It was 2:55 p.m. PT when I heard Dodger Stadium awaken on Saturday afternoon. With a beautiful sun overhead and Dodgers players taking batting practice, some fans arrived early to make sure their presence was known.
It wasn?t one of those roars that drew too much excitement. But given that it came more than two hours before the first pitch, it reminded me that Dodgers fans may be some of the loudest in Major League Baseball.
When the roof is closed at Minute Maid Park, Astros fans can certainly create a buzz, but I can never forget how loud Dodger Stadium was on May 13, 2005. In the top of the eighth inning that night, Adam LaRoche hit a grand slam to give the Braves a lead.
Less than 15 minutes later, in the bottom half of the eighth, Milton Bradley hit a go-ahead grand slam that created a stir strong enough for me to believe that the press box was about to collapse.
This is not a knock against Mets fans, who certainly have shown that they can make Shea Stadium rock. But the acoustics created within Dodger Stadium give me the impression that 57,000 fans here sound a whole lot louder than 57,000 fans in Flushing, Queens.
As Dodgers fans filed into the stadium, many of them were handed plastic noisemakers shaped as blue bats. Based on my past experiences here, I?d liken this to giving NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart two more cylinders in their cars.
Oh well, Commissioner Bud Selig just dropped by the press box, the game is about to begin and this crowd is really starting to stir. Unless Greg Maddux gets battered early, this place will stay loud throughout the night and, who knows, a good many of them may also stay for all nine innings.
When a team loses the first two games of a best-of-five Division Series, it?s seemingly time to panic. At the same time, it?s obviously time to speak the obvious.
?We?re going to [have to] put together a winning streak if we?re going to get out of the Division Series,? said Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent, after his team suffered a 4-1 loss to the Mets, who now hold a 2-0 series lead.
Without the necessity of a calculator, it?s apparent that the Dodgers need to enjoy a three-game winning streak just to stay alive — and win — in this Division Series. It?s something that’s seemingly possible in June, July or any other month not starting with an ?O."
But when it comes to the postseason?s first round, there?s very little chance of overcoming a two-game deficit.
?I think we?re in a little tight spot, you know,? said Dodgers manager Grady Little, continuing the postseason tradition of speaking the obvious.
Of the 24 teams that have fallen behind 2-0 in the Division Series, just four teams have come back to win that series — and none of them have been National League teams.
If there?s anything going for the Dodgers, it?s that they have Nomar Garciaparra. While his injured left quad may prevent him from playing, his presence may be enough to stir up the postseason magic of yesteryear, a la Kirk Gibson … maybe.
Nomar has played for two of the four teams that have overcome a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series. He and his Red Sox teammates came back to beat the Indians in 1999 and the A?s in 2003.
?We just have to go out there and play our game,? Garciaparra said. ?I?ve been in this situation before and the attitude was, ?Hey, we?re not eliminated yet.??
Because he?s been part of teams that have done the nearly impossible, Garciaparra is excused for making one of those obvious statements.
And if you?re wondering, the players from teams that have gone up 2-0 in a Division Series are just as prone to speaking the obvious.
?We?ve taken care of our business here [at Shea]," Mets pitcher Tom Glavine said, "have done what we?ve needed to do and given ourselves a 2-0 advantage heading out west, which obviously you couldn?t have asked for anything better."
Obviously, he knew he was speaking the obvious.
Given the ridiculous number of games that he?s seen, it seemed logical to ask Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully if he?d ever been present to see a double play as wacky as the one that ruined the Dodgers in Game 1 on Wednesday.
As it turns out, Scully knows it wasn?t the first one he?d seen in New York City. And if his 79-year-old memory serves him right, it wasn?t the first time he?s seen two Dodgers tagged out at the plate on the same play. This much is known: Scully was at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 2, 1985, when both Bobby Meacham and Dale Berra were tagged out at the plate while attempting to score on a Rickey Henderson double. He was broadcasting that Friday night game for NBC.
When Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew were both tagged out at the plate while trying to score on a Russell Martin single on Wednesday afternoon, Scully remembers saying, ?I?ve seen this before and it involved the Yankees.?
However, Scully had no immediate memories of Carlton Fisk being the White Sox catcher who tagged out both Meacham and Berra that night at Yankee Stadium 21 years ago. But while doing some research on Thursday, he uncovered that the White Sox starting second baseman that night was Bryan Little, the younger brother of current Dodgers manager Grady Little.
