Dodgers: Top Moments of the Decade – Part 1
The 2010s was a decade that resoundingly proved Vin Scully’s saying that for the Dodgers — both Brooklyn and Los Angeles — nothing comes easy. It was a decade that saw the franchise undergo enormous changes, from ownership to the front office to the announcer’s booth. With Yankee-level money and cutting-edge analytics, the team put together one of the greatest runs of annual success in MLB history, an admirable accomplishment given it started just two years after Frank McCourt’s departure.
Yet in spite of all this winning, the record sums of money spent, booming attendance, and farm system building have yet to procure their first championship since 1988. Their Octobers, despite yielding back-to-back pennants after almost three decades without even one, have been mind-boggling in how they keep finding new ways to torture the Dodger faithful. Granted, the recent revelations of the 2017 Astros’ sleazy cheating setup may change our understanding as to why Los Angeles lost that particular series. Even so, that doesn’t change the fact that they haven’t won the ultimate prize in this era.
Given this run of relevance is likely far from over, it’s a story whose ultimate finish remains unwritten. But so far, it’s produced a parade of unforgettable moments throughout the decade. So many, in fact, that it will take two separate articles to chronicle them. Here’s the best of the first five years, 2010 through 2014.
Clayton Kershaw Does It All on Opening Day 2013
The beginning of the 2010s were largely an embarrassment for the Dodgers. Despite plenty of on-field talent and trips to the NLCS to end the previous decade, the off-field drama and neglect of Frank McCourt’s ownership sunk them. It reached rock-bottom in 2011, with the tragic beating of Bryan Stow, an attendance-draining boycott, and the intervention of MLB itself proving to be what was necessary to oust the embattled owner once and for all.
After the Guggenheim Group took over in 2012, the team was infused with record-setting amounts of money to make them winners right away. After narrowly missing the postseason that year, the expectations were heightened for 2013, especially after high-profile off-season splashes like Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
On Opening Day against the defending champion San Francisco Giants, Clayton Kershaw signaled his coming status as the signature player of this Dodgers era with a consummate performance. He not only threw a complete-game shutout, but his solo homer in the bottom of the 8th started a four-run rally for a 4-0 win.
Yasiel Puig’s MLB Debut Ignites 42-8
Even with such a gallant showing by Kershaw on Opening Day, the first few months of 2013 were a disaster for Los Angeles. They sunk as low as 30-42 by mid-June, and Don Mattingly’s job as manager was on life support. I’ll never forget driving with my dad to his parents’ house in Palm Springs in June, and seeing a billboard that advertised “A Whole New Blue.” I joked to him that it was indeed a whole new blue…because of how sad the team was making its fans.
Then, on June 3, the Wild Horse ran free in the Dodger Stadium outfield for the first time. Cuban defector Yasiel Puig, who had roared through spring training and the minors, launched a powerful single in his first MLB at-bat. But that was just a warm-up to his game-ending double play from the outfield, displaying his cannon arm to seal a 2-1 win over San Diego.
Most importantly, it was the first salvo in the month that would eventually witness a turnaround for the ages. The team continued to be inconsistent the next few weeks, but hit its stride towards the end of June, with Puig’s otherworldly energy a driving factor. They went on to a 42-8 run that summer that lifted them out of the cellar to first place, and rekindled my Dodger passion in the process.
At that moment in early June, Puig looked guaranteed to become one of the game’s elite gods. While he would go on to create many great moments the rest of the decade, he never quite put his skills together, with many ups and downs (not to mention clashes with teammates) throughout his Dodgers tenure. That inconsistency led to his trade to Cincinnati last off-season, which honestly has been for the better. But boy oh boy, was the magic of his arrival something to behold.
Party in the Pool in Arizona
After the 42-8 summer, the team officially sealed its first NL West title in four years on September 19 in Arizona. It was a microcosm of the season, falling behind 6-3 early but scratching back in the later innings for a gritty come-from-behind 7-6 win. It was solo shots from Hanley Ramirez and A.J. Ellis respectively in the 7th and 8th innings that tied and put them ahead.
To celebrate, the Dodgers pulled a stunt that was as celebrated by their fans as it was derided by their critics. They joyously ran out to the pool at Chase Field and splashed around like teenagers at a high school party.
