Game 1, Friday, September 24, my living room
Gil Hodges has been narrating my dreams.
This morning, I looked in the mirror and I saw Brian Johnson's evil mug staring back at me.
Two nights ago, after Jake Peavy and the Padres put us in a headlock, I paced for hours in the garage, swinging a bat, throwing a ball against the wall, and hurling real epithets at a thousand imaginary Joe Morgans.
The lead is dwindling. The Giants are gaining. The divison lead, once 7½ games just a few weeks ago, is down to 1½ games. The Dodgers could be in second place by the end of the weekend.
I'm not well.
My boys are headed into SBC and straight for "Barry Bonds, we call him Barry Bonds, Daddy," and they have the stink of rotten meat coming off of them in sick, dizzying waves.
She plays with Thomas the Tank Engine for most of the game, but when "Barry Bonds, we call him Barry Bonds, Daddy" comes up, she puts down the trains, comes to sit by me, and stares up at him like he's a guru on a mountaintop.
Which, of course, he is.
Perez pitches to him. Nothing chicken about it. I love this.
Come after him. Be a man, Mookie. I Love it.
And then ... Crack.
All right, so he got it. So he got the bejeezus out of it. So it was a crazy cruise missile of a shot down the right-field line that seemed never to rise and never to fall, that seemed, in fact, like it might just blow a whole through the brick outfield wall and fly straight out into the cove.
That's gonna happen. He is who he is.
I still think it's great what Perez did.
So great, that when T asks me if, "We love Barry Bonds?" I can honestly say, because Odalis gave as good (well, almost as good) as he got, because for the first time in days I'm feeling like we deal from strength, and because even though we're down 0-1 I'm feeling the Dodger pulse come alive, I can honestly say, with a magnanimous heart and a spark of hope, "That's right, T. We love him."
I'll save it for later about how we also hate him.
She goes back to the trains and we both wait for his next at-bat.
It goes 3-2, and if there's a Crack at the end of it, I'm OK with that.
But there isn't. There's a pop. An inside cutter that lands clean in Brent Mayne's glove.
Struck him out looking.
Perez had seen his stuff slapped silly the first go-round and he didn't flinch. If the Dodgers go on to win the division, this is the moment I'm looking at.
Like Underdog's sideckick, Fred, Odalis knew the job was dangerous when he took it and he took it anyway.
I don't know what affect it had on him the rest of the night. I don't know if he had juice flowing through his veins the way I did just watching it, but I know this: He struck him out swinging the next time, too, and he pitched eight innings tonight, and he only gave up 3 hits and two runs doing it.
Yeah, Perez might have been hammered the second and third time he faced the great man, and yea, he might have played his squad right out of the night and the series and the playoffs, but that's not how it went. And maybe, consequences be damned, you have to have a moment like this if you want a piece of the postseason pie. Maybe it isn't enough to glide in without drama and defining moments, you know what I'm saying? Doesn't every run need some magic? Doesn't every run require a little bit of Braveheart? I say yea.
And then I say, "Hey T. You know who else we love? We love Odalis Perez."
She says, "OK, Daddy," and then she goes back to playing with the trains.
Dodgers by two-and-a-half
Game 2, Saturday, September 25, SBC Park
This is what the Dodgers and Giants do. This ain't no one-sided, David-and-Goliath, Sox-and-Yanks sort of thing. This is Akroyd and Curtain going blow-for-blow. This is Beatrice and Benedict going, "I know you of old." This is real rivalry.
The two teams have finished 1-2 seven times. They've played dead even head-to-head in the last seven years.
It's like Capone and Ness. They Bobby Thomson us, we 12-1 them as a no-soup-for-you capper to their pretty (as in pretty meaningless) 103-win season in '93. That's just how it is. That's just how it's always been.
So when you sit in the stadium at one of these games, your'e not soaking up the sun, you're not taking in the action, you're stewing, in a pool of dread, you're slugging, through a swamp of fear and loathing. Because you know, like you know the earth is round, that the other guy's just gonna keep coming for you.
