Dodgers’ stress call is an­swered by Rollins

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

The pregame fly­over was so late, some fans might have thought it was a cou­ple of South­west Air­lines jets rac­ing to Bur­bank.

There was no tra­di­tional open­ing-day bunting hang­ing on the main sec­tions of Dodger Sta­dium be­cause the Dodgers didn’t want to drape cloth over their elec­tronic ad­ver­tise­ments.

Clay­ton Ker­shaw was scuf­fling. Matt Kemp was rak­ing. The 70% of Los An­ge­les house­holds that couldn’t watch the game on tele­vi­sion were stew­ing.

The shad­ows were creep­ing, the crowd was mur­mur­ing, and the Dodgers’ 2015 opener was tee­ter­ing on the verge of a night­mare Mon­day with one out and the score tied in the eighth in­ning against the San Diego Padres.

Eight pitches later, they were rockin’ and Rollins.

“You plan for those sit­u­a­tions from the time you were a kid,” Jimmy Rollins said. “This just hap­pened to come true.”

It was truly re­source­ful, then truly re­sound­ing, this hang­ing pitch that the Dodgers’ new 36-year-old short­stop drove into the right-field-cor­ner seats for a three-run home run that gave the Dodgers a 6-3 victory.

In bring­ing 53,000 fans to their feet while turn­ing a cool spring day into a rol­lick­ing Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon, Rollins in­tro­duced him­self to Chavez Ravine by col­lect­ing not one, but two im­por­tant statis­tics. Rollins has one home run, and one save. The home run earned him the sea­son’s first cur­tain call, roar­ing fans re­fus­ing to sit un­til Rollins stuck his head out of the dugout and waved. The save earned him the re­lieved grat­i­tude of an en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion that des­per­ately needed to sur­vive this day.

This was the first chance for Los An­ge­les — well, at least some of Los An­ge­les — to wit­ness the Dodgers’ mas­sive off-sea­son makeover by new base­ball boss An­drew Fried­man. And at first, it was a bit of a mess.

Af­ter the fly­over flub, revered Dodgers Fer­nando Valen­zuela and Don New­combe were joined on the mound for a first-pitch cer­e­mony by for­mer Dodgers re­liever Eric Gagne, who jogged in from the bullpen to strains of “Wel­come to the Jun­gle.” Some fans thought it was cool, but oth­ers won­dered why the Dodgers would honor some­one who ac­knowl­edged us­ing steroids.

Then the game started, and fans gave a de­served stand­ing ova­tion to Kemp, the star who was part of Fried­man’s most con­tro­ver­sial trade. Kemp re­sponded by driv­ing in three runs with a cou­ple of hits in the first five innings. Mean­while, for Bos­ton, Han­ley Ramirez was hit­ting two home runs — a solo shot and a grand slam — and, for Miami, Dee Gor­don was driv­ing in a run.

Ker­shaw gave up three runs in six innings. Yasiel Puig couldn’t get the ball out of the in­field. Juan Uribe didn’t charge a grounder that led to a run.

Yeah, messy. Then, at the start of the eighth in­ning, rookie Joc Ped­er­son drew a four-pitch walk from Shawn Kel­ley, and An­dre Ethier sprinted to first safely af­ter an er­ror by Kel­ley. Up stepped Rollins.

And, at the end of a tough at-bat that in­cluded an 0-and-2 count and two lung­ing foul balls, it was all beau­ti­ful. The shot soared to­ward the Padres bullpen and curled gen­tly into the cor­ner seats as Rollins clapped and calmly jogged around the bases like he had done this be­fore.

Which he had. He has home­red four times in sea­son open­ers, in­clud­ing once in the 2008 opener that marked the start of the Philadel­phia Phillies’ World Se­ries-win­ning year. Rollins has also hit in 11 con­sec­u­tive sea­son open­ers, the long­est ac­tive streak.

“It’s not the first home run I’ve hit; not the first one to win a game ei­ther,” Rollins said with a grin. “Hope­fully, it’s some­thing we can get used to.”

Dodgers fans re­mem­ber one other Rollins hit, the two-run dou­ble in the ninth in­ning that es­sen­tially ru­ined their post­sea­son in the 2009 play­offs. Don Mat­tingly had flash­backs while watch­ing Rollins battle.

“It was one of those at-bats,” Mat­tingly said. “As he’s up there, I’m think­ing of the dou­ble in the cor­ner against [for­mer Dodgers closer Jonathan] Brox­ton in Philly. It was good to see him on our side to­day.”

It was also one of those at-bats that gives team­mates “chills,” or so said new sec­ond base­man Howie Ken­drick, who added to Fried­man’s Ex­cel­lent Adventure with a dou­ble, a triple and a run driven in.

“He got that one pitch in the honey hole, and he didn’t miss,” Ken­drick said.

It was an at-bat that brought Rollins away from his locker to speak to the me­dia horde, mak­ing him pos­si­bly the first Dodger to con­duct his postgame in­ter­view while stand­ing on a ta­ble.

“Yes, I know I’m short, Adrian, I know,” he shouted across the room to a star­ing Adrian Gon­za­lez.

Oh, but Rollins was huge Mon­day, big enough even to earn for­give­ness for a most un­usual postgame cel­e­bra­tion. Af­ter an­other Fried­man ac­qui­si­tion named Chris Hatcher recorded the save, Rollins and Ken­drick met above sec­ond base and re­al­ized they had no idea how they were go­ing to stylishly shake hands in the man­ner of to­day’s vic­to­ri­ous ballplay­ers. So they sort of slapped each other’s palms in var­i­ous gy­ra­tions be­fore shrug­ging and head­ing to the in­field.

“We didn’t re­hearse it ear­lier, it’s one of those things we have to work out on the first day,” Ken­drick said. “But I’m telling you, we got it fig­ured out now, we’ll be good to go for our next win.”

About the only thing Rollins’ home run couldn’t over­come is that most Dodgers fans could not see it, as the team’s self-im­posed tele­vi­sion black­out con­tin­ues into a sec­ond full sea­son, with few an­swers of­fered dur­ing a pregame in­ter­view with Dodgers Chair­man Mark Wal­ter.

“We are work­ing hard be­hind the scenes, we re­ally are,” Wal­ter said. “Se­ri­ously, we care a ton that the fans can’t all watch it.”

Asked whether he feels he should apol­o­gize to Dodgers fans, Wal­ter said, “It’s sad. I want us to be on TV. We feel bad for the fans and we’re try­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can.”

Asked about a timetable, Wal­ter said he be­lieves that Sport­sNet LA will have wide­spread avail­abil­ity af­ter the ap­proval of merg­ers be­tween Com­cast and Time Warner Ca­ble and AT&T and DirecTV. Op­ti­mists hope those ap­provals will be given some­time this sum­mer.

“I think so, yes,” Wal­ter said. “We can get some stuff done be­fore that, but … I think the merg­ers have more to do with it than any­thing else.”

It’s a shame that Guggen­heim couldn’t have merged com­mon sense with com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity to end this de­ba­cle two years ago be­fore it started.

The Dodgers’ off-sea­son makeover re­sulted in an open­ing-day win Mon­day, but be­cause so few peo­ple saw it, their new own­er­ship le­gacy is still a loss.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

JIMMY ROLLINS (11) is greeted by Dodgers team­mates, in­clud­ing Joc Ped­er­son, af­ter hit­ting a three-run home run in the eighth in­ning against San Diego.

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