The postseason is a different animal, at least as far as the feel of it. I realize that’s not exactly a revolutionary pronouncement, but it’s an important factor in an ever-important Game 1 that bears really taking the time to feel and understand.
You’ve got people at the park early, for one thing. And that’s a thing in Los Angeles, right there. But the pomp and formality of Opening Day isn’t even in the rearview anymore. The drawl of September games with 40-man rosters and two-week-old memories of clinching the division … it’s no time for that nonsense anymore. It’s business time, baby. There was maturity and urgency bouncing off the walls of the Ravine last night, echoing in the crisp October air.
There is still a bit of pomp, mind you. It’s just a part of something larger, and more realized. When they trot out the old-timers, you get Don Newcombe lifting Los Angeles to pre-game life and firing an 80-grade 91-year-old heater on the black. Vin Scully blesses the crowd on the Jumbotron. The towels wave, the energy builds, and builds some more.
Then it’s time to start spending some of that home crowd capital, because Clayton Kershaw is coming out of the dugout.
Best of all, at least so far: everyone in the stadium, the entire delirious mess of ‘em, gets to watch Kershaw pitch at this point. That’s exciting enough any day of the week, let alone when he’s christening a playoff series. Yeah, it took him a hitter or two in this one, but he sure looked like Clayton Kershaw in that first inning. Punch-outs are tried and true to raise the decibels in the top of the first. But you ring up Paul Goldschmidt, then drop one off the table to leave J.D. Martinez flailing? Chaos.
The crescendo was coming at that point. At least the possibility of one, anyway.
And it was perhaps fitting that Justin Turner, one of the poster-fathers of the Sisyphusian homerun hellscape in which the modern pitcher toils, cashed in the moment.
It was a moonshot, and it should have been. For one thing, even when they are at the park at an ungodly on-time hour, Dodgers fans still need a minute or three to settle into their seats. So an extra beat for the sake of situational awareness in the early innings is always welcome. But in the broader context of important playoff baseball, that’s a moment where the soundtrack should be singing a high, arching, give-everyone-a-minute-to-froth-and-savor majesty deep into the night. And it did, alright.
It was an Ortizian moment, and the first blow in a positively Ortizian effort by Turner. Red hit four seeds around a walk in this one, announcing his presence with authority in a manner to which he has been accustomed throughout his LDS career: His prior 12 LDS starts had yielded a .444/.545/.750 effort in a not-that-small sample of 68 trips to the dish. A thriving Turner in the three-hole is an awfully dangerous proposition.
Now, games don’t end in the first inning, even ones in which key players impose their will. Baseball contests are long affairs, and screaming and yelling takes a lot out of the people in a given crowd. Eventually things calm back down into a rhythmic affair, and most of the time there are ebbs and flows to that.
The Diamondbacks didn’t win, so it won’t evolve into the stuff of lore. But Zack Godley sucking up five innings in a hopelessly lost opening game is the stuff that can at least create the conditions for later lore. He led the league in strikeouts on pitches in the dirt this year, which makes sense when you watch the way he works a lineup. Talk about rhythm: Sinkers and hard, biting curveballs galore, every pitch lower than the last.
Maybe it was just an elaborate ruse to give all of us one more chance to watch Jeff Mathis go to work one last time on national television. But Godley cooled the Dodgers' bats long enough to clear the way for A.J. Pollock to throw the first counterpunch. And then even after he faltered in the fourth to seemingly extinguish that brief glimmer of hope, Godley still managed to hang around and steal another couple innings that would have otherwise required staffing by a colleague.
They were tough innings, too. Eight times a hitter wrangled him to a full count, ultimately chewing through a full 100 pitches in his five frames. For the Dodgers, that effort was a welcome sight: Los Angeles led the majors in team VORP this year, while checking in second to Houston in TAv. But that second-half swoon included a fall to middle-of-the-packdom, and it got a lot of people nervous about the sustainability of it all, especially against a Diamondbacks team that kicked them repeatedly and with disdain when they’d been down.
And lo, eventually the plot thickened in this one a bit. Down 7-1 to the greatest pitcher of the decade, the Snakes showed a decent amount of disregard for the odds-makers, clawing back and putting the tying run as close as the on-deck circle a couple times in the game’s latter third.
That they did it in part by getting to Kershaw should certainly be lost on no one. Sure, in all of the computer-simulated multi-verse iterations of reality that there may be, this was literally the only one where Ketel Marte and … yeah, really, Jeff Mathis … hit back-to-back bleacher lasers to end Kershaw's night. There was some luck there. But Arizona took four balls over the fence! Knocked Kershaw out in the middle of an inning! That may or may not eventually mean anything, but for now it’s at least something in a game that looked by the sixth inning like it might produce nothing at all.
The comeback also had the ancillary benefit of introducing the general public to Brandon Morrow’s modern-day fastball. To be sure, if you ask Dave Roberts he’d probably have strongly preferred to delay that meet-and-greet until Game 2, given the early-game circumstances. But it made for a primetime show on a Friday night, so who can be mad about that?
And perhaps most importantly of all, Arizona’s comeback paved the way for this:
PUIG DOT GIF. pic.twitter.com/iQtWa6VY4h
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) October 7, 2017
In the end, that face says a good bit of it. This Dodgers team was a fun team. It is a fun team. They overwhelmed at times this year, pulled absurd comebacks out of the sky at others, and generally seemed to thrive in tandem in a really enjoyable-to-watch way. And last night, with all the burden of the postseason glaring at the team with perhaps the highest expectations of any, they sure looked an awful lot like a team that’s enjoying being the one to beat.