To the Yankees, the Red Sox are an annoyance. To the Red Sox, the Yankees are the Boogeyman. In the Dodgers-Giants thing, it's not like that. Your enemy is real and dangerous and if you have hand, the only thing you can count on is that you're going to lose it.
So like I said, tie ballgame.
I'm shaking, now, but I find my strength in a guy three rows down from where I'm sitting.
In a sea of orange and black he's dressed in a bright white Beltre jersey and standing up, waving his arms over his head.
He's directing the chant. He's Eruzione on the medal podium. He's Zuben Mehta in front of the philharmonic. He's welcoming it. He's a madman.
But he ain't crazy ... he's my brother.
(They'll walk him three more times before the night is over.)
Forget what I said before. All that mojo Perez poured in the tank on Friday night is pouring out the back end of the boat now. Jim Tracy's managing this game like an interior decorator lining up glass vases on the mantle above the fireplace. I mean I fear the guy, too, but good god, this is sad. This is a killer. If we lose this game, this is the moment I'm looking at.
You want to know why pennant-chase/playoff baseball games are the best games in all of sports? Because games and series so often turn on the contributions of "little" guys doing unexpected things. It's not just a superstar showdown in baseball; key bits are coming from all corners.
You want a big series to rise up and be big. You want the games to full of body blows. We're getting that this weekend. These games are worthy of the rivalry.
Part of it is because the pitching on both sides (Lima looked terrible today, and Hennessey looked like the snot-nosed kid he is) is pretty weak, but part of it is that guys are making plays. It's a hell of a thing to watch no matter which team you're rooting for.
And the instant the ball scoots by Beltre's bat, the crowd roars like a damn bursting. And in that moment, full of rushing sound and stomp, you're reminded of how much tension builds up in the watching and the waiting in a game like this. Players, fans, coaches. Everybody feels it.
Like a good horror flick or a rollercoaster, a Dodgers-Giants game comes in waves of tension and release.
Forget pilates. Screw spinning and step classes. This is a real workout. This is a workout every bit as taxing on the body and a hundred times more strenuous for the heart and soul.
Tucker singles after a long at-bat.
Ledee draws a walk in a nine-pitch at-bat.
Durham is fouling balls straight back. One after the other. Another nine-pitch at-bat, another walk.
You have to go get Gagne here, don't you? Or maybe even Giovanni Carrara? The kid's thrown too many pitches in the heat of the day and the heat of the moment. You have to go get him.
They don't go get him.
Pedro Feliz is a folk hero and the Dodgers are down 9-5 in the blink of an eye.
I want to tell you I'm philosophical about this. I want to tell you I saw it coming. I want to say I understand it as the karmic payback for walking his Royal Bondsness more often than a poodle with a bladder infection. I want to say this is a part of the rhythm of rivalry. I want most of all to say pathos is part of joy, and that you can't truly experience the fullness of the latter without plumbing the depths of the former.
I want to say these things but I can't. I can't speak. I can't move. And besides, these things are all a rash of crap.
God this hurts.
My crazy conductor brother is down below me now, just bouncing his toes on the ground, like he's trying to ride out the pain of being struck by lightning. I want to go wrap my arms around him. Tell him it's going to be all right. Talk to him of pathos and joy.
But I can't speak. I can't move.
And besides, he couldn't hear me in all this "Beat L.A." noise.
And besides, these things I would say, they are all a rash of crap.
"It's big," he says. "But it's only big for this one day. It's only big for the game that it is."
I know what he means.
Even keel, blah, blah, blah. Lot of games left, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But no game in the series between these two teams is "only big for the game that it is."
It just isn't. There's too much history for that.
It might play that way for the players (though I seriously doubt it), but it sure doesn't play that way for the fans.
The park is full of fathers who've handed this rivalry down to their sons, and sons who've passed it on to their daughters.
The kids are all dressed in team colors. Kids too young to walk, too young to talk. Their parents whisper stories, of Thomson and Branca, of Marichal and Roseboro, of Johnson and Piazza, and now of Feliz and Perez.
