Patience needed for Dodgers to hit their groove
DENVER -- Two pitches into his Los Angeles Dodgers career, Adrian Gonzalez unloaded a three-run home run that drew a stadium ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd, and sent his new team on its way to an 8-1 victory over Miami. It was a Saturday night and it was the debut of the Boston crew in Dodger Blue.So much for honeymoons. Three games later, the Dodgers had suffered three losses, including back-to-back defeats to the last-place Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, and suddenly the celebration had turned into a wake. Those same folks who were ready to concede at least the NL West to the Dodgers, if not the world championship, acted like they had been betrayed by what amounts to a blip on the radar screen. Relax. Take a deep breath. The euphoria wore off quickly. The reality, however, has yet to set in. Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto have flown cross country from Boston to Los Angeles, been hailed as the signature move for the Dodgers' new ownership, spent a night in Los Angeles in between two games against Miami, and then packed and climbed back aboard a plane to fly to Colorado as the Dodgers quickly took the show on the road. They haven't had time to settle in yet, much less relax and feel comfortable in their new environment. The best thing the Dodgers have going for them is manager Don Mattingly. He spent his entire playing career with the New York Yankees, and when it comes to seeing how players deal with suddenly being thrust into the role of a franchise savior, and having to cope with unrealistic expectations of fans and the media, Mattingly is as well-versed as anyone. "I have seen it," Mattingly said of the parade of superstars that passed through the Yankee clubhouse during the George Steinbrenner era. "What you understand is that at the end of the day, the guys all want to have success and do well. They want to make a good first impression. They want to be accepted, even if they don't realize it at the time. They want to be liked." Well, respected maybe, but liked? Oh, their fans will like them, even love them if the Dodgers have success, but the Dodgers are really the West Coast Yankees. Now that they once again have an ownership group with stability, they are feared by the rest of baseball because of they are capable of doing so much more financially, and when the thought of having a focused leadership is added into the mix, there becomes a respectful dislike by outsiders. "Every day you knock around you feel like crap," said Mattingly. "You just have to get settled in. The pressure comes from within. It's not like we have had a change in organizational attitude. "We were here and are here to win. Nothing changes with a trade. It's not 'Oh, now we are going to try and win.' This is just another move in the direction we were already headed, looking to build a winner." And that's why that series finale loss to a stumbling Marlins team followed by back-to-back losses to the Rockies were a bit painful. On Monday, the revived offense became the first team that the Rockies pitching staff had shut out at Coors Field in 14 months. And on Tuesday, the home-grown foundation of the franchise, Matt Kemp, had to depart in the second inning, losing a battle with the center field fence for the second night in a row. He was diagnosed with a contusion to his right knee, but also was taken for x-rays of his jaw. That came four days after Chad Billingsley, easily the best starter on the staff in August, departed from his Friday night start with a sore right elbow, and two days after Ted Lilly, on the 60-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation, had to scratch a rehab start that was a major step toward having him ready in September because he felt something pull in his back during a weight-lifting session. The fact the Dodgers have gone from three games back of the division-leading San Francisco Giants to 3½ games back during the first four days after the Boston deal seems to have added to the anxiety instead of providing a sense of relief that the Dodgers have lost so little ground despite it all. Mattingly shows no sign of panic. So why should anyone else? He has heard the talk of clubhouse problems in Boston, and the role that the new Dodgers played in the dysfunctional world at Fenway Park, but even that doesn't faze him. "A change of scenery is a new start, it's a chance to show people you want to play," said Mattingly. "They have gone from a place with a lot of negative vibes going around to a new place. They can feel, 'Okay, I'm starting over.' "I heard Adrian say, 'There are a lot of things you do in life you would to differently if you could to them over.' When you come to a new place it gives you an opportunity to do things differently." It just takes a little time to get settled and get headed in the right direction.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.