Three hours before starting a four-game series against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday, Joe Torre brought his team together for a closed-doors meeting.
Torre told reporters. "If I wanted you to be in on this, I would have invited you into it."
This meeting demonstrates the type of leadership that makes Torre a championship manager. The club had lost seven of the last 11 games and had not been producing to their highest capabilities. Whatever Torre said must have recharged the squad in preparation for last night's game.
The Dodgers scrapped all night, fighting from behind and falling just short of tying the game multiple times, most notably when they squandered two runners on base in both the seventh and the eighth innings.
But then came the ninth.
Roughly six and a half hours after the media-free meeting, the Dodgers kept battling and put the first two runners of the inning on the corners. Andre Ethier then lifted a three-run, walk-off home run to cap a gritty come from behind win against the Braves. The Dodgers have 11 walk-off wins this season, five from Ethier, and have shown the tenacity to never say never before the final out is made.
Since the meeting was closed, we don’t have the slightest clue as to what the skipper discussed. One way or another, Torre had to have addressed the Dodgers about Tuesday night’s near dust up with Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder.
Major League Baseball fined Guillermo Mota earlier in the day, along with Fielder, for their actions the previous night.
We all know by now that Fielder tried to storm the Dodgers clubhouse following the game in an attempt to “confront” Mota after being hit with two outs in the ninth inning in a 17-4 game.
Brewers’ fans question the validity of the beaning because they feel that when Manny Ramirez was hit, there was no intent with the pitch. They will claim it was an inside fastball that just ran too far inside. You have to remember the context of the drilling for the Dodgers, however, before you jump to any conclusions about hitting Fielder in return.
Last October, Brett Myers brushed back Ramirez in the first inning of Game Two of the NLCS. After the brushback, he fired a ball behind the head of Ramirez, causing first base coach Mariano Duncan to have some choice words for Myers.
How does this relate to Tuesday night?
Russell Martin was outspoken in noting that after the Myers incident, Chad Billingsley never responded by hitting a Philadelphia player. Martin stated on Tuesday that Ramirez needs to feel protected by his teammates, and therefore the hitting of Fielder was a direct message that if you screw with Manny to expect consequences.
The Brewers were also up in arms because the game was such a blowout, but you have to remember; a team is not going to retaliate in a one-run ball game. You never want to put a runner on base that could potentially come back to hurt you, and that’s why Mota went after Fielder in such a situation. Maybe that’s the reason Billingsley was hesitant to retaliate against the Phillies last fall, because of the importance of the game.
But what it ended up doing was setting a precedent for the rest of the series that the Phillies could push around the Southern California-nine. Billingsley was tagged up for seven runs in 2.1 innings that game, and the Phillies never looked back as they took the series 4-1.
The Mota response on Tuesday night really had nothing to do with whether or not there was malicious intent from the Brewers; it had to do with the morale of the clubhouse, and each player knowing that they have each other’s back at all times.
Now that we have the facts of the matter out on the table, there are just a couple of things wrong with this whole altercation.
Prince’s Failed Attempt
First of all, Fielder has clearly never seen the footage of Mota running like a scared child from Mike “the Maniac” Piazza during a Spring Training game.
Piazza threw his bat, tossed him helmet, shot a glance at the Dodgers dugout, and began to charge the mound. As Piazza raised his fists when he neared the mound, Mota promptly fired his glove at the Mets catcher; the glove-throw actually saved Mota from taking a haymaker to the face.
Continuing to retreat on his heels, Mota’s teammates finally reached the scene, where it took no less than four players to tackle Piazza (including Brian Jordan, who also played football, and suspiciously strong Adrian Beltre). Mota meddled to safety in the dugout, but hung around long enough for Piazza to use a hand gesture, which suggested Mota has similar characteristics to a part of the female anatomy.
Jeromy Burnitz was the lone Mets player to get a hand on Mota. Burnitz caught Mota with a couple of slaps in the head before veering off course in a fit of rage. Joe McEwing eventually fell on his face in pursuit of the Los Angeles right-hander as the melee neared the dugout.
The previous year, Mota had drilled Piazza, which caused the future Hall of Famer to seek out Mota (take notes here Prince) and grab the pitcher by the throat.
Second of all, Piazza charged the clubhouse after the game, too! One reporter said Piazza entered the visitor’s clubhouse muttering, “Where’s Mota?” Prince needed to do some film study of this whole incident before he headed towards the clubhouse.
The proper way to launch an offensive would have been to use an inside source: don’t forget that the Dodgers traded Claudio Vargas to the Brewers last week. Fielder needed to get Vargas to go towards the clubhouse, innocently seeking a chat with his former teammates, while Prince rounded up a few buddies from the team and slipped in the doors.
You see, Piazza was rolling deep when he went after Mota. He had clearly assembled a fight club comprised of Burnitz, Ty Wigginton, and McEwing in the case that something went down.
My suggestions for his beat down posse would be relief pitcher Todd Coffey (6’4”, 240), catcher Mike Rivera (6’1”, 236), and centerfielder Mike Cameron (6’1”, 205—you know the veteran from Georgia can throw a punch or two).
Lastly, once inside the locker room, can you imagine what that scene would have looked like?
25 Dodgers defending their formerly ‘roid-rage infused pitcher? And in a poetic twist, he was hitting Fielder in defense of fellow 50-game suspension recipient Manny Ramirez! Talk about must-see TV.
Is Mota Criminally Insane?
Considering the prior altercations with Piazza, the only conclusion I can draw from Mota’s actions is that Guillermo is out of his mind.
Mota obviously has no regard for his personal safety as Piazza made him look like a child when attacking him out by the bullpen, and then completely embarrassing Mota with the mound-charging fiasco.
Then, he goes after the enormous Prince Fielder! That’s like having a death wish. Fortunately for Mota, Prince is mild mannered enough that it took him a solid 15 minutes of deliberation following the game before making a rhino-like charge to the home team’s clubhouse.
If he had charged the mound, I’m not so sure that James Loney and Russell Martin would have been able to diffuse the pounding as effectively as Jordan and Beltre were with Piazza.
Now, Mota was defending a teammate, so maybe that excuses his death wish of drilling Fielder in the thigh, but hit Ryan Bruan instead. Bruan would have been much less likely to furiously seek a pitcher out after the game.
This team has shown a bond throughout the season that it holds a hard-nosed approach to the game. That mentality shines through with the 29 come-from-behind victories by the Boys in Blue thus far in ’09.
It all goes back to Torre in the end. The NCAA has an infamous classification when a team violates rules, they call it, “lack of institutional control.” If there was ever a polar opposite of that statement, it lies within Torre’s great control of the team in which he resides over.
The meeting he called yesterday exemplifies the way that he can hold a team together through the tough times and keep them united as a unit.
You can see it in the way they celebrated Ethier’s walk-off gem last night; Loney basically slugged Ethier in the face out of excitement, leading to a dog-pile of jubilation on top of the clutch slugger. Watch a team that’s not together and has bad chemistry, they will have a half-hearted synchronized jumping-fest for about 15 seconds before spreading their separate ways and hitting the showers.
The Dodgers do nothing of the sort. They win together, they lose together, and they celebrate together, and that is how Guillermo Mota throwing at Prince Fielder personifies the championship drive of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers
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