May 13th, 2004

Koufax

Who Are These Guys?

I'm dragging a bit this morning because I stayed up late to watch the Dodgers - Cubs game last night. Very glad I did. It's the first time I've actually watched the Dodgers this year, probably the first regular season game of theirs I've seen since I saw them in LA last May. I haven't followed them all that closely the last couple of years, so there's a bit of a disconnect, especially since they've had a ton of player changes since I last looked. The pitching staff, especially, is very different, even from last year. I was like, "Huh, Wilson Alvarez. When did they pick him up? I thought he was dead." Or something like that.

Anyway, I have been paying attention this year. I wasn't expecting much, because they had a bunch of guys I'd never heard of, and a lot of pundits were saying they wouldn't do all that well, except that since they were in a weak division, they might contend. But weakly.

So here we are, a fifth of the way through the season, and the Dodgers have the best record in baseball. I'm not sure why. They are about seventh in the NL in hitting, and about the same in pitching, so how is this possible? There are some good things. LoDuca and Beltre are one-two in the majors in batting average (a very rare event because Dodger Stadium is not a great hitter's park), and the team on-base percentage is decent. (That last is really no thanks to Adrian Beltre, who doesn't walk at all. His on-base percentage is *8* lousy points higher than his batting average. By comparison, Shawn Green's OBP is 112 points higher than his BP. Yo, Adrian! Take a pitch once in awhile!) The pitching has been decent, and with Gagne in the bullpen, they aren't going to lose a lot in the ninth. They're just on a good roll.

This was demonstrated in a big way last night. It was a very well pitched game, the not-at-all-dead Wilson Alvarez versus Matt Clement of the Cubs. Alvarez pitched brilliantly. Clement was very good as well, but had some terrible luck. The Dodgers got two runs in the third on a single by Alvarez followed by four consecutive infield hits. Not a single ball was hit especially hard.

Then in the bottom of the seventh, there was one of those wonderful moments that makes baseball so much fun to watch. With a man on first, Clement faced Alex Cora, that Dodgers' number eight hitter, theoretically the weakest hitter in the lineup apart from the pitcher. Clement got the count to 2-2, then threw a pitch on the inside corner of the plate that Cora, a left handed hitter, dribbled weakly foul. Clement threw the same pitch again, and Cora again hit a weak grounder foul. Clement did it again, and so did Cora, and again and again and again... Cora fouled off fourteen consecutive pitches, all but one of them in the same spot (somewhere around pitch twelve Clement tried the outside corner, but Cora fouled that one off, too). Now Cora is not a great hitter. He doesn't strike out a lot, but neither is he the best contact hitter in the bigs. I suspect a lot of those pitches may have been balls if he just laid off them, but Cora is not the most patient hitter in the world, either. The crowd began to cheer each foul ball. It became a game within the game. Who would make the mistake? In the end, on the nineteenth pitch of the at bat, it was Clement. It wasn't even all that bad a pitch, still low, but just a little bit further out over the plate than he would've liked. Cora swung again, and got every bit of it. It wound up in the Cubs' bullpen. Home run.

Cora is no power hitter. He averages only four homers a year. Nineteen pitches total. It was an extraordinary at bat.

Dodgers win 4-0. Sometimes teams just get on a roll.

Side note - Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, was watching the game in the stands. "Let's play two!"
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