LOS ANGELES — All summer the Colorado Rockies leaned into the legs that were failing them. Up ahead, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitched better, even at times hit better, and won a lot more often. Outgunned again in a division they never have won, allocated to just a wild card race in a second half in which they bled games, the Rockies arrived winded here Thursday night to the news the Dodgers even collapse better than they do.
The non-competitive NL West remains non-competitive except in the fluttering hearts in the bleachers here, and in the suddenly squared shoulders of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in the lilting promises that the Dodgers won’t, don’t have time to, can’t possibly, not 21 games up with 35 to play, not even now, 10 up with 22 to play. No way. No chance. Can’t be.
This is what happens, probably, when a town buys in and lets itself dream and then a week or two or four – Four!? Not four! – doesn’t quite look right and the standings page in the paper drips evil and the manager of the best team in baseball (regular-season edition) is explaining why it’s not in anyone’s interest to call off the season right now.
“Are you the best manager in the world …” Adrian Gonzalez shouted at Dave Roberts on Thursday afternoon, and before he could finish the question (“… or the worst manager in the world?”), Roberts piped up, “I was about 10 days ago!”
Like dumb drivers, the store that’s full of small purses yet never seems to turn on its lights or unlock its doors and that really impatient lady at the DMV, most towns think they’re the only ones to have inexplicable baseball losing streaks. The Rockies of 47-26 in June and even 64-47 in August and the walk-away wild-card advantage were here to say otherwise, however, here to say, well, first this happened and then that happened and suddenly we were choking up, trying to make contact and forcing smiles.
“You know what Winston Churchill said, right?” Rockies manager Bud Black asked. “When you’re going through hell?”
“That’s right,” Black said. “Just keep going. I mean, you just can’t explain why things happen at a certain time.”
And so the Rockies smush their caps a little lower on their heads and rather than think about the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, like, right there behind them, they go over the scouting reports on Clayton Kershaw and try to believe it turns again here. On the road. Against a team that didn’t have to win but really, really wanted to. And Kershaw.
And the Dodgers sway to some sort of streaming music station pregame that features Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jason Mraz, Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., Louis Armstrong and various crooners, because everybody knows Michael Buble is the stone-coldest of slump busters, and they roll their eyes at the slightest presumption this isn’t going exactly as planned. See, they’re resting guys, and playing it smart, and doing the right thing, and spreading the innings and at-bats around, and it’ll change the moment they decide it will, and hey they got Kersh goin’.
“There is a time,” when winning baseball games will be mission critical, Roberts said. “But Sept. 7, or whatever it is today, is not the time.”
The Rockies don’t have the luxury of a shrug and a wink. A couple months back they were 9 ½ games ahead in the wild-card race, and 12 ahead of the Cardinals, who looked a lost cause, and maybe this was their year, only they’ll have to win some more games to find out. They made it interesting when they stopped hitting with runners in scoring position and, as can happen with the Rockies, the pitching got squirrely.
As it was Thursday night, one of the Dodgers and Rockies was going to get a little closer to the Diamondbacks, who don’t ever lose anymore, either the Dodgers from above or the Rockies from below, another inch gone in the season.
And, as it was, the Rockies stomped the Dodgers 9-1, and Kershaw, unless you prefer to think about it as the Dodgers taking a loss, and that’s 12 of those across 13 games, so that’s probably going to be it for Michael Buble. Kershaw didn’t get out of the fourth. The stands emptied early on a school night. And everybody tried not to be that guy, you know, the alarmist who couldn’t see this was all part of the plan, which, in the short term, appeared to include wearing out the Rockies’ bat barrels and saving their own.
Bud Black is pretty sure at some point the season will come down to an at-bat or two, “Or even a pitch,” he said. But it wasn’t going to be on Thursday night, unless it was that first-pitch fastball, Kershaw to Nolan Arenado, that Arenado hit into the bullpen for a three-run home run. That, given the new world the Dodgers live in, felt like the first-inning knockout. They played another 3 ½ hours though, just to be sure, the Dodgers sticking to the plan and ready to win, the Rockies leaning into those legs and desperate to win.
“Bad nights are going to happen, pitching-wise,” Kershaw said in a Buble-less clubhouse that seems to be getting weary of the post-game explanations. “I picked a bad time to have a bad night.
“It’s bad right now. There’s no getting around that.”
It’ll turn, he said. The team they left back there a couple weeks ago is still in them. He’s right, of course.
Down the hall, the Rockies had needed something like this, perhaps, given what they’d been going through. So they put a good at-bat on Kershaw, then another, then another. Then, just like the man said, they kept going.
“It’s a big win,” Arenado said. “Gained a couple games. You could make the argument it’s one of our biggest wins of the year.”
Given it was the only one they played Thursday, he probably had it right, too.