Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Dee Gordon worthy of a second look
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- On Monday night, I wrote about Dee Gordon. I don't like writing about the same guy two nights in a row. Since there are 25 guys on a major league roster, any self-respecting beat man ought to be able to find something different from one night to the next, don't you think? I mean, come on, what about Clayton Kershaw's performance in a tight, tense pitchers' duel? Wasn't that column-worthy?
Well, sure it was. But you see, that's the thing about Gordon and the speed he possesses. It is disruptive speed. The kind of speed that creates havoc. The kind of speed that throws you off your game. The kind of speed that makes you do things you wouldn't normally do.
Things like write about the same guy you wrote about the night before.
After watching Gordon do a bunch of electrifying stuff Monday night, but also make a couple of mistakes that proved costly in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 6-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, we looked at how you have to take the good with the bad with this kid because he is in the major leagues way ahead of schedule and at a stage when his development is far from complete.
Like most rookies, Dee Gordon stays humble when those around him ask about the excitement he brings to the field.
But Tuesday, when another collective implosion by the Dodgers' bullpen led to another agonizing loss to the Reds (this time 3-2) at Dodger Stadium, Gordon was all of the good and none of the bad. And given that Kershaw's performance went for naught and the rest of the Dodgers' lineup was, well, nothing to write home about, I think I'll take this opportunity to tell you about why I find this kid so refreshing.
Even if he doesn't find himself all that interesting.
"I'm just trying to play hard," Gordon said. "I'm not looking at it that way. I want to help this team do one thing, which is win games. It has nothing to do with me. It's all about the L.A. Dodgers."
Yeah, that's all well and good, kid, but the thing you have to understand is that these L.A. Dodgers of whom you speak aren't really very interesting right now. You, young man, are extremely interesting. Exciting, even. Compelling. Impossible to ignore.
I have been covering baseball for a long time. Not as long as some of my buddies and colleagues, but long enough that the novelty wore off ages ago. It beats actually working for a living, sure, but simply put, there aren't that many things about it that still amaze me or excite me because I have seen so many players and so many games over so many years that I feel as if I have seen it all.
But I have never seen anyone like Gordon. All you have to do to gauge public interest in these fourth-place Dodgers (31-38), who are now eight games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants and fading fast in the National League West, is look at their plummeting attendance. But Gordon makes me look forward to coming to the ballpark. And if a jaded old ball scribe like me can say that, it's just possible this kid could sell a few more tickets this summer. We shall see.
"Dee's speed is different," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You really don't see that often. ... You can't teach that speed. It's everything he does, from the range he has to the strength in his arm. He just puts so much pressure on the other team, and he is so much fun to watch."
We got to see all of those things Tuesday night, an evening when Reds ace Johnny Cueto turned the rest of the Dodgers' offense into the perfect cure for insomnia. On the other hand, Gordon was like a double shot of espresso. But it started long before that. Hours before the game, as I stood against the dugout railing watching him take ground balls at short stop from third base coach Tim Wallach, there was a certain flare to an otherwise monotonous exercise. These were routine grounders, but Gordon was reaching across his body to backhand every one of them.
I later learned that was intentional, that he was working specifically on those backhand plays -- "He is so quick to the ball that he gets around some balls, so we were working on getting in a position to catch and throw instead of almost being off balance," Wallach said -- but it still makes for a good story, especially since Gordon fielded almost every ball hit to him during the game that way.
And that's when he wasn't making diving stops.
He had six assists, at least one of which he had to leave his feet for. But the defensive highlight for Gordon was a relay throw in the fourth inning.
The Dodgers led 1-0 at the time, but the Reds' Scott Rolen drove a ball off the left-field wall to score Drew Stubbs from second and tie the score, and Jay Bruce, who was on first, got a demonstrative green light coming around third from coach Mark Berry. Gordon went about 20 feet onto the grass to cut off a throw from Tony Gwynn, who had played it pretty much perfectly off the wall. Gordon then turned and threw a 130-foot rope to catcher Rod Barajas, who dropped his left leg in front of the plate to block Stubbs and tagged him as he tried to slide past.
"I was just where I was supposed to be," Gordon said. "Tony made a good throw and a good play, and Rod made an even better play."
OK, fair enough. But the offensive highlight was all Gordon and it illustrated perfectly what Mattingly was talking about.
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It came with one out and nobody on in the sixth inning, Gordon dropping a bunt that died between the plate and the mound. By the time Cueto got to it, he had little chance of getting Gordon at first, but he gave it such a hurried try that he threw it past first base. Gordon was carried by his momentum onto the outfield grass before he could make the turn toward second -- as he was on a similar play last Thursday night in Colorado -- and he was almost thrown out at second, but he slid in just as the ball was getting there.
After Jamey Carroll's grounder to short -- even Gordon wasn't fast enough to advance on that -- Gordon made the questionable decision to steal third with two outs. It was one of those deals where if you're going to do it, you had better be safe. Televised replays suggested Gordon might not have been. But third-base umpire Sam Holbrook, whose opinion was the only one that counted, said he was, suggesting that even the men in blue can fall victim to Gordon's speed.
Gordon was left stranded when Andre Ethier subsequently struck out, but he had made his point -- to the Reds, to those of us up in the press box and perhaps even to a skeptical public that has largely stayed away from Chavez Ravine this season for a variety of reasons.
Gordon can't lead the Dodgers to the playoffs, or even back to .500, by himself. And if this team continues to head south in the standings, it is doubtful he can inject much energy into the rest of the team. But one thing he might be able to do, given he is now the poster child for a possibly brighter future for this embattled franchise, is bring a few more paying customers to the house.
I, of course, come to the house almost every day. But the knowledge that I'm going to see Gordon play actually makes me look forward to it. And given the entertainment value of the rest of this club these days, that may be the biggest proof of all that this kid is a true game-changer.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.