Nothing seems to go wrong for the Dodgers these days. They play. They win. They count down toward the National League West championship.
But, for one scary moment Sunday, they had visions of disaster.
Not only had Zack Greinke decided the time was right to try to steal second base, he launched into a headfirst slide to get there. With Greinke following Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers might have the most dominant 1-2 pitching punch in postseason play, but the team’s collective heart skipped a beat as Greinke flung himself toward the bag.
“You hold your breath, basically,” infielder Nick Punto said.
Greinke was safe. The Dodgers exhaled, then proceeded to another victory, this one 2-1 over the San Diego Padres. Yasiel Puig hit a home run on Cuban Heritage Day, and the Dodgers extended their lead in the NL West to a season-high 111/2 games.
“Everybody is very excited we’re going to the playoffs,” Puig said through an interpreter.
That might be rookie enthusiasm, a bit offensive to the baseball gods, but it’s the truth. The Dodgers’ magic number is 16. They swept the Padres. They have won 51 or their last 64 games and are 34-8 since the All-Star break.
Put it this way: For every 10 games they have played, they have won eight — and they have maintained that pace for more than two months. They have gained 21 games in the standings in 72 days.
“It’s unheard of,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said.
For all the glamour of the offensive cast, the Dodgers win with pitching, and that pitching starts with Kershaw and Greinke.
On Sunday, Greinke held the Padres to one run and two hits over seven innings, with Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen combining for the final two innings. Jansen struck out two in a perfect ninth inning, becoming the first Dodgers reliever with a 100-strikeout season since Jonathan Broxton in 2009.
Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, leads the major leagues with a 1.72 earned-run average. Greinke is at 2.78, the next-best mark among projected NL playoff starters. In his last seven starts, his ERA is 1.42.
Greinke is 14-3, having won six consecutive decisions, and the Dodgers are 19-4 when he starts.
“Just don’t want to waste all our good starts now,” he said.
So it was with October in mind, and with more than a little bit of concern, that the Dodgers saw Greinke take off from first base on the fifth inning.
“They didn’t say not to,” he said.
The score was tied, 1-1. He said he wanted to get into scoring position, or get thrown out and let the Dodgers start the next inning with leadoff batter Carl Crawford.
And then Greinke slid headfirst, beating shortstop Ronny Cedeno’s tag — but exposing his pitching hand to injury.
“Last-minute decision,” he said. “I felt it was safer than going feet-first. Maybe I was wrong.”
Said Mattingly: “As long as he didn’t get hurt, he’s fine. This guy is an athlete. When you start putting them in a box and wrapping them up, that’s when they get hurt.”
Greinke was safe, and he was fine.
“My No. 1 goal is not to get hurt, obviously,” he said. “I didn’t feel it was very risky at all. [Cedeno] didn’t put his feet in front of the bag. He didn’t put his knee in front of the bag.”
But he could have.
“Then I hit him in the next at-bat,” Greinke said.
And then Greinke paused, with only a hint of a smile.
“Probably,” he said.