LOS ANGELES – The voice of summer belongs to the man on the top step, who challenges the game to challenge him, to challenge all of them, who dares to beat his chest and awaken the consequences.
The game demands enduring confidence and yet superficial modesty, so hardly like other games at all, because this particular game does not bow to promises or boasts or the loudmouths who make them. In fact, plenty often, it punishes those guys.
Good or bad, streak or slump, the preferred tactic is to go whistlin’ past the ballyard.
Not Dave Roberts. Wake up the ghosts, man. Dead and gone going on 30 years, stir ‘em up. Let’s see what they’ve got.
“We’ve got no problem being a target,” the second-year manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers said Thursday afternoon. “And I think our record speaks for itself.”
Since June 6, the Dodgers had lost four games. They’d won 31. Two games back in the NL West those six weeks ago, they were up 11. They’ve won 44 consecutive games in which they at any point held a lead. At 66-29, they had the best record in baseball.
They tend lately toward the summer heroism. The issue is October. The issue is 1988. Ever since, somebody else has been better. Somebody else has been best.
So maybe it was time to change the conversation. Time to poke the ghosts in the chest, see what they’re made of.
Dave Roberts on June 17: “We realize we’re the best team in the division.” (They were tied with the second-best team in the division.)
Dave Roberts on June 20, after an unusually erratic Clayton Kershaw start: “I wouldn’t want to be the Rockies come Saturday.” (Kershaw did not allow a run to the Rockies that Saturday.)
Dave Roberts on July 6: “I think from Day 1 we knew we were the best team in the West.” (On Day 21 they were five games out of first place.)
Point is, he says it a lot, with hardly any prodding, and it’s unusual in baseball to utter much about anything until they turn over the engine on the parade float, because baseball’s fragile that way. Too much bad can happen, too quick, and the best at anything today can be 2-for-26 and contemplating therapy in a week.
Intended for the world or his own clubhouse or simply musing aloud, Roberts’ opinions ignore the repercussions, those earthly or ethereal. There are no new banners at Dodger Stadium. The players do not wear new rings. They lost last October, and the October before that, and the two Octobers before that. But Roberts started talking and the Dodgers started winning, then kept winning, and in three months we’ll see where that – along with, you know, the deepest roster in the game – gets them. Who’s to say who is best in July, after all? What’s the point of the talk when eventually they’ll play baseball games to find out?
The manager’s opinion remains hitless. It hasn’t thrown a pitch. But, then, meek doesn’t win. So Roberts leans a bit closer to assertive. To boastful. Perhaps even to drawing a little more out of the other dugout, to see what that brings.
Kershaw grinned and noted the two ways to look at Roberts’ message. The first is the wins and losses. The Dodgers have the best record. The second was in the context of the trade deadline.
“I think what Dave’s trying to reinforce is our team is plenty good right now,” Kershaw said. “We don’t need anything to be a great team. We’re already a great team. We just need to keep playing that way. Anyway, that’s my interpretation. I mean, that’s a fine line. You might want to carry yourself in that manner. For me personally I would never verbally say that.”
Still, he added, “As a manager he has to present that mindset to 25 other guys.”
October, he insisted. They’d all find out in October.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we do have one of the best teams in baseball,” Justin Turner said. “That doesn’t mean anything. This isn’t like basketball or other sports. These conversations don’t result in anything on the field.”
Well, they generally haven’t before. Not in baseball anyway. Not a lot of teams had won 31 of 35 either.
“Is that sustainable?” Roberts asked. “I don’t know. I know the level at which we’ve been playing. And I think it’s sustainable because of who we have in that clubhouse.
“Last year, and I said this, the Cubs were the best team.”
“We learned a lot from last year,” he said.
The Dodgers lost Thursday night 6-3 to the Braves, snapping an 11-game winning streak. Chances are, Roberts’ opinion of his ballclub did not change. Bring on the ghosts, those vengeful beasts.