As for the double play, Scully thinks he saw it happen at Ebbets Field and that it involved former Cubs first baseman Phil Cavarretta. Scully couldn?t remember the specifics, but he?s pretty sure during a rundown that Cavarretta came to the plate and ended up tagging out two Dodgers baserunners.
?Sometimes I think my memory is so good that I remember things that never happened,? said Scully, who has broadcast Dodgers games for 57 seasons.
One of Scully?s loyal listeners over the years has been renowned talk-show host Larry King, who has been a Dodgers fan for most of his life. The 73-year-old King was at Thursday night?s game to see his wife, Shawn, sing the national anthem.
Along with being present to cheer the Dodgers on and hear his wife?s beautiful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," King also had a chance to spend time with his old high school buddy Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ owner. The two were just a few years older than their fellow Lafayette High School alum, Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.
While King loves the Dodgers, he concedes that he?ll be rooting for Wilpon if the Mets were to win the National League Division Series.
?If the Dodgers can?t move on, I want the Mets to go all the way,? King said.
Have you figured out by now that there?s really no reason for us sportswriters to make projections. As many of our loyal readers are quick to point out, we really don?t know what we?re talking about.
Unfortunately, the Dodgers proved this to be true once again on Wednesday at Shea Stadium. Remember Tuesday, when many of us were saying that the Mets had far too many pitching injuries to overcome. Instead of just saying John Maine was going to replace the injured Orlando Hernandez, we had to throw our wit out there and say something like, ?Because Jose Lima was unavailable, John Maine is going to be the Mets? sacrificial lamb.?
Well that same baby-faced Maine threw 4 1/3 innings, and in the process, gave his team every chance to win on Wednesday. The 6-5 victory over the Dodgers gave the Mets a 1-0 lead in the National League Division Series.
With the postseason-savvy veteran Tom Glavine going up against Hong-Chih Kuo in Thursday night?s Game 2, obviously, the Mets are going to go to Dodger Stadium possessing a 2-0 lead in the series, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
As you say, ?Just another cocky sportswriter willing to duplicate the mistake that he made less than 24 hours before.? I respond simply with, ?Whatever.?
There?s no doubt that this Dodgers’ offense is loaded with firepower. But this Mets’ offense is simply ridiculous. Even if Cliff Floyd stays healthy — and he looked healthy while hitting a fourth-inning homer on Wednesday — this lineup is the city’s second best. But at the same time, they?re also the second-best lineup in the entire game.
This series will be determined by the leadoff hitters. Los Angeles? Rafael Furcal and New York?s Jose Reyes are dangerous threats that can and will ignite their offenses. When they find ways to get on base, something is bound to happen.
Having watched Furcal for many years in Atlanta, I came to find out just how much the Braves missed him this year. At the same time, having watched Reyes destroy the Braves this year, I?ve at least once uttered, ?Reyes is the best leadoff hitter in all of baseball.?
It doesn?t mean that I still mean it. I mean, I was just feeling that way at that moment. I?ve also said the same thing about Furcal, and at times, I?ve meant it.
As for that "Dodgers in four games" prediction I made Tuesday, I no longer feel that way. Instead, I?m going with the Dodgers in five.
Who can blame me? You mean you wouldn?t predict something that would cause you to make a cross-country flight to enjoy just one more night in lovely Shea Stadium?
For the first time in six years, that tremendous buzz floating around Shea Stadium wasn?t simply a product of one of those commercial airliners taking off from nearby LaGuardia International Airport.
As Mets fans prepared for their team?s first postseason game since 2000, they were joined by some celebrities and entertained with some celebratory pregame festivities. There was even a flyover by a few jets, none of which had Delta, American or United imprinted on its side.
While the Mets took batting practice before Wednesday afternoon?s game, they watched manager Willie Randolph burn off some nervous energy by taking some ground balls with his players. A few fans also took time to yell, ?Thank you? to Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who constructed a team that finished with the National League?s best record.
One of the fans held a sign that read: ?Travel Plans — $75, Ticket Price — $300 and Mets Baseball in October — Priceless.? Based on my experiences in Queens, I?m going to guess the $75 was simply the cost charged by the car service that had brought this fan a distance of about 10 miles.
One of the fans in attendance, who didn?t need to worry about the cost of travel was Ron Howard. The former kid once known as being either the "Happy Days’" Richie Cunningham or Opie has grown to become a filthy rich, successful movie producer.
