Column: Establishment Dodgers to take on the cool-kid Padres in NLDS
A batter celebrates a home run by flinging his bat in the air, and the opposing team accuses him of disrespecting their pitcher, their team, or, in some instances, the sport. Incidents like this happen all the time.
What made a particular bat-flip controversy Sept. 14 noteworthy was the role played by the Dodgers. They were the team that complained.
Opposite them starting Tuesday in their National League Division Series will be a San Diego Padres team characterized by a youthful exuberance for which the pre-Andrew Friedman Dodgers were known.
“Every single night, we play the game the right way, win or lose,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
With demonstrative power hitters in Manny Machado and 21-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres represent the new wave.
Padres starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet are dealing with injuries that jeopardize their availability against Dodgers in the NLDS.
“We feel we’re a team with a bunch of wild cards,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “We have a loose, fun, energetic group.”
The Dodgers are the former party animals who moved to the suburbs to raise families. The division rival Padres are the kids who took their places in the nightclubs.
Which is why their flareup two weeks ago at Petco Park was inevitable.
In the sixth inning of the series opener, Kershaw served up a homer to left-handed-hitting Trent Grisham.
Turning toward the Padres bench down the first-base line, Grisham tossed his bat and screamed, “Let’s go!” A handful of strides into his home run trot, he smirked at Kershaw. The Padres went on to win and narrowed their deficit to the Dodgers in the NL West to a half-game.
Roberts was not amused.
“I don’t mind guys admiring a homer,” Roberts told reporters after the game. “Certainly, it’s a big game, a big hit, but I just felt that to over-kind-of-stay at home plate, certainly against a guy like Clayton, whose got the respect of everyone in the big leagues and what’s he’s done in this game, I just took exception to that.”
The Dodgers responded. They were more energetic on the bench. And they swept the remaining two games of the series.
The Padres weren’t changed by their failure to overtake the Dodgers. In a comeback victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2, the Padres blasted five home runs to avoid elimination. Tatis celebrated his first by bouncing around the bases and his second with a particularly violent toss of his bat. Machado admired his blast, after which he flung his bat, slapped himself on his chest and pantomimed shoveling food into his mouth.
“There’s no dull moment here,” Machado told reporters.
The Dodgers were once like this, their celebrations irritating their more traditionally minded opponents.
The baseball culture war was a theme in the 2013 NL Championship Series, when Hollywood showmanship shared the stage with the Cardinal Way.
The Cardinals were incensed by the on-field celebrations of Puig and Adrian Gonzalez, prompting pitcher Adam Wainwright to refer to Gonzalez’s antics as “Mickey Mouse stuff.” Later in the series, Gonzalez poked fun at the remark by raising his hands by his ears after hitting a home run.
But the Dodgers aren’t the same organization they were then.
In 2013, the Dodgers were in their second year under Guggenheim Baseball Management, which purchased them from a bankrupt Frank McCourt. The Dodgers, who started their streak of eight NL West titles that year, were still unaccustomed to being World Series favorites.
The team’s culture has changed since then. The more volatile — and entertaining — personalities have disappeared, replaced by even-tempered players. The first player to receive a nine-figure contract from Friedman was Betts, an outfielder similar in temperament to Kershaw.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says Kenley Jansen isn’t necessarily going to pitch in every save situation for the Dodgers in the NLDS against the Padres.
Expectations have also changed. The Dodgers’ recent heartbreaks have taught them that dominant regular seasons don’t necessarily translate to October glory. This isn’t a team moved by a return to the NLDS.
And they weren’t.
When the Dodgers completed a two-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card round, they reacted as if they’d won a regular-season game. There were smiles and some handshakes, but that was about it.
That wasn’t the case for the Padres, who defeated the Cardinals in three games to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006. When closer Trevor Rosenthal recorded the final out, he violently slapped his glove and punched the air. Tatis enthusiastically bumped forearms with second baseman Jake Cronenworth. Machado pointed to the heavens. Outside the park, the downtown San Diego streets overflowed with jubilant fans, who either forgot or didn’t care there was a pandemic.
The Dodgers could have a moment like that. Except for them, it will require 11 more victories — three in the NLDS, four in the NLCS and four in the World Series.
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