In which Double-Duty Jaffe places a single Dodger postseason victory ahead of a Yankee clincher…
After watching eleven gut-wrenching but ultimately rewarding innings of Saturday’s Yankees-Twins game chez Alex Belth (which I’ll get to in my next post), we kept the party going a bit longer as the Fox Annoy-o-vision broadcast switched over to the Dodgers-Cardinals game. With the Cards up two games to none, it was a must-win for the Dodgers, who were staring down the barrel at their third consecutive postseason sweep — if eight years since their last October appearance can be considered consecutive.
In the first two games of the series, the devastating squad of Cardinal hit men had rolled up 16 runs on Dodger pitching and KO’d starers Odalis Perez and Jeff Weaver before they’d combined for eight innings pitched. With their season on the line, the Dodgers offered up loose nut Jose Lima, a man who encapsulates the one-man’s-trash-is-another-man’s-treasure aesthetic of this year’s team.
This is a junk-tossing pitcher picked up off of the scrap heap, a guy who can’t hit 90 on the gun, a guy who was pitching in the Atlantic League last season before resurrecting his career with the Kansas City Royals. Lima has posted an ERA below 5.00 in only three of his nine big-league seasons. His last big year was 1999, when he won 21 games for the Astros and made waves (and enemies) with his animated style and eccentric ways. When he couldn’t agree to terms with the Royals last winter, the Dodgers signed him to a minor-league deal. He was a reliever and spot starter until midseason, when the pitching-thin Dodgers were out of other alternatives. He went 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA for these Dodgers, including 9-1, 3.08 at Chavez Ravine. His crazy-like-a-fox demeanor won ballgames, and won over his teammates and Dodger fans as well.
With the Yanks-Twins having gone extra innings, we joined the game in progress. Lima had survived leadoff hits in the first two innings to shut down the potent Cardinals. He came to bat in the third inning with runners on first and third. Cardinal starter Matt Morris, who had apparently cruised through the first two frames, had hit Alex Cora with a pitch to lead off and then yielded a single to Brent Mayne.
Lima bunted the ball, which hit directly in front of the plate and appeared to bounce up and hit not only his bat (again) but also his leg. Wisely selling the play, he hustled to first base and was safe, loading the bases. The Cardinals understandably objected — he should have been out — but the umpires, without the benefit of instant replay, let the play stand. Two outs later, Steve Finley poked a double down the leftfield line, scoring two runs and sending Lima to third. But Adrian Beltre couldn’t keep the rally going, striking out to end the threat.
As Lima worked through the meat of the Cardinal lineup — Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen — Andra and I had to depart to attend a friend’s birthday party. We were waaaaay the hell out of the city, up on 238th street, the second-to-last stop on the 1/9 line, with miles to go before we could sleep.
Nearly an hour later, we were off the train and headed crosstown in a taxi. At that point I realized I’d left my jacket at Alex’s — I’d been so overheated by baseball that it had totally slipped my mind. I rang him up on my cell phone and he briefed me: Dodgers up 4-0 in the eighth on two Shawn Green solo homers, Lima still pitching. I let out a cheer. I figured that Lima would hand the ball off to Eric Gagne who would take care of business while I partied on.
A phone call to my friend Nick later confirmed the game’s result but not it’s details, and so when I got home at 1:30 AM, I decided to check the TiVo to see the end. I picked it up in the bottom of the seventh. Lima was still his animated self, shaking his head and muttering after walking Edgar Renteria, then pumping his fist after retiring Reggie Sanders on a warning-track fly ball to Finley on the next pitch. The Dodger Stadium crowd was PUMPED in a way I had never seen before, waving the L.A. equivalent of the Homer Hanky in delight.
With one out in the top of the eighth, the telecast cut to Gagne warming up in the Dodger bullpen. The decision seemed academic; at the beginning of the ninth or the first sign of trouble, the goggled closer, perhaps the best in the game, would take the ball. Lima retired pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson for the second out, and Fox showed a montage of the pitcher’s antics on the evening, one that I insisted on showing Andra to give her the flavor. They then cut to a graphic illustrating that with Anderson’s out, Lima had outdistanced the first two Dodger starters combined.
When Tony Womack escaped a full count by singling to center with two outs, I figured Jim Tracy would cue Gagne, but he let Lima press onward against the dangerous Walker. Ball one in the dirt brought pitching coach Jim Colborn out of the dugout, likely to issue the “get him or sit down” ultimatum. Lima huffed and puffed, pointed and gesticulated, then fired. Walker hit a sharp one-hopper right to Green in front of first base, and both Lima and the Dodger Stadium crowd went apeshit.
As the Dodgers batted in the eighth, the Foxies kept cutting to the Dodger dugout, searching for clues as to whether Lima was done for the night. Even Tim McCarver in his exalted omniscience didn’t know.
Even knowing the outcome of the game, I have to admit I got goosebumps when Lima emerged for the ninth to face the Cardinals’ trio of MVP candidates. A line from former Cardinal manager Johnny Keane about Bob Gibson after Game Seven of the 1964 series (for which McCarver was the catcher) came to mind: “I had a commitment to his heart.” Jim Tracy, a student of the game’s history, had to have that line in mind as well.
A fly ball to rightfielder Milton Bradley at the edge of the warning track retired Pujols. A drive to Finley in center took care of Scott Rolen, who remained hitless in the series. A popup to Beltre at third base disposed of Jim Edmonds and sealed the deal. In stark contrast to his previous gestures, Lima knelt near the mound for a serene moment, presumably thanking his local diety for allowing him to stymie the National League’s most fearsome offense on a five-hit shutout before resuming the festivities.
You would have thought the Dodgers had won the series by the fans’ fervor. They haven’t and they may not. But with the win, they’ve shed a 16-year burden of postseason futility and have now gone farther than any Dodger team since the Orel Hershiser-led 1988 World Champions. Their spot in the hearts of Dodger fans has been clinched, their accomplishments worth savoring for every last minute. Dodger Blues ought to reset that infernal clock which shows that it’s been 5837 days since the last great Dodger moment. Until tonight’s first pitch — Perez against Jeff Suppan — Lima Time is in full effect.
Jon Weisman was lucky enough to be at Chavez Ravine:
I was forced to be at home for the Dodgers’ amazing division-clinching comeback against San Francisco two weeks ago. I saw the entire game on television (Dodgers, I’m hopelessly TiVoted to you) and was thrilled.
But the difference in being able to attend the game is the glory of being able to genuflect, to offer your praise and feel it being received. And it was just a magnificent experience. I mean, I was waving and yelling to Lima from the Loge level – and I’m pretty sure he knew it.
…You didn’t want to see Lima’s outstanding outing marred by a collapse – and you had a rested Gagne ready. But then again, with a four-run lead, wasn’t it worth a shot to see if Lima could ride this horse all the way back to the stables? The Dodgers certainly planned to remove him if one batter reached base in the ninth.
Facing the three All-Stars, Pujols, Rolen and Jim Edmonds, Lima retired them in order on 10 pitches – 10 pitches! – Beltre flairing a basket catch of a popup to end it.
Lima kneeled down and genuflected. As did we all.
What an incredible night in Los Angeles baseball history.
Amen to that, brother.