Dodgers Take Mental Vacation; Bruins Stun in Second Half
September 4, 2017

Ahh September. Most of the attention in the sports world turns to football, while pennant races in baseball can go unnoticed, unless things get really close at the end of the month. On Labor Day weekend, the NFL isn't quite ready, so the college ranks get the spotlight. That's probably a good thing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have collectively decided to disappear for awhile. They've won just once in their last ten games.

Until a couple of weeks ago, if the Dodgers were trailing in the ninth inning, you still had to watch. They would somehow find a way to pull out a victory, even if they needed to score several times to do it. The Dodgers may have handed that talent off to the UCLA Bruins, who overcame a 44-10 late third quarter deficit Sunday, and defeated Texas A&M 45-44 at the Rose Bowl. Even if you knew it was coming (I did—I'll explain in a moment), you wouldn't believe it.

As for the Dodgers, while we're not ready to call it a collapse just yet, their 21˝ game lead in the National League West is down to 12˝ . While LA has lost nine out of ten, second place Arizona has won 11 in a row. Just a week or so ago, it seemed like the Dodgers would clinch the division by Labor Day. Now they are just playing like it, even though nothing is mathematically assured yet. They don't even have the biggest division lead anymore. They don't even have the second biggest. Washington is up by 16 games in the National League East, and Houston has a 13˝-game advantage in the American League West. The boys in blue still have the best record in baseball, though, even though they aren't playing like it.

Watching the UCLA game live, and watching them trailing the Aggies 37-10 at the half, it was time to do something else. Checked in on tennis, made dinner, watched a little of the Red Sox-Yankees, and called my mother. Somewhere in there, while trying to avoid the score, I thought I saw 44-38. I somehow thought to record the second half, even though I had to get up early this morning, so when I would watch it, I hadn't a clue. The 44-38 score couldn't have been right, but mistakingly looking at my phone, there was a message that people were tweeting about the #Bruins. Something was up.

Even if that score was a mistake, watching the recording would be more exciting than the Dodgers. Not counting tonight's 13-0 debacle at home against the D-Backs, the Dodgers were batting .211 since August 26, they averaged less than three runs a game, and the starting pitchers had an ERA of 7.65. The only win in that stretch was Clayton Kershaw's return from the Disabled List, and the Dodgers managed to score one measly run for him. Throw out Kershaw's stellar performance and the ERA balloons to 9.09. And that's not counting tonight when Arizona scored 13 runs.

With 4:08 to go in the third quarter, UCLA got the ball, trailing A&M 44-10. Two minutes and two seconds later, quarterback Josh Rosen threw a TD pass, extra point was good, and it was 44-17. That's nice, but it's garbage time. So what. With 26 seconds left in the third, the Bruins get the ball back. The quarter runs out, and 1:38 after that, they score again. 44-24. It's getting interesting. On the Aggies next possession, they have to punt, but get off a good one, and pin the Bruins to the four yard line. This does not look like the makings of an epic comeback.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, don't look like an epic anything. What the heck has happened? Maybe the eclipse is to blame. The sun disappeared behind the moon's shadow for all of two minutes. Maybe it took the Dodgers' offense with it. LA did win in Pittsburgh that night, and took three out of four in that series, so that's probably not it. The first loss of this stretch was a 3-0 shutout by Milwaukee, but Ross Stripling started, only went three innings, on a game that figured to be a bullpen game anyway. That can't be the reason either.

No excuses for the Bruins. They just keep playing. After getting the ball on their own four yard line, they score again, exactly one minute later. A 42-yard pass from Josh Rosen goes right through the hands of defender Deshawn Capers-Smith and into the hands of Darren Andrews, and it's 44-31. Onside kick? Nope. In fact, the Aggies were able to drive the ball and eat a little clock, but they missed a field goal, and the Bruins get the ball with 4:41 to go. Texas A&M is playing with a backup quarterback, but it's the defense that can't do anything. Rosen hits Theo Howard for 16 yards. Extra point good. 44-38 with 3:10 remaining. The score I saw was correct, but UCLA wasn't really going to win, right?

