If there was ever a game for the red-hot Dodgers to lose it was Friday.
After arriving at 2:30 a.m. back home from St. Louis, the Dodgers opted not to take batting practice Friday afternoon to give themselves a bit more time to recover.
Add into the equation that the Dodgers were sending Chris Capuano and his 4.16 ERA to the mound against David Price — one of the American League’s best pitchers.
Oh, and Don Mattingly also thought it was a good time to rest Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and AJ Ellis as well.
So to recap: the team was exhausted and jetlagged, they were on the wrong end of a lopsided pitching matchup and they were resting three of their better hitters.
To nobody’s surprise, the Dodgers found themselves in trouble early on — dropping into a 6-0 hole heading into the seventh inning.
With Price on the mound, the dark side of the Dodgers bullpen on in relief and a cobbled together lineup there wasn’t much hope of a comeback.
But like so many have already this season, I was simply going to sleep on the Dodgers far too early.
After a Skip Schumaker RBI double in the seventh, a Yasiel Puig RBI double in the eighth and a Juan Uribe RBI single in the eighth, the Dodgers had cut the lead to three heading into their final three outs.
Even then, however, their chances for a comeback seemed slim.
After stranding a runner at third to end the eighth, Carlos Marmol allowed the first two hitters in the ninth to reach base before giving way to Ronald Belisario.
As he’s been so adept at doing this season, however, Belisario got the Dodgers out of the jam after a strikeout and two groundouts.
So still down three with just three outs remaining, the Dodgers sent the bottom of their lineup and the end of their bench up to the plate against one of the league’s best closers — Fernando Rodney.
First it was Skip Schumaker fighting off a two-strike pitch into left field for a single.
After Dee Gordon, the Dodgers’ final position player available, struck out, lead-off man Mark Ellis stepped to the plate.
Ellis made great contact on a ball that flew down the left field line towards Ben Zobrist, who had just made the transition from right to left field. When Zobrist’s diving attempt came up just short, however, the ball rolled all the way to the wall for an RBI triple.
Still needing two runs, the Dodgers looked to Nick Punto to continue the magic.
Like Ellis, Punto slapped one into left field — well clear of Zobrist’s glove — for a double, and suddenly, the tying run was in scoring position with the heart of the order due up.
To recap: Schumaker, Ellis, Punto: single, triple, double. (Not exactly the All-Star team many figured could rescue the Dodgers from this hole).
Up next was the guy you dream of having in this situation: Adrian Gonzalez.
Like his teammates before him, Gonzalez was thinking extra bases and found them on a double down the right field line — sending the already delirious Dodger Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
As if Hollywood needed any help, none other than Yasiel Puig was stepping to the plate with a chance to win it for the Dodgers. Unfortunately, though, Joe Maddon thought better of it and decided to walk Puig and take his chances with Jerry Hairston (imagine that).
So with runners at first and second and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Hairston stepped to the plate hoping to be the hero.
After looking at strike one, Hairston saw a pitch he liked and swung — unfortunately, though, he just barely got a piece of it and knocked an easy bouncer back to Rodney.
Unfortunately for Rodney, the only “easy” part about it was fielding it — because as Rodney turned to throw to second in hopes of turning a double play, all he saw was a number of Rays’ players running towards second.
Clearly confused, Rodney panicked and his throw to second ended up missing the bag by about 15 feet.
After I joked that LA would need a triple to score Gonzalez from second, apparently a throw to the center fielder worked too, as Gonzalez scored easily from second and bedlam broke out in Chavez Ravine.
In a season — err, couple months — of incredible moments thus far, Friday night marked one of the most remarkable nights in what has become a remarkable season.
When special teams are born, they always seem to be defined by moments we’ll never forget — comebacks, home runs or pitching performances that fans will live with for months if not years.
In a stretch of games that seemed to be full of them, Friday night’s win was the type that managers dream of.
If there was any doubt amongst the clubhouse about if this team is for real, that doubt was sent further into center field than Rodney’s throw.
And the best part? The heroes were a bunch of guys you’d never expect.
Aside from Gonzalez, the four heroes of the bottom of the ninth were Schumaker, Ellis, Punto and Hairston.
Not to mention the bullpen, with guys like Bellisario, League and Howell combining for 3.2 perfect innings in relief.
After months of wondering how special this team was and when the magic would wear off, I think I found my answer last night.
This team is here to stay — and it’s about time the opposition gets used to it.