Dodger fans, at least, as the perception goes, are renowed for arriving in the second inning and leaving in the eighth.
Initially, Monday night at Dodger Stadium was no different from the normal pattern. Only the most die-hard of fans were on hand in the ninth inning, when the Dodgers were down four runs.
But, the empty cauldron that began the final frame against the San Diego Padres, was soon filled by the end of regular innings. As it turned out, the Dodgers overcame that deficit with four consecutive solo home runs. It was so histoic, in fact, that Dodger officials began letting fans reclaim their parking spots, as well as entry back into the stadium.
Certainly uncharacteristic for Dodger fans, but, then again, this was the most uncharacteristic of nights.
There have been few nights more memorable for Dodger fans. The only recent home run that comes to mind is Kirk Gibson’s home run on one good leg to take Game 1 one of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics. The name that will be remembered for Monday was Nomar Garciaparra, who, in the 10th inning, slammed a 3-1 pitch from Rudy Seanez into the stands, and, into history.
The Dodgers defeated the Padres 11-10. But the novelty of the feat is amplified by the importance of the game.
To be sure, there have been teams who have accomplished this feat before (the last time was in 1964). But none have been as dramatic as this. Outside of the Dodgers being down four runs in the bottom of the ninth, the game had major playoff implications, as the Dodgers and Padres have shadowboxed in the standings before this series – the teams were separated by one-half of a game.
Still, San Diego Manager Bruce Bochy didn’t use Hall-of-Fame-bound closer Trevor Hoffman, figuring the lead was safe. Instead, he turned to middle-reliever Jon Adkins.
Then, the impossible began to happen.
Jeff Kent homered. J.D. Drew followed.
Bochy wasn’t about to take any more chances – not with the division lead on the line. He turned to Hoffman, who has tallied 475 saves in his career, three behind Lee Smith for the major league record. A pitcher of his stature would almost certainly nail down a save in Dodger Stadium, facing the bottom of the order, in a pitching-friendly stadium.
But Hoffman would fair no better, as Russell Martin pounded another ball into the seats.
The Padres were clinging to a one-run lead.
The Dodgers sent Marlon Anderson, a wily veteran, but light on power (he had nine home runs before Monday), to the plate. Experienced hitters generally work pitchers deep into the count and wait for a good pitch to sit on.
The 32-year-old Anderson was hitting .298, and is fairly patient, with a .349 on base percentage and just 45 strikeouts. But even Anderson was far too anxious with what had just happened. Instead, he swung and connected on Hoffman’s first pitch, and, the rest, as they say, was history.
The 2006 season has had a plethora of intriguing story lines. The Tigers have enjoyed a resurgence. So have the Mets. Ten teams in the National League still had playoff aspirations in mid-september.
But the crown jewel of the season must belong to the Dodgers. The game will become a regular replay on ESPN classic, and a great grandfather story to tell about the night fans left early, and the ballpark brought them back for more.