattingly said.

Scutaro's two-run single sunk the Los Angeles Dodgers in their biggest game yet this season, a 5-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Friday that had October atmosphere in early September. To his credit, Beckett wasn't blaming anyone but himself, for elevating an 89 mph fastball that Scutaro was able to handle.

"They didn't bring me over here to pitch OK. They brought me over here to pitch good," Beckett said.

There's that. The Dodgers thought they were doing the right thing when they shelled out more than $300 million to add Beckett and a bunch of other players people have heard of in a one-month spending spree that stunned baseball.

What has it gotten them? Since the Hanley Ramirez trade, the Dodgers are 20-21. Since the megadeal centered on Adrian Gonzalez, they are 5-8. They were in the thick of the division -- two out -- before the deal that shocked the world. Now, they're an afterthought in the National League West (5 1/2 games back) and reduced to chasing the second wild-card playoff berth, hoping other teams don't run away with it.

Building a winning baseball team is a complicated business, particularly when you reduce what is supposed to be a six-month marathon into a one-month sprint.

There are longer-term perspectives, of course. In an ideal world, the Dodgers would have won a bunch of games, swept into the World Series and built a massive wave of excitement for April 2013. Who knows -- maybe that will still happen. But nowadays, the brain trust of this team speaks more and more in strategic terms.

One of the team's owners preached patience before the game, holding court in an entertaining scrum with Los Angeles-area reporters. One of the first movie stars Peter Guber worked with when he broke into show business was Jimmy Stewart. In other words, he has been doing this for a while.

Guber figures you don't tear down the studio walls because you make one bomb.

"It's not fair to judge anything for almost a season," Guber said.

Guber had better hope not. The Dodgers' big midseason makeover has looked more like a failed renovation. The sinks leak, and the windows won't shut.

Crowds at Dodger Stadium have been disappointing. The Dodgers traveled to the raucous environs around China Basin and witnessed what a franchise on a roll looks like. Here's how they matched up: Their Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters went 0-for-11 with three strikeouts.

Even before the latest setback among many, you could hear hints of defeat and the justification coming from this ownership group. Suddenly, it's all about the future? Was sending those signals to the fan base really what this was all about?

"We may not win, but you certainly see the appropriate attempts," Guber said.

The way things are going, the Dodgers can only hope their fans appreciate the effort.