The playoffs might come around every year for the Dodgers. They have not come around every year for the 25 men currently representing the Dodgers.
Of the nine players in the starting lineup Tuesday, Yasiel Puig was the only one who has played on each one of the Dodgers’ six consecutive division championship teams. The three players in the heart of the order were not even here when this season started.
David Freese, batting third, came over from the Pittsburgh Pirates in August. Manny Machado, batting fourth, came over from the Baltimore Orioles in July. Brian Dozier, batting fifth, came over from the Minnesota Twins in July.
Freese forever will be an October hero, as any fan of the St. Louis Cardinals can and almost certainly will tell you. The Orioles were wretched this year, but Machado has been playing long enough that he once hit a postseason home run for them, off Hiroki Kuroda.
Dozier, well, the story was a little different. The Dodgers would extend him an opportunity at October glory.
He played 851 games in the major leagues, all with the Twins, before getting his first postseason shot last October.
The Twins earned a wild-card spot, against the New York Yankees. Dozier led off the game with a home run. The Twins scored three runs in the first inning, and this postseason thing was working out pretty well.
The Yankees roared back to win 8-4. The Twins went one and done. At that point, Dozier’s six-year major league career featured four postseason at-bats.
The Twins were surprisingly good last year, surprisingly bad this year. The Dodgers grabbed him at the July 31 trade deadline, and he was so happy to get another shot at October that he flew from Minnesota to Los Angeles that very afternoon and headed immediately to Dodger Stadium.
As he rode to the ballpark, he was astonished at how many text messages he had received from friends and family back home.
“When you say Dodgers to people in Mississippi, it’s a pretty big deal,” Dozier said that night.
He hustled into the stadium, and into uniform, even though the game that night was almost over by the time he arrived.
“Whatever I can do to help this ballclub win and get to the postseason and have a chance to win the World Series, I’m all for it,” Dozier said then.
He started Aug. 1. He hit a home run.
He started Aug. 2. He hit a home run.
He played another 44 games through the end of the regular season. He hit three more home runs, and batted .182 for the Dodgers.
By that point, the phrase “the big, complementary, right-handed bat acquired by the Dodgers this summer” referred to Freese, not Dozier.
On the second weekend of September, Dozier quietly explained why.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “I’ve had a knee issue since the beginning of the year.”
In April, Dozier suffered a bone bruise to his right knee. The Twins reported then that an MRI examination had ruled out structural damage. The soreness had remained, Dozier said, and the inability to swing freely had compromised his swing.
“If one side of your leg is not working, find a way to use your other side,” he said. “That’s just my mentality.”
Dozier said he was healthy enough to play. He said neither the Twins nor the Dodgers had suggested a stint on the 10-day disabled list, and he said he would not have taken either team up on the suggestion.
“That’s not me,” he said. “I’ve never been on the DL. I hope to not ever be. My mentality has always been, you can still be productive if you’re not 100%. I’m still trying to find ways to be productive.”
He limped to the end of the regular season, with the Dodgers affording him every opportunity to at least play second base against left-handers.
They included him on the playoff roster. He did not start in the first round, even when the Dodgers faced a left-hander. He did not start in the first three games of this series, even when the Dodgers faced a left-hander.
But, faced with a need for offense, the Dodgers started Dozier on Tuesday, his first start in 16 days.
They batted him fifth, the highest they had put him in their starting lineup since Sept. 9.
“In batting practice, and in the limited at-bats Dozier has had,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “I see some good things from his at-bats, and swinging at strikes and taking balls.”
In the very first inning, Dozier singled home Chris Taylor. On the night after the Dodgers went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, Dozier went one for one. That was the only run the Dodgers scored in the regulation nine innings.
In the third inning, he walked. In the fifth, he was hit by a pitch.