Sunday, June 26, 2011 Updated: June 27, 6:25 PM ET
Dodgers play a game to remember
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- I was talking with a couple of former co-workers before Sunday's game, a game we had no idea would turn into such a classic. We were discussing the reasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers' sagging attendance this season. Two of us were sure it was the result of an informal boycott of Frank McCourt as owner. But the other guy in our midst had a different take.
Dodgers fans, he surmised, don't go to Dodgers games anymore because the team not only isn't good, but isn't entertaining either.
Clayton Kershaw gets congratulated for masterfully pitching yet another career-defining game.
When this one was over, a tantalizing pitching duel had been parlayed into a game for the ages -- the Dodgers scored two in the bottom of the ninth, one of them on a hotly disputed call at the plate, to steal a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in front of a laughably announced crowd of 43,104 at Dodger Stadium. And I almost felt sorry for those whose rationale for staying away was that they figured coming would be a waste of an afternoon.
I get those who say they're boycotting McCourt, a bunch of individuals deciding they won't spend another dime to support this ownership.
But those who have written off Dodgers games because they have written off the Dodgers' season? That's a tougher sell.
Sometimes, a baseball game has to be viewed in a vacuum to be totally appreciated, independent of the standings. Sure, the standings are ultimately what this is all about: every team trying to get to the playoffs, every series a battle to see who can take at least two of three. But sometimes a single game is something to be beheld on its own, and when the opposing pitchers are the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Angels' Jeff Weaver, the ingredients are there for that sort of game.
Those respective aces delivered everything that was expected of them and more on a sun-splashed afternoon in what is still one of baseball's most beautiful settings, no matter how much McCourt has done over the years to rob it of its luster. Weaver went seven solid innings, holding the punchless Dodgers to a run on seven hits, but Kershaw was even better -- much better, in fact -- turning in his third complete game of the season and his second in a row to get the win.
He threw 114 pitches, the 111th of which Vernon Wells hit deep into the left-field stands to give the Angels a 2-1 lead and apparently ruin Kershaw's day. But the Dodgers' Juan Uribe and Dioner Navarro, neither of whom is hitting better than .205, worked Angels closer Jordan Walden for back-to-back walks to start the bottom of the ninth. Dee Gordon, who was sent in to run for Uribe, got favorable calls on a couple of agonizingly close plays, the first a steal of second base and the second a slide into home on Aaron Miles' sacrifice fly to tie the game.
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Finally, Tony Gwynn yanked a pitch from Walden into right field, and another pinch runner, Trent Oeltjen, raced home with the winning run. At that moment, the old yard was as loud as it has been in a long time, maybe even since Opening Day -- this despite all those empty seats. And then, after a few minutes of bedlam and Gwynn being tackled at second base and Randy Newman being blasted over the sound system, a lot of fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and best friends went home with a memory they will share forever, of a truly great baseball game and two outstanding pitching performances.
Think back for a minute to the best big league baseball game your dad ever took you to as a kid. Think about all the details you still remember, the visions you still recall from time to time, right down to the way the hot dogs tasted. If you're like me when I was a kid and you only got to go to one or two games a year, or maybe even a game every few years, you probably still remember who the starting pitchers were and who drove in the winning run.
Now, quick: Where were those two teams in the standings that day, both before and after that game? What's that? You don't remember? That's what I figured.
These Dodgers (35-44) -- let's face it, they don't offer a lot of hope for October. But there is still July, August and September. Yeah, they're going to come up with their share of stinkers during that time, like Friday night and Saturday, when the Angels basically beat them into submission, and even some of the Dodgers' victories haven't been all that entertaining. But every once in a while, they're going to deliver something like this. Even if they don't, isn't it still a neat thing to go to the ballpark and watch a major league game?
If you're staying away just because you think the Dodgers are boring, just because they aren't going to the World Series, just because waiting 'til next year for you means actually waiting 'til next year, you might miss something really cool. Because the people who were here Sunday, they saw something really cool.
Anyway, back to that conversation in the dining room. As it was wrapping up, one of the people I was talking with said he routinely heard from friends of his who are on the boycott-McCourt bandwagon.
"They all tell me they really miss coming out here," he said.
Indeed, there is still a lot to miss. Even if it isn't a championship-caliber home team.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.