I bought tickets for my wife and daughters and I to see the next-to-last game of the season at Dodger Stadium tonight about a month ago. We haven’t been out to the stadium much over the summer, despite the team’s phenomenal season, because we’ve just been too cash-poor. But when the Dodgers announced a Star Wars-themed section up in the reserved level for the night— where wacky Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker costumes would be welcomed, where all-you-can-eat Dodger Dogs could be consumed, and where each ticket-holder would get a Yoda-themed “My Town This Is” commemorative Dodger T-shirt-- I figured, all three of my girls being Star Wars fiends/nerds/enthusiasts, that it might be a memorable experience for them, a way for them to enjoy a baseball game more on their own terms. Besides, a month ago I assumed that the Dodgers would have clinched the National League West title by then. The game will be a lark. Right?
Then came the darkest, longest, most inexplicable losing streak of the year. After pummeling the Pirates 14-2 at the start of a nine-game tour of the three worst teams in the National League, Jonathan Broxton gave up four runs in the process of blowing his seventh save of the season in that second Pirates game, and the Dodgers have been gazing at their shoes ever since. That road trip went 3-6, and the Dodgers, having lost again last night to the Colorado Rockies, are mired in their worst losing streak of the season—five in a row as of about 11:00 p.m. last night. The Rockies have steadily crept up from 15.5 games back and now find themselves, with two games left between them and the Dodgers to finish the season, exactly one game behind Los Angeles. A Rockies win tonight would tie the National League West division title up. Then a Rockies win on Sunday, and that first-place position the Dodgers have held for all but one day of the 2009 season will have evaporated at the worst possible time. A month ago it didn’t seem possible. But over the last four games the Dodgers cannot see the ball, cannot catch a break, cannot get up off the floor, scoring a grand total of six runs and wondering where the mojo went.
So tonight’s game is, after all, about as meaningful as it gets. My partially facetious theory has been (until last night, that is) that the Dodgers were trying to ensure, by coming up so short on this last road trip, that they would clinch in the front of their fans at Dodger Stadium. Also, they were trying to contrive to be seen, by the baseball press and everyone else, as underdogs, putting them in a position to “surprise” everyone and roll into the postseason punching. Well, as I said, all that made about as much sense as it was ever going to if the Dodgers came out and won the first game of this Rockies series in definitive fashion and got the clinching business out of the way. That didn’t exactly happen, thanks to Troy Tulowitski’s two-run homer, which made the score 4-1. Had Randy Wolf been able to avoid dishing up that fat pitch, the Dodgers would have overtaken the Rockies in the seventh (assuming one event doesn’t affect all the others in a sort of stadium-sized butterfly effect) and I wouldn’t be sweating it out right now.
But a five-game losing streak being the low-water mark of a season in which they still, thanks to the also-slumping Phillies and Cardinals, hold the best record in the National League, I gotta believe that tonight the Dodgers will find a way to bust out of this self-created mausoleum they’ve been hiding out in for the past week. If the Dodgers win tonight, I will think of it as payback for having been in attendance last year when the Phillies clinched a World Series berth at Dodger Stadium, and my family will be so relieved to not have to ride home with the surly, depressed bastard they’ll be stuck with otherwise. However it shakes out, the Dodgers and the Rockies are both in the playoffs, so we’re basically playing for bragging rights tonight (and possibly tomorrow). But winning, and winning big tonight, might be just the spark this listless team needs to get the pendulum swinging back in the other direction at just the right time. May the Force and the Schwarz be with them. Do it they can.
(They're talking about tonight's game at Dodger Thoughts too...)