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Do Dah-jas Deserve It?

Opening day of the baseball season was in Atlanta, and I remember chewing the fat with Tom Lasorda over lunch. We sat together in a lobby restaurant at the team’s hotel, a few hours before the first of 162 games, when a nearby customer with a Georgia drawl interrupted the Dodger manager to ask him: “How y’all gonna do?”

“How’s who gonna do?” Lasorda asked.

“The Dah-jas,” the Georgia guy said.

“I can tell you ex-XACT-ly how we’re going to do!” Lasorda boomed across the room.

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“You can?” the amused Atlantan asked.

“Certainly!” Lasorda said. “We are going to play ex-XACT-ly 162 games, and I can tell you ex-XACT-ly how many of them we’re going to win.”

“How many?” the man had to know.

“We’re going to win every game we de-SERVE to win!” Lasorda said.

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And so they have. And so they shall. With one month to go, Lasorda’s Los Angelenos are about to give the rest of the world, specifically Atlanta, a demonstration of what makes them tick. If they deserve to win the title in their division, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.

Already, the Atlantans are calling to crow. As soon as their Braves leapfrogged over the slumping shoulders of the Dodgers to the top of the National League West standings, the long-distance calls started arriving, one after another, until even the recorded voice on the sportswriter’s answering machine yelled: “Enough!”

I mean, those Southern folks kept Sarah, their switchboard operator, hopping with those calls to the Coast.

“Hey, Mahk!” they told my machine. “What you think ‘bout our Braves now?”

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“Hey, Mahk! Got some extra World Series tickets if you want ‘em.”

“Hey, Mahk! What’s wrong with yo’ precious Dah-jas now, there, buddy?”

Wish I knew. Hey, Tommy! What’s wrong with our Dah-jas, there, buddy? What were they doing before the All-Star break that they stopped doing after it? Are we talking collapse here, or is September going to be the month when the Dodgers re-pool all their talent and run away from the rest of the league, including those busy little Braves?

Look, you know and I know that Atlanta is not going to go away. This is an outstanding ballclub, one that is going to to get better before it gets worse. In fact, the Braves did get better only a day ago, adding Alejandro Pena to their pitching staff. Hmmm. Alejandro Pena. Why does this name sound familiar?

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Anyhow, I don’t know if the Dodgers can hold off any team as powerful and purposeful as the Atlanta Braves. I think almost everybody in the major leagues by now realizes that this Atlanta team is a lock to win the division, the pennant, the World Series and probably most of the rest of the championships of the 1990s and beyond.

(I am attempting to appeal to the Dodgers’ pride here. How am I doing?)

The other day in Chicago, when the Dodgers made that wonderful comeback with a couple of well-placed bunts and a timely Juan Samuel slap to the gap, I figured they were over the hump. I figured this was the game that would straighten out the Dodgers for good and send them on their merry way to the World Series, where Orel Hershiser would take out his hymnal and his hummer and beat the beaks off those Toronto Blue Jays in Games 1 and 4.

Alas, perhaps the Dodgers thought so, too.

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Somebody, or something, needs to capture these people’s attention before the Braves go out there and capture the flag. Lasorda has tried; he always tries. Darryl Strawberry has tried; he took a page from his New York scrapbook and tried to talk his teammates into playing better baseball. Brett Butler has tried, too, being a team leader in his first season with the team.

Butler even went up to the plate swinging for a home run Tuesday at Wrigley Field, even though Butler hits a homer about as often as Strawberry bats right-handed.

He said: “That’s not my game, but yeah, I was swinging pretty hard that one at-bat, trying to get something going.”

That’s what the Dodgers need most, somebody to get something going. Butler wasn’t trying to belt one out Wednesday but did against the Pirates, his first homer in four months, bringing home three runs and bringing excitement to Dodger Stadium of a kind that usually carries a pennant-bound team to bigger and better things.

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Instead, the Dodgers went right out and lost, 6-4, and dropped out of first place for the first time since mid-May.

It was April when Lasorda looked at me across the table after that Atlanta guy had left and said: “I’ve got no idea how many games we’re gonna win, but I guaran-TEE you one thing--there won’t be any games where we’re gonna quit!”

I told him that I hoped so, for his sake, and thanked him for not calling me Mahk.

Are the Dodgers going to quit, giving Atlanta a free ticket to the playoffs? Now is the time for them to get exactly what they deserve. Or maybe, just maybe, the Braves deserve it more.

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