Next week, the Los Angeles Dodgers travel north to face their favorite enemy, the San Francisco Giants, in a three game series that begins on Monday. Looking forward, past your current opponent, is one of the worst things a player or team could do. However it is quite acceptable for fans and media types to engage in that sort of activity.
Dodger and Giant fans always keep an eye on the horizon for the next time these teams hook up. We've waited a long time for this set, as it's been three months, May 8-10, since the last time these teams locked horns. There were some fireworks and tears after the last game, an extra inning affair won by the Giants, but what happened during the bonus frames is where an interesting tail lies.
The Giants had scored one in the sixth and another in the eighth to tie the game, then took a lead in the top of the 12th. With one out in the bottom of the 12th, the Dodgers Casey Blake smacked a homer into the left field seats to tie the game off Giant's closer Brian Wilson.
Upon returning to the dugout, Blake made a gesture with his hands, mocking the motion Wilson makes after closing out a Giants victory. Afterwards, a teary eyed Wilson was visibly upset, taking great offense to Blake's actions, given the gesture combines both a tribute to his late father as well as religious significance.
Of course, that bit of information was unknown to the Dodgers and their fans. There is a well done article by Andre Utula Tameta on the situation when it happened here. The comment thread shows where fans from both sides of the rivalry stand.
Fast forward to this week, and the festivities during the Dodger/Brewer series, what with Prince Fielder looking to break into the Dodger clubhouse so he can confront Guillermo Mota after being drilled on his leg.
Speaking with Joe Torre the day after, I asked if some of the feistiness in this current series might have something to do with the team getting ready to travel up to San Francisco next week and any residual emotions from the Blake and Wilson situation.
At first surprised, Joe shook his head no and said, "This game is a very emotional game, and I don’t think there’s going to be anything going on there."
Then I asked if it was more for the fans than the players.
"No I mean there’s a personal reason why, I found out later why Wilson does certain things. You don’t know all that stuff because you are here trying to win a ball game, trying to play a ballgame.
"But, as I say it’s emotional, and I’ve had pitchers like Pasqual Perez strike you and then go, makes motion as if blowing smoke off the end of a gun, just to make (Bob) Gibson cringe just because he was his pitching coach. It’s style in a lot of ways.
"I’ve had Ruben Sierra that used to hit a home run then run by the dugout – I don’t like that, let’s not do that anymore.
"Then again, some people do it for other reasons more so than being showy or stylish and I guess in Wilson’s case he has personal reason why he does certain things. I think we all respect that, we don’t always know it either. When Casey did something he certainly wasn’t aware of the personal nature of why Wilson was doing it."
Then I asked if Casey & Wilson had a conversation about it, to which Torre replied, "I have no idea. You know, this game’s not easy to play and I think we all understand that. We know who we are and we know that’s not who we are."
I finished by asking Torre in reference to the 70’s and famous Dodger/Giants brawls. "No, no, no," Torre said, "We know how tough it is to play this game, we certainly don’t make fun of each other purposely."
In the clubhouse later, I spoke with Blake about a couple of different things. My last questions were about Wilson and the upcoming series against the Giants.
Blake gave a simple "No." when asked if he had any conversation with Wilson since that game.
Taking it a step further, I asked if it was on his radar, with the team going up there next weekend, if he was thinking about it.
Blake offered only, "Yeah, I’m sure the fans up there haven’t forgotten about it. It’s in the past, it happened a long time ago."
Having been around Blake a handful of times since the Dodgers have allowed me media level access, I've noticed how he is one of the more low-key Dodger players. He goes about his business in a serious fashion. That's not to say he doesn't express himself a bit more when the clubhouse is closed to all except the team and staff.
He is also reserved and not the type who you would look to start something with an opposing team. After that game in May, Blake mentioned how he "got outside his box" when making the gestures.
Of course, we have to see how the Giants feel about things at this point. They have cut into the divisional lead the Dodgers have enjoyed for a while. I have a feeling they would consider making up ground more important than looking for some sort of revenge over a personal grievance.
The Dodgers would be better served to concentrate on adding some more distance between themselves and the pursuing San Franciscans.
It seem most likely the previous events will be good to stir up the passions, toss a few more boo's crackle the talk radio airwaves, sell some newspapers, and manipulate many electrons here on the Internet. But as to the players themselves, don't expect much reaction.