The Dodgers proved, thanks to Kershaw, that they are just as special as the Cubs
The Cubs storyline is great and all, but the Dodgers have a good one of their own this year
Behind the utter brilliance of Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers blanked the Cubs 1-0, tied the series at 1-1 and headed home to Los Angeles a step closer the organization's first World Series berth in a generation.
They also reminded those who haven't paid enough attention that the Cubs don't have the monopoly on a certain kind of magic this season, nor on a storyline compelling enough to be a real catalyst for one of the game's most dangerous teams.
Yes, unless you're a cynic or a team that has stood in their way, the Cubs' attempt to break more than a century of failure has the potential to be as captivating as any sports story in a very, very long time. But the Dodgers come armed this year with their own sense of purpose, their own emotional motivations, and their own deeply embedded sense that they can do what so many have doubted possible for them.
While the Cubs have a curse to break, the Dodgers this year said goodbye to Vin Scully's immeasurable presence in their broadcast booth and their city. His importance to Los Angeles, beyond baseball, is no small thing. This idea to "Win for Vin" is every bit as emotional for Dodgers fans as it is for us Cubs fans to experience a generation's worth of relief. Vin is loved, truly and deeply, and his goodbye has its own hold on this team, what they're trying to do and how they're trying to do it.
If you don't believe in curses, magic or the power of the deeply personal and emotional in baseball -- if you don't believe in a certain kind of magic, or whatever it is -- you haven't spent enough time at Wrigley Field or Dodger Stadium.
As L.A. has grasped with saying goodbye to Vin, it has also often and loudly doubted its own team. I spent the past two years talking about the Dodgers on Los Angeles radio, and the view from the Dodgers faithful was often pessimistic. The bullpen? An unreliable hodgepodge. The front office? An arrogant group of over-thinkers too married to numbers at the expense of gut instinct. Kershaw? A star who, utter greatness aside, certainly needed to do more in postseason. The offense? Absent when most in need and anemic with runners in scoring position.
The deeper the loyalty and love of a fanbase -- the more important a team truly is to the fabric of the place it plays -- the more they can both love their team and still be overpowered by worry, anger, frustration and doubt. That has been more on display with the Cubs because of their history of ineptitude, but the Dodgers, too, are deeply, deeply important to Los Angeles and produce the resulting range of responses.
This team has also had real challenges to overcome.
They are one of the most-injured teams in major league history. They had to demote Yasiel Puig, their star player from a few years ago, before recalling him when rosters expanded. He's currently hitless this postseason. They lost starting pitchers Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to injury. They have a serviceable offense that can, in act, go into long, frustrating droughts and leave runners in scoring position stranded much too often. They went down 2-1 in their division series against the Washington Nationals, and not a few Dodgers fans thought and said: Here we go again.
And yet here they are, tied 1-1 with the Chicago Cubs, having just won a crucial one-run game on a night where they mustered just three hits against Kyle Hendricks, who led baseball in earned run average this year.
Here's how: This Dodgers team is special, with a gutsiness and a perseverance that was on vivid display Sunday. They are playing for Vin, they have a front office that knows what it's doing, they have the greatest pitcher in the game and they have, like the Cubs, a weird kind of alchemy that is a mixture of the doubts and strengths and pieces -- wanted and unwanted by its fans -- that has made them utterly dangerous.
For Kershaw, annoyed as he was afterward with the line of questioning, he certainly exorcised more of those postseasons demons -- and narratives -- with that performance: seven innings pitched, two hits, one walk and not a single Cub crossing home plate.
"It's hard to go wrong with him with the baseball in his hand," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said afterward. "Tonight was a fun night, a good night."
Kenley Jansen is as good as any closer in baseball. He delivered a six-out save to lock up the game. Roberts should be manager of the year, and his decision to give Jansen a shot at a six-out save was both gutsy and the right call. Adrian Gonzalez, the soul of this team, did what such players do and delivered that home run in a game in which that was the difference.
Though not on display Sunday, Corey Seager is one of the best players in baseball, period. Chase Utley brings a winner's edge. The bullpen beyond Jansen is much, much better than it showed in the Game 1 loss to the Cubs.
This is, simply, a special team. As are the Cubs.
Both are playing for visceral, deeply ingrained aspects of their city that go well beyond the game itself. Both have doubting fan bases that love them deeply. Both have remarkable front offices that blend sabermetrics into its approach and make it work. Both are good enough to not just win the World Series, but do so in a way that would be a captivating, beautiful baseball experience.
And only one can advance to the World Series.
The magic -- and that's just what this NLCS and these teams have been so far this series -- will surely continue Tuesday in Los Angeles.
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