As a lifelong die-hard Dodger fan and longtime Dodgers season ticket holder who attends nearly every home game, I will be at all 6 remaining home games rooting on my favorite team, this in spite of the fact that I have absolutely zero hope whatsoever that the Dodgers will win the second Wild Card spot whether they have been mathematically eliminated or not. It’s not about the numbers for me, it’s about how the Dodgers have played and continue to play during the entire month of September that took them out of contention for me. Simply put, they haven’t played with the kind of heart that is necessary and found on playoff-bound teams like the Giants (grrrr!) and the Cardinals.
But regardless of this, I can honestly say that there were a few extremely exciting games during the 2012 season in which the Dodgers played exceptionally well and actually showed moments of greatness – the kind of greatness that keeps me coming back year after year both as a fan and as a season ticket holder.
You would think that with 162 games, picking one single game that I consider to be the best game of the season might be difficult and to be quite frank, it should be. But with the way that the 2012 season has gone for the Dodgers, there aren’t really a whole lot of exceptional games that jump out at me. Sure, you’d have to say that any one of the Dodgers exciting 11 walk-off wins this season would be in the mix, none greater than their last one, an exciting 4-3 walk-off win in the bottom of the 9th on September 15th against the (soon-to-be second NL Wild Card winning) Cardinals by scoring two runs on a clutch 2 out single by pinch hitter Juan Rivera after Luis Cruz tied the game with an even more clutch double. And most certainly the back-to-back-to-back home runs by Hanley Ramirez, James Loney and Luis Cruz on August 18th would rank right up there as one of my favorite games of the season. But to honest, the most exciting Dodger game for me this season didn’t even happen at Dodger Stadium. No, the most exciting 2012 Dodger game (in my opinion) occurred almost 3,000 miles from Chavez Ravine.
The date was July 22, 2012 and it was an absolutely glorious day in Queens, New York. It was the third game of a 3-game series against the struggling Mets at beautiful Citi Field. The Dodgers had already won the first two games and were going for a rare sweep – rare for the 2012 Dodgers, that is. The starters that day were Jon Niese for the Mets and Nathan Eovaldi for the Dodgers, both of whom pitched exceptionally well but neither of which would figure in the decision.
Both teams went scoreless through the first three innings until the Dodgers scored 2 in the top of the 4th on a 2-run home run by Juan Rivera, with Matt Kemp having led off the inning with a single. The Mets managed to get one of those runs back in the bottom of the 4th on a Daniel Murphy double followed by consecutive singles by Lucas Duda and Josh Thole. (Incidentally, Daniel Murphy was absolutely unconscious during the 3-game series going 9 for 11 against Dodgers pitching).
The Dodgers added a run in the top of the 6th with a leadoff single by A.J. Ellis, a sac fly by Matt Kemp, and an RBI single by Andre Ethier to take a 3-1 lead, however single runs by the Mets in the bottom of the 7th and bottom of the 9th and a blown save by Javy Guerra tied the game at 3.
What happened next is the stuff that championship teams do which, of course, the Dodgers haven’t done (at least not consistently) since 1988. But for this brief moment in time on what many Mets fans around us claimed was the most beautiful day of the entire year in the Big Apple, the Dodgers actually looked like a championship team. For the next three innings, the Dodgers and Mets exchanged blows like two prize fighters in the 12th round of a title fight.
After a 1-2-3 top of the 10th and with Javy Guerra still on the mound for the Dodgers, Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis led off the bottom of the 10th with a double to right. In one swing of the bat, the Mets had the winning run in scoring position. The Mets brought in Scott Hairston to pinch hit and he promptly walked. Two on and no outs – things weren’t looking too good for the Blue Crew. But as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and this is exactly what the Dodgers defense did.
Everybody at Citi Field (or in the entire world for that matter) knew that the next batter, Mets catcher Mike Nickeas, was going to bunt, and he did. Javy Guerra fielded the bunt and because Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe had also charged to cover the bunt, Dodgers shortstop Luis Cruz made what was undoubtedly the most brilliant play of the season by breaking for third base the very second the bunt was laid down and Guerra threw Nieuwenhuis out at third base. Even though Hairston moved to second on the play and Nickeas was called safe at first on what I still believe was a blown call, the immediate threat had been eliminated on an outstanding and very smart play by Cruz. The next batter, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, absolutely smoked a grounder to Juan Uribe, who quickly turned a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. Say what you will about Juan Uribe (and I’ve pretty much said it all over the past two seasons), he is an outstanding defensive third baseman and undoubtedly saved the game on that double play.
In the top of the 11th, Ethier drew a leadoff walk off of Mets reliever Ramon Ramirez who had just entered the game. There was no doubt that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was going to pinch hit for Guerra, who was due up next. What’s this? Clayton Kershaw pinch hitting for Guerra? Yes, and it was an absolutely brilliant move by Mattingly. Kershaw led the team in sacrifice bunts and he dropped down a beauty moving Ethier to second base. But what followed was a train wreck and more like the 2012 Dodgers than the 1988 Dodgers. Cruz struck out, Adam Kennedy was intentionally walked, and A.J. Ellis popped out to second baseman Daniel Murphy in foul territory to end the threat and the inning.
The Dodgers, now running a little thin on relievers, brought in recently called up rookie Josh Wall for his Major League debut. No sweat, right? You’re making your Major League debut in a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the 11th. All Wall did was get Mets left fielder Jordany Valdespin to fly out to Matt Kemp in center field… ok, to very deep center field – deep enough to take a couple years off of my life. Wall then gave up a single to Mets third baseman David Wright (come on, it’s David Wright, for crying out loud) but A.J. Ellis caught Wright trying to steal second on an absolute laser throw to Luis Cruz. Mets first baseman Ike Davis followed with a routine fly ball to Andre Ether.
Bear with me – this is where it gets good.
The top of the 12th inning is the stuff that Dodgers lore is made of and without going into every detail, Loney singled, Gwynn Jr. bunt singled, Treanor singled, Cruz singled, Kennedy doubled, and A.J. Ellis walked before the third out was recorded. When the dust had settled, the score was 8-3 Dodgers. Josh Lindblom came on in relief of Josh Wall and after a leadoff double by (you guessed it) Daniel Murphy, Lindblom retired the next three batters in order to give the Dodgers (and Josh Wall) the win. (Note: I posted a detailed recap of the exciting 12th inning of this game in an article entitled Lost in the Mix back on July 23).
And how did the Dodgers reward Josh Wall for his first win in his Major League debut? They shipped him back to Triple-A Albuquerque the next day to create a roster spot for returning starter Chad Billingsley from the DL. Such is life in the Big leagues.
This game was, hands down, the most exciting game of the 2012 season for me, and even though it happened 3,000 miles away from Dodger Stadium, it will be a game that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Oh, I neglected to mention that what made this game even more special for me was spending it with my daughter Christina (who lives in Brooklyn), her roommate Whitney Adams, and fellow ThinkBlueLA members Will Isabella and Joe Pierre.
So what about you? What was your favorite Dodger game during the 2012 season?