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‘Dodgers’ Is a Name You Can Trust Again

The only way to describe Ned Colletti’s movement through the Dodger Stadium corridor Saturday night is “trudged.” Head hanging, back bent. For Dodger fans, this is a good thing.

It means the Dodger general manager considered his team’s three-game ouster from the playoffs by the New York Mets unacceptable, that he won’t settle for the status quo. It means he’ll be ready to make the bold changes that are necessary this off-season.

I told Colletti he looked hurt. He stared at me.

“You think I like getting beat?” he said when he finally broke the silence.

He’d called a staff meeting for 11 a.m. Sunday, the time “next year” officially began.

“That’ll tell you how serious we are about picking up right where we left off and getting moving,” Colletti said. “I put too much time into this to not have it [work].”

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It’ll take more effort, and more time. If it means the Dodgers have to take a small step backward next season and miss the playoffs, so be it. Don’t bother showing up in the playoffs without a team that is capable of advancing. They need to retool the team to get younger impact players, particularly on the pitching staff. They need to be more like the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers won 71 games last year, just like the Dodgers. But the 2006 edition of the Tigers turned out to be the hottest thing from Detroit since the Cadillac Escalade. The average age of the nine players in the starting lineup that finished off the New York Yankees on Saturday was 30. The stars of the pitching staff, Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander, are each 23.

Perhaps Chad Billingsley can develop into a top-line starter for the Dodgers. Otherwise Colletti will have to deal for another young gun and hope he can develop.

One thing he shouldn’t do -- and this goes for the Angels as well -- is trade for Alex Rodriguez. I don’t want to hear that Rodriguez’s problems stem from playing in New York and the pressure the fans put on him. His worst weekend of the season was here in Southern California, some 2,800 miles from Yankee Stadium, when he was one for 15 with 10 strikeouts in a series against the Angels.

My problem is this: Name a team that has been better off for taking on Rodriguez’s contract, even a portion of it. The Rangers? They never won the division with him. The Yankees? They never made the World Series with him.

And in some ways there was less pressure on him in New York; with so many great hitters around him, it wasn’t as if he had to produce for them to win. If he’s thrust in a situation where he’s the only hope, he hasn’t shown the mental fortitude to handle that demand.

Colletti took a short-term approach in his first season, bringing in veterans to take a shot at the 2006 pennant. It was a safe gamble in that Colletti didn’t empty the farm system or commit to lengthy contracts to bring in Nomar Garciaparra, Kenny Lofton and Bill Mueller. Colletti got two hits in those three at-bats, showing he made the right choice.

The Dodgers needed the adrenaline shot this playoff push provided. The fans reconnected with the team, and were reminded of what a special place Dodger Stadium can be when it plays host to meaningful games in September and October.

The veterans got them there, with Lofton reaching base all season, Garciaparra getting the timely hits. But they didn’t help in the playoffs. Lofton managed only one hit; the injured Garciaparra was limited to pinch-hitting duties by the end of the division series. You wonder whether Jeff Kent will be able to fight through the injuries the way he did this year.

But the talk of the locker room afterward was the promise of the youngsters: Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, James Loney, et al.

“The rookies are very good here,” Greg Maddux said. “The young players are very good. Hopefully they’ll learn and continue to get better.”

Now it’s their time. Win with them, or lose with them. Don’t patch and match with old guys.

This season bought the Dodgers regime time and trust. The team appears headed in the right direction. The McCourts appear to have learned their lessons. They haven’t fired anyone for some time now. It’s a pretty strong endorsement when someone of Maddux’s stature calls the Dodgers “a first-class organization.” It’s funny how perception rules everything.

Paul DePodesta made the playoffs -- as a division winner, not a wild card -- in his first season as Dodgers general manager as well. And that 2004 team even managed to win a game in the playoffs. Although DePodesta traded fan favorite Paul Lo Duca, don’t forget that Colletti shipped the popular Cesar Izturis to Chicago this summer. And DePodesta brought in Derek Lowe, the Dodgers’ best pitcher this season, and J.D. Drew, who shared or held the team lead in home runs and runs batted in.

But for some reason there’s a feeling that the team is in better hands with Colletti in charge. Maybe it’s because, as much as he praised the players for not quitting after that horrendous second-half start, he showed he wouldn’t give up either by trading for Maddux and bringing in Marlon Anderson.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t have to learn the hard way that “Character, to me, always counts.” I’m assuming that means Joe Beimel will wear a new uniform next year after he missed the playoffs because he cut his hand in a bar.

Colletti said he’d have a better sense of the next course for this team in a few days, after he lets his mind clear.

“We’ll come up with something,” Colletti said.

You believe him, don’t you? In a season that didn’t result in a pennant or even a playoff victory, the one thing the Dodgers earned is our trust.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande, go to latimes.com/adandeblog


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