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Friday, April 22, 2011
Dodgers resolved to avoid distractions

By Tony Jackson
ESPNLosAngeles.com

CHICAGO -- Right from the get-go, almost from the very moment baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced this week that he was appointing someone to oversee the club's finances, the Dodgers' players have been saying exactly what ballplayers are programmed to say in a crisis -- the usual, well-rehearsed cliches about not worrying about things that are out of their control and staying focused on trying to win games.

But the weird thing is, those Dodgers players have been putting their money where their well-rehearsed cliches are.

James Loney
With so much of the team's future out of their control, the Dodgers' players have put their heads down and concentrated solely on winning games.

The Dodgers began their six-game trip Friday with a post-midnight arrival followed by an afternoon game in miserable conditions that included rain, wind, cold, a one-hour delay at the start and even a barrage of hungry seagulls over the final four or five innings. But they also began it with a 12-2 pounding of the Chicago Cubs before 36,595 at Wrigley Field, running their record to 3-0 since learning that the immediate future of the franchise had been thrust into limbo by Selig.

The game represented a continuation of recent surges by right-hander Chad Billingsley, who dazzled over 6 1/3 innings before running out of gas in the seventh; by formerly slumping second baseman Juan Uribe, who drove in four runs for the second time in the past three games; and by right fielder Andre Ethier, who ran his hitting streak to 19 games with a third-inning single in the midst of a six-run rally against Cubs starter Casey Coleman.

Ethier's streak is the longest by a Dodgers player since Matt Kemp also hit safely in 19 in a row three years ago.

Mostly, though, the game represented the continuing resolve of this club not to be bothered by the chaos going on back in Los Angeles, where it remains unclear exactly who is in charge and who is minding the till. In fact, since news of Selig's crackdown, the once-punchless Dodgers have scored 23 runs in three games -- or 29 percent of their total (80) for the season.

"At this point, it really doesn't even matter," Ethier said of the turmoil. "We knew coming into the season something might happen. I'm not saying we expected what is going on right now, but we knew we were going to have issues revolving around the team and what direction we were going in. It's a road people who have been around this organization have been down the past couple of years.

"But we couldn't use that as an excuse. We're here to win games. I know it may sound cheesey, but we want to make the Dodgers' fans proud again and give them a reason to keep coming out to the ballpark."

It isn't that the players aren't interested in what is going on, in the same way that it's almost impossible to drive past a five-car pileup on the freeway without slowing down to take a gander at the carnage. Of course they're interested. Of course they're following it, and of course they have, almost to a man, at least some grasp of all the gory details.

But it is at times like this that the message rookie manager Don Mattingly pounded in from the first day of spring training rings truer than ever.

"We really just asked them to get ready to play," Mattingly said. "I know I talked in spring training about what ... we're asking of them and what we expect from them so there would be no surprises."

Well, some surprises can be eliminated, and others can't. See a road series on the schedule against the Cubs in April, and you can pretty much assume it's going to be cold and uncomfortable. See that series open with a day game and no off day on the front end, and you can be assured you're not going to get a full night's sleep beforehand.

But there is no way to anticipate the commissioner of baseball telling your owner he is no longer in charge of the team's finances -- and the constant barrage of media questions that are sure to follow. To their credit, though, the Dodgers (11-10) have simply forged ahead, to the point they not only have won four of their past five games, but have looked impressive doing it.

By all appearances, on a day-to-day basis, the Dodgers' players are focusing entirely on their business from the moment they arrive at the ballpark until the last shower has been taken and the last player has headed for home. But that doesn't mean they aren't at least monitoring the situation in their off time, perhaps with a wary eye.

"This is where I work," Ethier said. "This is where I get a chance to play. You can't just sit there and not pay attention to it, as much as you try not to. There comes a point where you have to be responsible for all aspects of your career."

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.