This isn't one game, not by a longshot.
And by the way, on my way home from the park, I call back to T to ask her to put on her Eric Gagne "Game Over" T-shirt, just to make sure she's not too in love with Barry Bonds.
Dodgers by one-and-a-half
Game 3, Sunday, September 25, SBC Park
I'm not saying Feliz has a grotesque, piggy face, I'm just saying it was a scary ride in, that's all.
I know they have to scoreboard watch, and I know the wild card is just as important (and maybe more viable) for the Giants, but the little black rule book in my back pocket says you don't let yourself get distracted, you don't dilute your energy, you save all your ugly thoughts for your chief rival.
And when Braden Looper closes the door on the Cubs, all I'm thinking is: Cool. That may be just the break in Giant Nation concentration my boys need today. Actually, this is more of a hope than a thought. And if I'm being completely honest, it's more of a prayer than a hope. I'm a wounded soul. I've been Felized in broad daylight. I'm a desperate man.
Let me just ask this: Is there any sound sweeter than the silence that falls over our hated enemy's ballpark when your guy goes yard?
If James Lipton ever does that "What is the sound that you love?" interview with me, that's gonna be my answer.
So Werth sends it back, back, back, and I'm back, baby.
Pedro Feliz is just another pretty face to me now.
They're doing the "MVP" chant whenever Beltre comes up, and I think they know it's a stretch, but they're doing it because it's a big fat foam finger flipped in the face of everybody in the house, including the one and only truly legit MVP.
He comes in all three-quarter-like, and wavy, the way a flag is. He's got great stuff, but his delivery is so West Coast cool it seems to always look so incredibly hittable. I can barely stand to watch.
Remember what I said about unexpected guys being big in big baseball games. And forget what I said about being back. I'm swooning again.
His ball just sounds different than anyone else's.
It sounds hurt. It sounds like a crash-test-dummy car crashing into a brick wall, or like some poor tailback who just met Ray Lewis at the line of scrimmage and got the snot knocked out of him.
Come to think of it, it sounds a whole lot like my heart sinking to the bottom of my chest.
The SBC faithful are chanting, "Barry! Barry! Barry!" And there isn't an empty space, sitting or standing, in the joint. The announced attendance is something like 378,423, but it looks like more to me.
I'm wishing I were back on the couch with T.
After where I'd been only half an inning before, I want to shout. I want to dance a Dodger jig with Face Paint and Garvey Boy.
Nobody gets hit, though. No fights. Kind of disappointing. It'll probably keep the series, as good as it's been, from becoming truly historic.
Slighted Giants cry foul. Indifferent Dodgers tell them to remember those guys out in the bleachers giving Thomson signs on Branca's pitches and shut the hell up.
Now we're getting somewhere.
Two questions: 1) How did Bonds miss? 2) Where in the hell did Weaver get the temerity to throw it?
Two answers: 1) I have no idea. 2) He was possessed by the spirit of Odalis Perez, or perhaps inspired by the fearlessness of Face Paint and Garvey Boy who are just refusing to sit down now, standing for every pitch, and inspiring spit and venom from everyone around them.
I just really like that sentence.
Dodgers up 5-3.
That's a nice sentence, too.
Here it comes. Here comes the rally the rivalry dictates.
But it doesn't come. The Giants score a run, but only one, and trail 6-4.
Now the crowd that once chanted is heading up the aisles, while Face Paint and Garvey Boy are busy holding up a sign that says "2.5," as in games up.
And I'm back up, too. Thinking it's nice the way Pedro Feliz got his moment in the sun on Saturday. And thinking it's even nicer the way he stayed in the shadows today.
But today isn't the last day. This is the next-to-the-last weekend. There are seven games left to go, three of them in L.A. against the Giants. And I know there's too much history to think those games won't be historic, too. I know this good feeling is only today's good feeling. I think about what Barry said after Saturday's game, and I know, in my seasick gut and my dizzy head, that this isn't over.
Not by a longshot.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.