Just as I predicted, the Dodgers came home from San Francisco after two devastating losses to the Giants, with the determination to turn things around…and turn things around they did. The Dodgers swept a 4-game series from the Phillies (the first time they have done this at home since 1962) and won two out of three to the Brewers. The Phillies and Brewers are very good teams and the Dodgers showed the baseball world that they are just as good as either of those two teams.
I had the opportunity to attend Friday night’s game and enjoyed every minute of it. Me and my wife became parents three months ago and finally made it to a game. Our 3-month old girl stayed with her Grandma while we (along with my parents and father-in-law) made it to our first game in a long time. The Dodger Dog was wonderful.
The one imperfection in this homestand came on Saturday night. You’re thinking, “Of course, they lost”. That is true and that was part of it. But what I’m really talking about was the reception given to Milwaukee’s set-up man when he jogged in from the bullpen in the 8th inning. The Dodger Stadium crowd greeted their former hero with nothing but boos.
Eric Gagne was the greatest closer in franchise history and the most popular pitcher since Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela. He practically doubled the previous record of consecutive saves. He went a whole season without blowing a save and won a Cy Young Award. Eric Gagne carried the team on his shoulders while he was on the mound. Without Gagne, Steve Finley’s dramatic grand slam in 2004 would likely have been meaningless, as any other closer would have had several more blown saves resulting in a few more losses. Dodger fans enjoyed the excitement of knowing the game was over when he jogged onto the field in the 9th inning.
I didn’t understand the reaction of the crowd on Saturday night. If you aren’t going to cheer Eric Gagne when he makes his return to Dodger Stadium as a former Dodger, then exactly who are you going to cheer? You can boo when he strikes out a Dodger, like Casey Blake. After all, he is pitching for the opponent. But you can’t acknowledge him and what he did for Los Angeles for even a minute?
Kirk Gibson, a coach for the rival D-Backs was cheered earlier this year. Joe Torre got an ovation from a Mets crowd that hated him and had no obligation to give him any acknowledgment. Heck, even Johnny Damon got some cheers from Boston fans upon his return to Fenway shortly after doing something unthinkable and traitorous – leaving the Red Sox for the hated Yankees. Dodger fans couldn’t do the same for Gagne?
Was it the Mitchell report? I doubt it. Was it the fact that he left as a free agent despite saying during the season that he was willing to give the Dodgers “a hometown discount?” Many Dodger fans shrugged their shoulders, thinking that his best days were behind him anyway, after the string of injuries that left him sidelined for two years. Honestly, how many of the 50,000 fans were actually thinking about those words when he entered the game on Saturday?
No, Dodger fans booed him because they were in a bad mood. The Brewers had just taken a lead, leaving the Dodgers six outs away from falling into second place. They didn’t enjoy having to watch their former closer enter the game to help ensure that the Brewers kept the lead. That, combined with the fact that Takashi Saito has done a fantastic job as closer for the Dodgers in Gagne’s absence, left Dodger fans with very little love for their former closer whom they enjoyed watching just a few years earlier.
If Gagne had come into the game earlier or with the Dodgers leading, the reaction might have been a little different. John Park Rule #1 is that teams are never as good as they are during a winning streak and never as bad as they are during a losing streak. John Park Rule #2 is that the longer a game wears on, especially during a pennant race, the less likely for a former player to get an ovation upon an initial return to their former stadium and the more likely they are to get booed. Much of the fan reaction can be explained with psychology. It’s just too bad Dodger fans couldn’t rise above it.