Baseball is a weird game. It's a long season. Strange things happen. The only thing is, until now, nothing really strange (at least bad strange), has happened to the Dodgers. They were 20-3 in July. They had won 14 of 17 coming into the Wednesday August 23 game at Pittsburgh. They were 89-35, a whopping 54 games over .500. Fifty-four games equates to a third of a season. They could lose every game for almost two months and still have a winning record (I don't think they are trying to do that). Rich Hill is on the mound. He takes a perfect game into the bottom of the ninth inning, but the score is 0-0. Jordy Mercer leads off and hits a ground ball to third. It's booted by Logan Forsythe. The perfect game is gone, but the no-hitter is still in tact. The Dodgers, however, can't score one lousy run. To the tenth, Hill still out there. Josh Harrison leads off and hits one over the left field wall for a home run. No-hitter, and game gone. Dodgers lose 1-0.

UCLA, within six, kicks it deep. The Aggies, though, go three and out and punt, and the Bruins have the pigskin again with just 2:39 left on their own 34 yard line. They drive down the field to the 20, but it's fourth down and six yards to go with 54 seconds left, and the Bruins are out of timeouts. A short pass to the sideline at the 10 for a first down, but the receiver doesn't get out of bounds. First and goal. 48 seconds left. Clock running. The Bruins line up. Is Rosen going to spike the ball to stop the clock? No. He fakes the spike. Throws to the end zone to Jordan Lasley. Touchdown! Tie game 44-44 with 43 seconds left. The crowd is going crazy. The cameras catch a disappointed father and son in their Aggies gear. Fox play-by-play guy Gus Johnson is going nuts. And then my recording runs out.

The Dodgers have lost nine of their last ten, but they are 3-10 since the Rich Hill near-perfecto, non no-no, or whatever you want to call it. Hill's next start was a disaster. He gave up six runs in three and two-thirds innings at Arizona Tuesday, and the Dodgers lost 7-6. As fate would have it, Hill started tonight and was on the other side of history. D-Backs starter Robbie Ray was perfect through five, struck out 14 in seven and two-thirds, and Hill took the loss. Hill didn't pitch badly, though. He gave up a two-homer to J.D. Martinez, but other than that—just one other hit, a walk, and nine strikeouts in six innings. The bullpen would give up 11, and make it look really bad. Martinez, however, wound up hitting four home runs, becoming just the 18th player in major league history to do that—making it rarer than a perfect game.

I had to watch Sports Center to see if UCLA won. The extra point was good. And somehow the 43 seconds ran out after that. Bruins 45, Aggies 44 in what is one of the greatest comebacks in the history of college football. Rosen threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone. And while the Dodgers and their fans are still trying to figure out what's wrong with the team that's been so good for so long, perhaps a little distraction is a good thing. Maybe Manager Dave Roberts should show the second half of the football game to his team, and the Bruins can hand off back to the Dodgers again, and the winning can continue. That's a lot better than the eclipse theory.

Broadcast news: Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner was under the weather Saturday, and couldn't do either game of the day-night doubleheader against the Padres, which put both the television and radio producers in quite a fix. With regular TV guy Joe Davis away on a football assignment, and backup radio analyst Kevin Kennedy not there for the first game for some reason, Rick Monday and Nomar Garciaparra were the broadcasters for both radio and television for game one. TV Studio host John Hartung drove down from LA to San Diego in time for the night game, and did game two with Garciaparra on TV, while Monday and Kennedy did radio. Hartung did a nice job (game shown on MLB Network) and wasn't overly excited like Davis too often can be. Steiner was back in the radio booth tonight, and Davis was back on television... Sunday's Arizona-Colorado game was broadcast by TBS, and it's good to see the D-Backs and Rockies get their due on national television, but it's too bad that each team's best player—Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado were not in the lineup. The Rockies-Dodgers game will be the TBS game this Sunday.

Magic numbers: While the Dodgers may not turn out to be the first team to clinch a division title, their post-season ticket is almost punched, despite the 1-9 freefall. With Milwaukee's loss today, the Dodgers magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 5, which means any combination of Dodgers wins and Brewers losses totaling 5 would put the Dodgers in the playoffs--at least as a wild card.

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