Leo Cruz had just finished running over nine miles in two races at Dodger Stadium last weekend but was not panting at all.
What made the 41-year-old Fontana resident catch his breath was this: the thought of his Dodgers losing early in the postseason after this roller-coaster season of record-breaking highs — and record-breaking lows.
The Dodgers on Friday night begin their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. For the faithful, every Dodger season that ends prematurely brings pain. But never has a team had a season as promising — and therefore as potentially heartbreaking — as this one.
“It’s nervous time,” said Cruz, who jogged with a Dodgers flag draped around his shoulders like a cape. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs this year.”
The team ended its regular season with 104 wins, the most since the Dodgers began playing in Los Angeles in 1958. They have the best record in baseball and a batch of young superstars such as Cody Bellinger, who broke the National League rookie home run record with 39, and shortstop Corey Seager, last season’s Rookie of the Year.
But 2017 also includes a disastrous late-season stretch when the team lost 11 games in a row, the most since the Brooklyn Dodgers lost 16 consecutive games in 1944.
Mark Langill, the Dodgers’ team historian, said people keep asking him what to expect.
“I tell them, just watch the movie,” Langill said. “This is something where we have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen, and it drives you crazy emotionally because your heart is in it and you try to analyze it, and it’s just something that you can’t do.”
That’s just baseball, he said. Once the calendar hits October in a season that he called a “historian’s dream,” all bets are off, and there’s “beauty in the mystery.”
Count Langill among the fans who have spent their lives rooting for this team.
He was born at 6:59 p.m. on April 20, 1965, the day of the Dodgers’ home opener against the New York Mets. For years, he thought he was a “national anthem baby,” until he found an old ticket, saw that the game started later and determined he must have been a “batting practice baby.”
Langill notes that he was born in a year the Dodgers won the World Series.
Like many longtime fans, Phil Bretsky of Santa Monica has his theories about what the Dodgers need to do to end their 28-season World Series drought. Wearing a T-shirt that said Silver Fox, the nickname for 38-year-old second baseman Chase Utley, Bretsky said the postseason comes down to bullpen pitching.
“It’s as deep of a team as I’ve seen in all the years that I’ve been following them,” said Bretsky, who’s been a fan since moving to L.A. from New York in the mid-1990s. “Middle relief has always been the difficult part.”
He’s feeling good about the Dodgers’ chances, but he knows how quickly it can all fall apart.
Bretsky attended all of the home games in the Dodgers’ 2015 National League Division Series. He was sitting in the left-field bleachers during the make-or-break Game 5 when the Mets won, 3-2.
“It was kind of a surreal experience, where you’ve been to all the games and then it just ends,” he said. “It’s like, holy smokes, it’s over.”
Sitting at the Dodgers’ last regular-season home game against the San Diego Padres last week, Thom and Cheryl Armstrong of Claremont had different degrees of hope for the postseason.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Thom said.
“I am optimistic,” Cheryl said laughing.
The Armstrongs have been fans since their two sons, now in their 30s, were children, and they say the boys were raised at Dodger Stadium. In 1988, when the team last won the World Series, their older son dressed as pitcher Orel Hershiser for Halloween.
As for this year?
“If they lose, we’ll still be fans,” Thom said. “Next year’s another year.”
“You can’t have your hopes dashed to the ground,” Cheryl said. “We are not fair-weather fans, by any stretch.”
Collin Cuevas, 38, of Los Feliz said he spent September freaking out during the Dodgers’ losing streak. It got to the point where his friends who root for other teams — and want to see the Dodgers lose — told him to chill out.
“They were telling me to calm down. ‘Calm! Down!” he said laughing.
Cuevas was sharing a beer with his father, 62-year-old Charles Cuevas of Chino, at Dodger Stadium last week. The elder Cuevas said he’s been drawing baseball diamonds and trying to figure out potential postseason lineups. Collin has been doing the same.
The team is just part of the Cuevas family. Both men can say their fathers took them to Dodger Stadium when they were kids and that they both grew up listening to Vin Scully.
“Dodger Stadium is on my mind all the time,” Charles said.
A few years ago, his wife’s notary business struggled during the economic recession, and he suggested she work at Dodger Stadium as an usher. She did, and when she was named employee of the month, she got to sit an inning with Scully and take a picture with him. Charles keeps the photo on his phone and shows everyone.
The Cuevas men never miss a game. Collin Cuevas was attending the Dodgers’ final home game last week, but he still planned to watch the highlights when he got home and pester his fiancee with them.
And Charles Cuevas takes a satellite radio with him every other summer when he goes fishing in Canada with his buddies.
“In the middle of the tundra, we can hear the Dodgers,” he said beaming.
Collin says he doesn’t want to see the Dodgers make it to the postseason again — for the fifth year in a row — only to lose.
“It’s gotten to that point where we always almost get there,” he said. “We’re always like an A-minus, which almost hurts worse than if we were the last-place Giants.”
Still, if they lose, the men admitted, they’ll be back next season with no hard feelings.