As I said in my division clinchers recap, it honestly was a juvenile move. But it was one they earned after the run they had put together to get them out of the cellar. Splash forever, 2013 Dodgers.
Juan Uribe Seals the NLDS
After a picturesque summer and a division title, it was time for the Dodgers to flex some muscle in their first postseason in four years. They drew the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, splitting the first two games in Atlanta before pounding their way to victory in game 3.
In game 4, Clayton Kershaw was tapped on three days’ rest to punch a ticket to the NLCS. He twirled a gem, allowing two unearned runs across six innings. However, Atlanta took a 3-2 lead off Ronald Belisario in the 7th.
Things were looking gloomy in the bottom of the 8th, with then-unstoppable Braves closer Craig Kimbrel lurking in the bullpen. Fittingly, summer spark plug Yasiel Puig led things off with a double, thus bringing veteran Juan Uribe to the plate as the go-ahead run against David Carpenter. He worked the count 2-2, partially by trying to bunt.
Luckily, he decided against that:
Fun Fact: The winning pitcher of this game was Brian Wilson. Not making that up. I swear!
The 10,000th Win in Franchise History
One of the reasons I’m proud to be a Dodgers fan is their incredibly consistent (and in my view, underrated) level of success spanning many decades. After being almost perennially irrelevant in their first few decades of operation, the team was remade to be a contender in the late 1930s. Since their 1941 pennant-winner, they’ve been a winning franchise with nary a reprieve, both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
When you’re that consistent, you don’t just win lots of pennants and championships: you also win lots and lots of regular season games. In April of 2014, they hit a special milestone in that regard with their 10,000th win in franchise history. It came against none other than my AL team, the Minnesota Twins, at Target Field in Minneapolis.
After a typically pristine effort from Zack Greinke and prolific offense, the Twins started a two-out rally in the 9th against Kenley Jansen. However, the big man locked it down to preserve a 6-4 win, thus securing a rare milestone for any professional sports franchise.
Winning championships may ultimately be the most important goal at the end of the day, but one should never lack appreciation for almost 80 years of prestige in the regular season. Here’s to 10,000 more wins, and then some.
Josh Beckett’s Redemptive No-Hitter
No move signaled the Dodgers’ newfound financial might in 2012 quite like the Nick Punto trade. In one swoop, the struggling Boston Red Sox unloaded three of their most toxic and costly players, among them starting pitcher Josh Beckett. Once a World Series hero, Beckett’s reputation had been tarnished by his beer and chicken-stained role in Boston’s embarrassing 2011 collapse.
While trade-mates Punto, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez made positive impacts in 2013, Beckett was less fortunate, suffering a season-ending injury in June. But On May 25, 2014, Beckett washed away all of those frustrations with a gutsy no-hitter over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. It was the final hurrah of a triumphant career, as he retired after the season.
Clayton Kershaw’s (Near) Perfect No-No
Every season and every era of Major League Baseball has its defining stars. Some carve out their place with one great season before fading away, while others stretch that success across multiple years. Few will reach the levels of baseball craft that Clayton Edward Kershaw displayed this past decade, especially his 2014 season.
Especially now that his prime it’s over, it has to be emphasized that said prime is enough to put Kershaw in the conversation for the greatest pitcher who ever lived. No hyperbole…he’s in the same realm as Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson, and others. 2014 was the pinnacle of that prime, and just a cursory glance at his stats that year is stunning enough: 1.77 ERA, 21-3 record, six complete games, and 0.857 WHIP, all of which were the best of both leagues.
Nothing displayed his godly pitching powers that year quite like this masterpiece just on the verge of summer. With 15 strikeouts of the Colorado Rockies and only a handful of balls leaving the infield, it was one of the greatest games ever pitched. Were it not for a truly inexcusable error by Hanley Ramirez, it would have been the 24th perfect game in MLB history.
It was a night made all the more poetic by the narration of Vin Scully and the earnest love of Clayton’s wife Ellen:
Five years later, it remains Kershaw’s flagship moment. Unfortunately, the passage of time has not soothed the sting of Hanley’s error. It’s a moment he’ll never live down…and shouldn’t.
Stay tuned to Dodgers Nation for the conclusive part two to this mini-series of decade-defining brilliance from the Dodgers.