Sketch by Henry Gustavson
TOP OF THE SEVENTH: DODGERS 3 –
(0) 7 D-BACKS
Beachballs in the bleachers at Dodger Stadium. Popcorn-eaters in the front row. Palm trees. Hollywood. Vin Scully alone in a broadcast booth, talking by himself, talking to us. Assuring the world that all’s well in Dodgeralia. Calm. Composed. At home, in a park he’ll depart at season’s end. Handpicking his words, off endless branches, branches’ branches, in a deep memory he builds, maintains over many years, keeps polished like a jewel. He seems, and I quote from Ogawa Yoko’s “Transit” here, to speak words into the palms of his hands, and then present them to me one by one.
A media anachronism in all the right ways, balking at all self-promotion, never himself the brand—but a presenter, a storyteller, an admirer, informer, describer, a friend. A Dodger fan.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 15, 2016
He surveys the ballpark at the start of the 7th inning, notes Clayton Kershaw with AJ Ellis in the home dugout, Zack Greinke absent across the way, on injury rehab for Arizona. And then, almost on cue, like the windy rustling before a rainstorm, a pause, with what we all know must be a story on the way.
“Pitchers hanging out with pitchers,” he starts, “and if they’re gonna hang out with anybody else, it would be a catcher.”
The ears of L.A. perk up, living rooms and passenger seats go quiet, with the volume dial turned up to hear this man speak.
“People always ask me: What was the difference between Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale? Well, when the Dodgers were on the road and we had a night off, Sandy would go to dinner with either a backup catcher, or a backup infielder. Just the two of them, they’d go quietly and have dinner.”
Kenta Maeda sets up on the mound, fires, and a swinging strike from Wellington Castillo.
“But Don Drysdale?” says Mr. Scully. “A pied piper. When Don went out, half a dozen other guys went with him!”
And with the story not quite over, he’s interrupted—an RBI double in the gap from Castillo:
“…and that’s gonna go to the gap,” he says, “there’s nobody there.”
The timing was close, almost perfect, a whole story nearly wedged within the length of an at-bat, some future-reading ability no one else has been able to match. His colleague, Rick Monday, describes it like this, the superhuman skill of story:
“His timing is impeccable. It’s like the game waits for him. We have a little joke among us. When Vin starts one of his stories, the batter is going to hit three foul balls in row, and he’ll have plenty of time to get it in. When the rest of us start one, the next pitch is a ground ball double play to end the inning.”
Vin rolls on, win or lose, within the cemented cachet of a legend. A hall-of-fame face of a franchise. The actual Dodgers he narrates… not yet at his level. Not always, at least.
— Fordham Prep (@FordhamPrep) July 25, 2016
The rundown, of the top half of the 7th:
- Paul Goldschmidt scores on Castillo’s hit to make it 3-1.
- Kenta Maeda comes out. Brandon Drury walks. Yasmany Tomas singles. Chris Owings singles, a lofted flare to right. Another run scores. 3-2.
- Rickie Weeks walks, Drury scores. 3-3.
- Michael Bourn hits an infield dribbler, no one at first to cover. Tomas scores. 4-3. The lead gone. Bourn with a big grin on his face at first. Pedro Baez comes for relief.
- And Goldschmidt comes back up, doubling to left. Three runs score. 7-3 Arizona. The dugout does the Johnny Bravo dance.
Kenta Maeda’s in the dugout looking like a sick dog, his ‘W’ long gone. Polite. But blue. Nothing he can do. Dave Roberts stands against the dugout railing, fingers and hands linked, arms hung over the light-blue padding.
The first-place Giants are slumping big time. The Dodgers have snuck up to two games back. Suddenly back into the race. Kershaw out and the NL West tightened up, somehow. But then, this. Seven runs in the seventh. The luckiest number gone sour.
“A big inning,” says Scully, refusing to sigh, “eleven men come to the plate, and a whole bunch of ‘em score!”
Bottom of the inning on deck. With all hopes sunk.
BOTTOM OF THE SEVENTH: DODGERS 8
(3) – 7 D-BACKS
Tonight, the Dodgers undid their undoing. Flipped collapse into storming charge for first place. The lead lost, loaned out, and then lassoed back into their hands. Vin Scully nearly speechless at times, never fumbling, just grinning, his voice warmed up at the sight of a team on a run for the greatest gift he could have, a World Series for his final year.
Andrew Toles singles to lead off, through the hole past a diving Jean Segura.
Then, Joc Pederson steps up. The pitch comes low from Daniel Hudson. The bat tilts down and flicks through just over the plate. The ball sails out to center in a hurry. Visible on the camera the whole way, a two-run homer, low and fast on a clear shot out from home to the stands. Hudson’s ERA six points high and rising. Pederson rounds first with his arm pointing out to the spot. The fans go, go, go. A fist bump from Kendrick on the dugout steps. A guy in the center-field bleachers, sprinting down the metal staircase to grab the ball, down behind the outfield fence, spelunking into the stadium underbelly for the souvenir.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 30, 2016
And now a passage, from Dagoberto Gilb’s “Uncle Rock” (2010), a great piece of fiction set at the stadium:
“They sat in the bleachers, and for him the green of the field was a magic light; the stadium decks surrounding them seemed as far away as Rome. … they weren’t even sure they were sitting in the right seats yet when he heard the crack of the ball, saw the crowd around them rising as it came at them. Erick saw the ball. He had to stand and move and stretch his arms and want that ball until it hit his bare hands and stayed there. Everybody saw him catch it with no bobble. He felt all the eyes and voices around him as if they were every set of eyes and every voice in the stadium. … finally, it was just him and that ball and his stinging hands. He wasn’t even sure if it had been hit by Pete Guerrero. … He stared at his official National League ball, reimagining what had happened. He ate a hot dog and drank a soda and he sucked the salted peanuts and the wooden spoon from his chocolate-malt ice cream. He rubbed the bumpy seams of his home-run ball.”
…as if written by Sir Vin himself.
And in the game–Scott Van Slyke draws a walk.
Zac Curtis comes in from the Arizona bullpen.
Chase Utley steps up, chasing away his old-age decline. Adjusting his helmet. Rolling his eyes for clarity. Looking, as Joey Votto does, like an utter natural. Zoned in. Like he’s forsworn self-awareness, no longer processing thoughts, beyond nerves, not awake. No longer a man but a baseballer. A gamer. Dialed in. Glassy eyes. He sets up. The first pitch he sees, shot into the right-field stands. Gone. A Seager jersey and Kershaw jersey, two strangers, hug in the landing zone. Fans scream into the camera mics. The place goes nuts. A 7-7 tie.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 30, 2016
Scully goes silent on the broadcast, letting the crowd speak for itself. An prudent opening of the mic, as always when a game like this takes over. Corey Seager doubles, Grandal singles him in, and the Dodgers take back the lead. 8-7. The roar of the crowd crashes like a breaking wave.
Vin Scully calls it, and goes silent again—the crowd mics a living document of the night, a win in L.A., the last months before his finale. A silence, that says it all. The Dodgers, the stadium, the fans, the stepping-aside of their announcer—for the spotlight, he insists, is theirs. The silence on the mic has his touch. His voice. The kind silence he’ll leave when he retires. The silence he defers to, when the L.A. crowd has the floor. A quiet signature, floating in the baseball air.