Friday, September 24, 2004

1992 Dodgers Doubleheaders and 3-2 Odalis Perez Wins On Friday Nights In San Francisco

Well, Odalis Perez is giving up home runs and Kirk Rueter is giving up home runs and walks and not getting any strikeouts. Same old, same old. When I checked my traffic today, I found out that a) Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 had linked to me, b) 6-4-2 has a lot of readers, c) users from viewed my site an alarming number of times (almost as many times as I viewed their site when I was getting paid to do global warming research), and d) my Dodger fandom was momentarily in question. Rob and I clearly disagree on what's going to happen in the next ten days, but we're both extremely loyal. I felt the same way Rob did last summer- at some point in August, I decided the Dodgers had no shot and started trying to psyche myself up about 2005 or 2006 when Loney and Aybar would set the team afire. This season is different, though. Fox is gone, Evans and Claire are gone (but not forgotten), and in their place are lesser evil McCourt and peerless Paul DePodesta. What Rob and anyone else reading this does not know is that my Dodger fandom includes exclusively the let-down years. My first year as a Dodger fan was 1992 and I don't live in Southern California. That, in my opinion, is a bit impressive.

In 1992, the Dodgers finished 63-99, their worst record in Los Angeles, ten games worse than the next worst year (73-89 in 1967). I was eight years old at the time and had arbitrarily decided in March that I was a Dodgers fan. Until I was seven, I'd been an A's fan (I'd spent most of that time living in Berkeley). But my cousin, a fan of the Mariners and Giants (and the coolest person I knew at the time), told me very bad things about anyone who was an A's fan. I resolved to be a Giants fan, but it didn't take (I couldn't stand rooting for a team from the same city as the 49ers, and my brother was a Giants fan). So I decided that I liked teams with a lot of tradition and thus picked the Pirates and Dodgers to be my teams. It wasn't long after that that I decided two teams was too many, so I stuck with just the Dodgers. This wasn't all happening as just some eight-year-old kid, though. At this point I had pretty considerable relative knowledge of baseball and even worked on a bi-monthly community radio show about baseball. Baseball was a big deal to me.

For reasons that anyone with a working knowledge of American history can figure out, the Dodgers didn't play any games from April 30th to May 4th in 1992. The cancellations came in the midst of a four-game losing streak that had dropped the Dodgers to 9-13 on the season; they would remain under .500 the rest of the season.

It wasn't easy being a Dodgers fan at this time. I had no internet access. I had cable TV for the first few months of this season before my family moved, which allowed me to see a couple Dodgers games against the Braves in April. I could only follow the team through the scores that briefly ran across the screen on the local news and through the local newspaper's 3-sentence capsules for each game.

When my family was in the process of moving, we stayed with my grandparents for the first few weeks of July. Before we left, I was acutely aware that I probably wouldn't be able to find out what was happening to the team during this stretch. This was pretty significant since I also knew that they were about to play four doubleheaders to make up the cancelled games. I remember thinking how crucial those games would be since they were probably the Dodgers' last chance to get back into the race (they were 31-40 the day I left). When I was finally able to check up on the Dodgers again, they were 41-59 and I'd figured that they simply couldn't handle the doubleheaders.

I remembered 1992 as a disaster for a long time, and I had always tied that disaster with the disaster that had happened in Simi Valley and the ensuing doubleheaders. It wasn't until I discovered Retrosheet that I found out that the Dodgers actually had something of a brief shining moment in those doubleheaders, winning five of the eight games played on those days. But after losing game two on July 8, they lost twelve of their next sixteen and the season was food for worms.

My patience with the Dodgers was rewarded a year later with what is currently the second-best baseball memory I have. On October 3, 1993, the Dodgers beat the Giants 12-1 to knock the Giants out of the playoffs. I remember the two Piazza home runs and the fist pump (and how the Giants' announcers compared it to Gibson's fist pump in Game 1 five years earlier) and just feeling terrific.

That day was topped Friday, April 16, 2004 when I made it out to "SBC" Park to catch Odalis Perez face off against Jason Schmidt. Dave Roberts scored three times on Milton Bradley groundouts. Perez threw the best game I can recall from him-- eight innings, ten strikeouts, and only three baserunners (a walk to Bonds and two Alfonzo doubles). Eric Gagne came on to pitch the ninth up 3-0 and, after a walk to Hammonds, faced Bonds with one out. With Bonds behind 1-2 after fastballs that the stadium's inflated radar gun claimed were 101 MPH, Gagne threw a ridiculous 69 MPH change-up that 40,000 people thought was a strike and one (Jerry Layne) thought was a ball. Bonds battled back and, after launching one foul down the right field line, hit a home run to centerfield to bring the Giants within 3-2. They talk about telling your grandkids about seeing Bonds play; I'm not sure there are many better stories than that one. The best part, though, was that Gagne easily closed out the game after that and I had the realization that most of the people in the park would rather see Bonds hit a home run than have the Giants win. The feeling in the ballpark was of overwhelming contentment, and with the Giants' fans content to finish second as long as their hero went yard, I felt finally that this year was different. This year, I knew, the Dodgers would win this division.

I'm not the kind of guy to base analysis on gut feeling. But everyone lets their gut feeling shape the way they look at the numbers. Rob and I see the same things, and Rob's gut points out the numbers against this year's Dodgers and mine points out the ones in their favor. I think my gut's right, and when my gut told me that tonight's Odalis start would be something like the last time he pitched on a Friday night in San Francisco, I went with it. And I'd have to say the result was pretty similar, although Gagne made it a bit too dramatic in the ninth. Now the magic number is down to seven, and there's no way I or even Rob can say the season's over. Whoever wears those shoes that drop is gonna have to untie them pretty quickly.

Song of the Day: "Lost Cause," Beck

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