Monday, October 16, 2017

Red October: Justin Turner beats the champs

Turner's walkoff homer wins NLCS Game Two for Dodgers
The drama of October postseason baseball continued to unfold in a big way in Sunday night's Game Two of the 2017 National League Championship Series.

The host Los Angeles Dodgers held a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS. Now they were battling the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the bottom of the 9th inning with the two teams tied at 1-1 on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard.

There is an old sports axiom that states "if you want to be the champ, you gotta beat the champ." That is exactly the task in front of this latest version of what has become a perennially disappointing Dodgers ball club.

The Dodgers have not won a World Series championship in nearly 30 years. Not since a gimpy Kirk Gibson caused Vin Scully to disbelieve what he had just seen in October of 1988. Not since Orel Hershiser was acing it on the mound, rather then commenting on aces from the broadcast booth.

Ten times since, Los Angeles has advanced to the postseason. Ten times they and their fans have gone home disappointed. Six times the team didn't even advance past the NLDS.

The disappointment has been particularly difficult in recent years. The Dodgers have now captured five consecutive NL West crowns. But their regular season successes have ended in postseason failure each of the previous four years.

The Dodgers organization and fans wear those recent years and even decades of disillusionment like an albatross around their collective necks.

So as the game rolled on still tied, the specter of a tough loss haunted their thoughts. If the Cubs pulled it out, the series would be tied at a game apiece with the next three scheduled for Wrigley Field in Chicago.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH OPENS

The mercurial Yasiel Puig led off the bottom of the 9th by drawing a walk from Cubs lefty reliever Brian Duensing. The Cuban native known as 'The Wild Horse' was then bunted to second on a sacrifice from pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson. When yet another pinch-hitter, Kyle Farmer, struck out swinging, there were two outs.

Farmer had pinch-hit for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who had struck out two while throwing just 13 pitches in the top of the 9th inning. The big lights-out righty from Curacao was now out of the game, a boon to the Chicago hitters.

Joe Maddon, the Cubs respected skipper, strode to the mound and took the ball from Duensing's hand. He motioned out to his bullpen, calling in right-hander John Lackey to face a pair of right-handed hitting Dodgers bats.

Lackey is normally a starting pitcher. This was the second season in Chicago of his now 15-year career, and 59 of his 60 appearances in a Cubs uniform have come in a starting assignment.

But here in the postseason, Lackey has become the odd-man out of the rotation. In fact, Maddon had just used him out of the pen the previous day in Game One, with Lackey tossing 27 pitches over 1.2 innings of work.

Chris Taylor was the first of the Dodgers right-handers that the 38-year old would face. The two battled to a full count, and then Lackey buried a fastball low into the dirt for ball four.

Now there were runners at first and second with two outs. Striding to the plate was Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.

WHO IS JUSTIN TURNER?

Turner has hair as fire-engine red as there has been in the game in some time, perhaps since the early days of 'Le Grande Orange' himself, Montreal Expos and New York Mets icon Rusty Staub. Not only the coloring makes him distinctive, but Turner also wears his hair long and wild, and he highlights the look with a long, full, red beard.

A local kid from Long Beach, California, Turner will turn 33 years old late next month. He played at Mayfair High School in Lakewood, less than an hour south of Los Angeles. Turner then became a seventh round selection of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2006 MLB Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton.