It happened again. They did it again.
Late innings, out of nowhere, a screaming line drive, a sprint toward home, dust flies, fans gasp, victory appears.
It happened again. The Dodgers’ front office did it again.
The magic of this wondrous baseball team is nearly being matched, walk-off for walk-off, by the magic of the guys who have assembled it. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi went deep in extra innings for the second time in less than three weeks Friday night, picking up October-honed outfielder Curtis Granderson from the New York Mets for virtually nothing, and now can there be any question?
In their third season here, Friedman and Zaidi understand Dodgers fans’ anguish. They connect with their desperation. They share their hope. They get it, and they’re going for it.
Even with the team steamrollering to what might be the best regular-season record in baseball history, possibly breaking the fabled 116-victory mark, Friedman and Zaidi are still shaking things up, adding a veteran left-handed hitter, sending down former top prospect Joc Pederson, emphasizing that their only goal is one shared by anyone who has spent the last 29 years going out of their blue minds.
“We’ll take the 11 wins in October over the 116 wins in the regular season any day,” Zaidi, the team’s general manager, said in a phone interview.
Remember when everyone was worried that they were satisfied with building for the future at the expense of today? About five minutes before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, with nothing big happening, folks everywhere were beginning to gripe about two guys who cared more about the process than the present.
Then, boom, they walked it off with the deal for starting pitcher Yu Darvish, who has done just enough to help the team win all three of his starts. And now, wham, they have walked it off again by acquiring Granderson, a great clubhouse guy who has 18 home runs since May 1, who can still work up some serious exit velocity against right-handed pitching, and who has played in a dozen postseason series, including two World Series.
He is a big-swinging starting outfielder against right-handers. He is invaluable bench depth on other days. He is 36, he has seen it all, he batted .389 against the Dodgers in a 2015 division series, hit three homers in the 2015 World Series, and becomes yet another gleaming chess piece that can shine under the lights.
“He has the kind of grinding mentality that plays in October,” Zaidi said.
They will have to pay as much as $3.6 million of his $15-million contract just to rent him for a couple of months. They don’t care. To make room for him they had to send down a struggling young player whom they have long protected. It didn’t matter.
Friedman and Zaidi have told their players and their town that having the best record in baseball, which they will have, isn’t good enough. Winning the NL West for the fifth straight year, which they’ve already locked up, isn’t good enough. Making regular-season history, which they’ve already done, isn’t good enough.
This is all about a ring. That’s what they’re selling. That is their fight. That much is clear.
“I don’t think we’re sitting back thinking, ‘We have this great won-loss record, let’s not try to get better.’ That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Zaidi said. “When you get to the playoffs, records don’t mean anything. It’s whoever has the best record for two or three weeks.”
One of the last times a Los Angeles sports team’s front office made such dramatic moves toward a title during the middle of the season was in February 2008, when the Lakers stunningly added Pau Gasol to a Kobe Bryant-led team that was already 12 games over .500. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals that year and won championships the next two seasons.
That’s the one constant about the Lakers that has endeared them to fans, such that the city is now bathed in purple and gold. When the Lakers thought they had a chance to win it all, they went for it. They didn’t hold back. They didn’t cut corners. They made some colossal mistakes — see Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — but they always went for it.
When the bottom dropped out in recent years, the fans remembered this mantra, gave them a pass, and patiently stuck with them even as they were tanking games. And then Magic Johnson came along and — poof! — everyone is going crazy again because they are going for it again.
This is the sort of goodwill that Friedman and Zaidi began building this winter when they spent a boatload to re-sign their own free agents Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, Rich Hill and Chase Utley. This is the sort of trust they engendered with their moves this summer. This is the sort of thing that lasts. This is the opposite of not trading for Cole Hamels two seasons ago. This is hearing your neighbors, responding to your success, realizing the moment, trying to turn that moment into forever.
“Even when we first started here, Andrew and I both commented on, when you actually get to LA, you realize the gravity of the Dodgers and the organization and the World Series drought, and it gives you the greatest sense of responsibility,” Zaidi said. “The way the team seems to be coming together this year, against the backdrop of the organization and the city, we’re still running the same process, but to the extent that it’s galvanizing the city, it winds up being a virtuous cyle.”
From virtuous to vicious, Joc Pederson leaves for Oklahoma City in a two-for-41 cycle, sent down like Yasiel Puig was demoted last year, the Dodgers again saying that nobody is assured anything, even a guy with double-digit homers on the best team in the game.
But, again, this is what it looks like when you go for it, a stance so unique that even some fans are confused, witness an e-mail I received on Saturday afternoon after the surprising transaction had been completed.
“They are winning even with Pederson’s bad year,” the e-mailer wrote. “Think the Dodgers are reaching in my opinion, a trade that didn’t need to be made.”
But that’s the point. Yes, Friedman and Zaidi are reaching. They are reaching, straining, grasping for anything that will end 29 years of misery. It’s a wonderful sight.