Throughout all of his success, Howard has enjoyed on the set of Happy Days or while producing such movies as "Cinderella Man," he?s always maintained his love for the Dodgers.
?As Tommy (Lasorda) says, I still bleed Dodger Blue,? Howard said while giving me the pleasure of feeling like I truly was talking to Richie Cunningham.
Don?t worry, before asking, ?Does Joanie still love Chachie??, I came back to the realization I was talking to somebody who was just thrilled to be at Shea to see the Dodgers and Mets play. He spent some time talking with Lasorda, the long-time former Dodgers manager, and then took time to express his passion for baseball during our informal conversation.
While living in the New York area for most of the past 20 years, Howard?s appreciation for the Mets has grown. He calls them his second-favorite team and has done so since 1964, when legendary former Mets manager Casey Stengel spoke to him and a group of other young children.
But when asked for his prediction for this National League Division Series, Howard said, ?I?m hoping the Dodgers win. I guess it?s the dramatist in me that always pulls for the underdog.?
When the Dodgers hit four straight homers to begin the ninth inning of the Sept. 18, 10-inning victory over the Padres, Howard was in a hotel room. While watching the amazing comeback unfold, he was following the game on MLB.com?s Gameday.
It was one of those amazing endings that seemed perfect for Hollywood, right?
?I?d be thrown out of the office if I submitted that,? Howard said. ?That?s like [Jim] Braddock winning in ‘Cinderella Man.’?
Braddock was the over-the-hill, underdog boxing character that Howard created as the main character for his highly-acclaimed film.
If Howard were producing and directing this Division Series for Hollywood, the Braddock-like character might be played by the Dodgers’ Marlon Anderson, who in the end would become the unsung hero with a game-winning extra-inning homer.
As the madness at Shea Stadium was unfolding Tuesday afternoon, one of the Mets beat writers smiled and said, ?Schuerholz must be howling right now.?
Knowing that Braves general manager John Schuerholz wouldn?t loosen up enough to even let me know he?d laughed when he learned ?El Duque? was hurt, I just said, ?Nah? and then went out in the hallway to call Turner Field.
As our conversation regarding the Braves’ coaching changes was nearing its end, I asked Schuerholz, ?So are you enjoying the Mets? follies?? Without surprise, he responded with, ?I don?t wish ill will toward anybody.?
Yeah, but this isn?t just anybody. These are the Mets, the team that ended the Braves’ run of 14 consecutive division titles this year. For five months, there was plenty of reason to believe they?d also do something the Braves haven?t this decade — advance to the World Series.
In fact, for about the first four hours Willie Randolph was at Shea Stadium on Tuesday, there was legitimate reason for him to confidently hold that belief. But then Orlando Hernandez went for a jog that consequently caused Randolph to begin his media session with: ?Before we get into everything, I have some news.?
The news was that El Duque had injured his right calf and the response was ?Well, what are you going to do now, Willie?? It was exactly one week ago that Pedro Martinez proved his health issues extended beyond a pulled calf muscle. So now the Mets manager may be forced to go for Option No. 3 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Having started just three days ago, Tom Glavine never seriously became the third option for Game 1. Instead, these not-so-mighty-anymore Mets were forced to choose between John Maine and Dave Williams. Hey, things could be worse. They could have listed Oliver Perez in that list of options.
Barring an unforeseen miraculous recovery by Hernandez, Maine is likely to take the mound on Wednesday to make his first career postseason appearance. Based on the 15 walks he?s issued in his last 28 1/3 innings, it can be assumed the pressure will lead him to resume his recent control problems.
When I got to New York yesterday, I started crunching all the numbers to give me the ability to feel like I actually knew what was going to happen during this Division Series. Factoring in a healthy Hernandez, I still gained the belief that the Dodgers would win this series in four games.
A quick comparison of the lineups might lead one to assume the Mets have the better lineup. But statistically over the final two months, the Dodgers have been much better offensively. If you want to erase September, when the Mets were seemingly sleepwalking, you?ll still find Los Angeles? offense was just as impressive in August.
With this Hernandez injury added to the mix, there?s no doubt the Dodgers have the better pitching staff. It?s one that has seen steady improvement since the acquisition of Greg Maddux, who I believe was the best pitching coach the Braves have had in Atlanta over the past two decades.