It was a battle between two of baseball’s biggest mystiques, and royalty was everywhere.
The New York Yankees descended upon Chavez Ravine on Tuesday night for a game that had Dodgers Chairman Mark Walter bouncing around behind the batting cage like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
“Dodgers, Yankees, very cool,” he said, and that wasn’t the half of it.
Sitting together in the front row were NBA stars Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, both of whom were roundly booed, not so much fun for Paul considering he actually plays in this town. Such is the life of a Clipper.
Sitting in an adjacent section was music mogul and fledgling agent Jay-Z, who represents the New York Yankees’ Robinson Cano, who next year could be joining Paul in this town. Cano can’t be a free agent until this winter, but his interest in the Dodgers officially starts now.
It was a night of legends and laughs, Tom Lasorda bouncing out the first pitch, Mel Brooks making funny faces from the box seats, Ice Cube holding up three fingers to the loudest cheers of the night and fans seeing -- but, darn it, not hearing -- that Allstate Insurance guy Dennis Haysbert.
Hollywood was everywhere. But, for the first time in a long time around here, the most glamorous part of it all was the baseball. For once, the Dodgers have the sort of team that fills the stands with fans who come not for the entertainment, but for the ball.
This was not about craning to see George Lopez’s bulging eyes, it was about staring at The Stare, Mark Ellis, who pulled out another brilliant at-bat that resulted in a game-winning RBI bloop single to shallow left field in the bottom of the ninth to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win. It was their second consecutive walk-off victory and 10th win in 11 games, and, well, Walter was right, this is getting really cool.
“We’re having a good time right now,” Ellis said afterward as the crowd bounced and swayed into another nightmarish parking-lot scene after a night that looked like an entertainment awards show but felt like an October playoff game.
Ellis’ good time was a seven-pitch duel with the Yankees’ Shawn Kelley in which Ellis fought off a two-strike slider with a foul ball to set up the hit. It scored Andre Ethier from second base, where he had landed after a single and only his fourth stolen base of the season.
“He stole second, it left a big hole up the middle . . . we’re really going to enjoy this,” Ellis said.
More than 50,000 Dodger Stadium fans were along for the ride, a most unusual ride around here, with the celebrities in the back seat.
Instead of gazing only at NBA star James Harden in a ski cap and beard, they turned their attention to Yasiel Puig, who banged the first pitch he saw from Andy Pettitte off the center-field wall in the first inning, raced to third on Adrian Gonzalez’s fly ball, and scored on Hanley Ramirez’s single to center.
This was not about watching another NBA star, Russell Westbrook, as he posed for a photo before the game with Puig and Ramirez. This was about watching Juan Uribe knock an 0-2 pitch around the foul pole and into the loge-level seats in the left-field corner for a second-inning home run.
It was also about Dodgers fans hoping it all stays together. On the eve of Wednesday’s nonwaiver trade deadline, for once it would be smart for the Dodgers to keep this core together.
“It’s a tremendous clubhouse, that has great importance to our success, and certainly winning is proof of that,” General Manager Ned Colletti said. “Most of the conversations we’re having is about prospects. . . . That’s not saying the big league clubhouse won’t be potentially affected, but not as dramatically as anything we’ve done recently.”
Even if it means turning down a chance to land a big-name starting pitcher like Cliff Lee or a reliever like Joe Nathan, the Dodgers need to keep this group together down the stretch because, while chemistry can be quickly created by winning, it can also be quickly dissolved by rearranging. Remember how Paul DePodesta traded clubhouse leader Paul Lo Duca and reliable reliever Guillermo Mota at the 2004 trading deadline, turning a potential title team into a first-round playoff loser?
The free-agent acquisition of former San Francisco Giants reliever Brian Wilson on Tuesday was sweet in more than just the knowledge that Giants fans everywhere were tearing their hair out. It also didn’t cost the Dodgers anybody out of that clubhouse. Wilson, who could be ready in three weeks after missing more than a full season because of reconstructive elbow surgery, will even be able to keep his trademark shrubbery beard, with Manager Don Mattingly saying, “We’ve got a few characters in there, I’m thinking he’s going to fit right in for us.”
Will Dodgers fans actually welcome him?
“If he pitches like he did in the other place, they’ll like him a lot,” Colletti said.
How far have the Dodgers come in winning 27 of their last 33 games? The Giants, not even a year removed from winning their second World Series championship in three years, have already become “the other place.”