Tonight the Astros open up a three-game series at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. J.A. Happ will oppose Ted Lilly in a battle of left-handers. This will be the Dodgers only visit to Houston this season, meaning the next time they come to town will be for an interleague matchup. For the inside scoop on the Dodgers, who are currently leading the N.L. West, I chatted with Scott Andes, editor at FanSided’s Dodgers site, Lasorda’s Lair.
CTH: Scott, the Dodgers are off to a great start thanks to Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. I would expect the new ownership group to try and add some offensive help for the two sluggers. Are there any names that have been floated around or someone you would like to see acquired in a trade?
Scott: I think if the Dodgers are in contention at the trade deadline, Magic and the GBM (Guggenheim Baseball Management) will definitely try and add players, as well as sign free agents during the next winter. I haven’t seen any names floated around yet, since we don’t know who will be available in July, but there has been one name floating around for free agency next winter. A lot of people are saying the Dodgers are going to go after pitcher Cole Hamels. Of course he would seriously strengthen the pitching staff, but I think other areas need to be improved more immediately than the starting rotation. I think the Dodgers need one more big bat in the lineup to pair with Bison and Dre, and another middle reliever, preferably a lefty.
CTH: If I was starting a team and could have any player in the league to build around I would take Clayton Kershaw. Is this guy as good as I think he is?
Scott: Yes he is. As you know, Kershaw netted his first of many NL Cy Young awards last year for his complete and utter domination over all opponents. We knew the first time we saw him pitch that he is the one – the direct descendant of Sandy Koufax destined to lead the Dodger pitching staff back to greatness. There is just no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is the most utterly dominating pitcher in the league, and probably all of baseball. Even when he is sick with the flu he will still shut you out. Kershaw pitches in game two, so you will see.
CTH: Don Mattingly has made a few questionable decisions since taking over as manager- allowing Kershaw to start the opener even though he was sick, having to bring in a reliever due to an accidental second visit to the mound last season, and, of course, the nutcracker cross-dressing incident. How would you rate Mattingly overall as a manager?
Scott: You know I like Mattingly but I don’t think he is the greatest in-game manager. However, with that being said, I don’t have a problem with him, but I do think his bullpen management leaves much to be desired. I can’t blame him for Kershaw getting sick. That was just bad luck. Actually nobody really knew until a few hours before the game when they saw Kershaw vomiting before the game. Mattingly’s strengths lie in his ability to run a very tight clubhouse. For example: last season when former horrendous catcher Dioner Navarro was reported to not be preparing properly for games, and just generally being a lazy bum, Mattingly immediately cut him from the roster. So if any players are not hustling, or not getting ready for the games correctly, or mouthing off in any way that disrupts the team’s chemistry, you best believe Mattingly won’t be having none of that. Otherwise I think he is going to work out. He has an old school type of attitude of never giving up which he has instilled in all of the players. He was a very good coach, and the clubhouse chemistry this year has been great. Everyone is on the same page, and all the players like and respect him. His in-game bullpen management needs work. He has this annoying habit of only making pitching changes when the bases are loaded. He has done this already multiple times, including bringing in Jamey Wright, not once, but twice, with the bases juiced, which of course should be illegal. Otherwise I think Mattingly is going to work out just fine, and actually may be a long term manager the way Lasorda was.
CTH: This series will be the last time the Dodgers play in Houston without a designated hitter. Over the last 50 seasons the two teams have played several memorable games. A couple that stand out in my mind are game #163 in 1980 and the 22-inning marathon in 1989. Do you remember either of those games?
Scott: I am too young to remember the 1980 NL West tiebreaker, but I of course have seen the game from archives, and I think the Dodgers could have started Fernando Valenzuela, who was pitching out of the bullpen that September in his first call-up. Instead they went with the number eight LA Dodger bum of all time Dave Goltz, and the rest is history.
I will never forget the 22-inning game from 1989. I was ten years old, and watched the game on TV. I remember Fernando was playing left field, EddieMurray was catching I think,and third baseman Jeff Hamilton was pitching. I also remember the Dodgers having a second 22 inning game in Montreal that year that the Dodgers won 1-0 on a home run by catcher Rick Demspey.
Okay, so Scott’s memories of the 22-inning classic are a little fuzzy. But he was only ten years-old, so I’ll give him a break. I mean, when I was ten I thought J.R. Richard was eight feet tall. I also watched that game on television, all seven hours and fourteen minutes of it. In the bottom of the 22nd Jeff Hamilton was indeed pitching. Eddie Murray was playing 3B and Fernando was playing first. Bill Doran was on second base when Ken Caminiti struck out swinging for the second out of the inning. Cammy was so disgusted with himself for striking out against a position player that he snapped the bat over his knee. Rafael Ramirez came up next and hit a line drive just out of Fernando’s reach and Doran came around to score the winning run. It was the Astros ninth straight victory and they would extend the streak to ten the next afternoon in a 13-inning game. Every one of those guys had to be completely gassed, feeling pretty much like anyone who has read this entire article.
Astros fans who have been around as long as yours truly have a special place in their hearts for the Dodgers. It is a dark and ugly place, filled with disdain and envy. The Dodgers (and Reds) kept Houston out of the playoffs for a long time. When the Astros finally won that division tie-breaker game back in 1980 it was like winning the World Series. Art Howe and Joe Niekro will forever be legendary figures for their clutch performances on that sacred day.
Rivalries come and go. The Dodgers were once considered bitter rivals by Astros fans but that rivalry has long since faded. As the Astros and their fans prepare for next year’s move to the American League we wonder what new rivalries may develop. That’s one of the beautiful things about the move – no one knows exactly what the effects will be. But things will be different. Change can be good. Hopefully the Astros can make some quick adjustments.