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Chemistry!
2004-10-02 22:06
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

"WAAAAHOOOOOOOOOO!" screameth the Dodger fan. "WAAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

* * *

Chemistry. Lo and behold, the Dodgers have it.

We all loved Paul Lo Duca, but even without him, they're ionized.

Because chemistry is not an ingredient, it's a product. In the Dodgers' case, it's certainly not a product of hitters putting the team ahead early, or starting pitchers going the distance. It's a product of being ready to seize the moment, no matter how late nor how improbable.

Jump up, Dodger fans. Jump up!

* * *

And for those who insist that chemistry matters, what about the chemistry discussed after the game? What about the idea that the acquisition of Steve Finley mixed a playoff veteran into a broth of playoff virgins? What about the team meeting that Finley and Robin Ventura held three weeks ago to guide the Dodgers over the pressure cooker stretch run?

The Dodgers went 15-10 in their final 25 games up to the clinch. That's .600 ball, and they were maligned and questioned almost every step of the way.
* * *

September 11, 1983 is still the greatest regular season game in Los Angeles Dodger history. Start to finish, it had everything, while today's game was 8 1/2 innings of prelude to a half-inning of incredulity. But for a new generation, October 2, 2004 will never be forgotten. Some new baseball fans were born today.

Others were born two months ago. Remember "Don't Drop the Boy"? I was tested again, through a 31-minute bottom of the ninth.

This time, my wife offered to take my son from my hands. But something told me I shouldn't let go. I stood, pacing with him, from Shawn Green's single just in front of a should-have-been-defensively-replaced Barry Bonds all the way through Finley's walkoff grand slam.

Then I put the boy down and jumped up.

* * *

The Dodger bullpen pitched nine innings today and allowed three runs. That ought to have been plenty, as was suggested in the morning.

But the Dodger offense went the entire game without hitting a line drive, and didn't really put solid wood on the nose of the baseball until the final at-bat of the game today. It was the team's worst showing at the plate this season.

Last week, the hitting was there but the pitching was gone. This week, the reverse.

If both get on or off next week, we're looking at a playoff series sweep, one way or another. If they alternate - more nailbiters.

* * *

Eric Karros was the color commentator on Fox for today's game, which added an interesting touch. First of all, he wasn't bad.

He tended to shout a little - he got a little too revved up. And more than once, he stated the obvious - or even the proto-obvious, like when he pointed out that A.J. Pierzynski, who was 8 for 8 in his career against Elmer Dessens, was either due to get out or likely to get a couple more hits.

But you have to give Karros credit. He was dignified in his opening conversation about Jim Tracy, who in 2002 was the man removing an underpeforming Karros out of the lineup. If Karros was a little too enthusiastic in questioning Tracy's decision not to pinch-hit for Wilson Alvarez with two on and one out in the fifth inning, perhaps he can be excused - it was the key moment of the game until the bottom of the ninth.

Even more surprisingly, well before the remarkable comeback, Karros came out in favor of Paul DePodesta's July trades. Karros hit all the points - that the struggles of the Dodger pitching validated the need to acquire another starter, that Hee Seop Choi - significantly, Karros' competitor for playing time in Chicago in 2003 - had strong potential, and that chemistry and Lo Duca weren't the be-all and end-all. At the end of the game, Karros said emphatically that Finley was the best deadline acquisition by any ballclub this year, and who could argue?

There's an edginess to the on-air Karros that I always sensed about him on the field. He has a sense of humor, and is articulate, but there seems to be a level of intensity - if not anger - just below the surface. If he can find the right, um, chemistry of all these elements, I can see him succeeding in this new career.

I just hope it doesn't come at the expense of a broadcaster that I like.

* * *

Choi, with two heroic at-bats this week - the walk today and the double in the 10th inning against Colorado Tuesday - may have played himself onto the Dodger playoff roster.

Here are the 23 locks:

Starting pitchers (4): Odalis Perez (so happy he's not pitching on three day's rest Sunday), Jeff Weaver, Jose Lima, Kazuhisa Ishii

Relief pitchers (6): Eric Gagne, Yhency Brazoban, Giovanni Carrara, Duaner Sanchez, Wilson Alvarez, Mike Venafro

Starting lineup (10): Cesar Izturis, Jayson Werth, Steve Finley, Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Milton Bradley, Alex Cora/Jose Hernandez, Brent Mayne/Dave Ross

Reserves (3): Robin Ventura, Olmedo Saenz, Jason Grabowski

The candidates for roster spots 24 and 25 are Choi, Antonio Perez, Tom Wilson, Elmer Dessens, Scott Stewart and Edwin Jackson.

Six relievers, frankly, ought to be enough - but the fragility of the Dodger pitching, plus Dessens' solid outing today, puts him on the postseason squad. Jackson, whose health has been an ongoing question mark, and Stewart, whose ongoing mediocrity hasn't, figure to get left off.

In a World Series in which there would be a designated hitter, Wilson would be a candidate for the roster as a third catcher, since the focal point of the Dodger pinch-hitting would be Mayne and Ross. Until then, though, he'll hit off a tee and wait and see.

While Choi was buried on the back of the bench under a pile of spat-out sunflower seed shells, Perez emerged as the 25th man - a pinch-runner and middle infielder who can swing the bat a little. With Bradley returning from his suspension and moving Green back to first base, giving the Dodgers a half-dozen first basemen, Perez remains a valid possibility.

However, when a right-handed pitcher starts, the Dodger bench has only two left-handed hitters: Grabowski, who is in a terrible slump, and Ventura. I'm not sure that even T.J. Simers or Bill Plaschke today would argue that Grabowski should be the choice over Choi in a pinch-hitting situation.

It's a tough choice - the Dodgers could really use both Perez and Choi. Frankly, the more I look at it, the more questionable Grabowski becomes. If Grabowski makes the playoffs, it will probably have to do with his being on the team the entire season. Kind of a chemistry thing.

* * *

Sunday's Colorado-Houston game starts 125 minutes before the Giants-Dodgers finale, meaning that the Giants might be eliminated from the postseason before the Dodgers have made it through their batting order the first time.

The relief of not having to play one or even two tiebreaker games might provide all the rest the Dodgers need for the playoffs, but count me among those who would like to see Perez, Wilson, Jose Flores, Joe Thurston and Chin Feng-Chen get the bulk of the playing time Sunday. Grabowski and Choi too - let them have a showdown for that postseason roster spot.

Should the Astros lose, the Dodgers will probably keep the first team out there to try to deliver the knockout blow to rival San Francisco. There actually could be an incentive to lose to the Giants, forcing them into a one-game playoff and further tiring the pitching of one of three National League postseason rivals. But that's a little cute, isn't it?

For the Dodger regulars, the big stories will be whether Ishii can pitch consecutive good games, and whether Beltre can hit one home run to break the major league single-season record for third basemen, if not two to break the Dodger single-season record and reach 50.

And perhaps with a token inning on the mound, Hideo Nomo will bid Los Angeles a poignant farewell.

* * *

The Dodgers won the NL West this weekend without needing Gagne - and the supposedly overworked reliever could have as many as five days off before pitching in the playoffs. If the Dodgers hold off from giving Gagne a tuneup inning Sunday, the trifecta miracle will have happened - Gagne will finish his third consecutive season with exactly 82 1/3 innings pitched.

* * *

And how about the Angels. I know many of you who read this site don't root for them, either out of longtime antipathy or apathy, or recent disgust over their marketing campaign. But I'm all for regional pride. Let's bring the World Series to Southern California, I say.

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