Sports Beat, 3-30-08

I was at the Coliseum last night for the historic Dodgers-Red Sox matchup that set a world record for attendance at a baseball game. When it was first reported that this game might happen, I originally wrote that it was "super cool!" Well, last night definitely didn't disappoint.

Whoever thought of this idea should be given a promotion and a raise. The Coliseum was energetic, excited, and everyone was having a great time. The tribute to Vin Scully before the game was phenomenal, and it was great to see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook a pitch. Yes, it was a very strange setup for a baseball game, but that was precisely the point. Baseball parks are famous for their quirks, and for a night, the Coliseum was the most fun place to be at in the baseball world.

There are rumors circulating through the baseball community that the Dodgers are considering playing an exhibition game at the Coliseum game every year as a fundraiser for ThinkCure, the charity that benefited from last night's game. If they do it again, then hopefully the Dodgers will learn from a few of the glitches that happened last night. For one, more than 35,000 people took a shuttle from Dodger Stadium to the Coliseum, far more than expected. Some waited as long as two hours to get from Chavez Ravine to Exposition Park, and the line going back up north was the most brutal I've ever seen. It looked far longer than the long lines I've stood in at Giants Stadium to get back to Manhattan, and this one stretched the full length of the Coliseum and well into Figueroa Boulevard. I used my USC parking pass, parked in a USC garage, and found far less trouble both entering and exiting than I've had at most Trojan football games.

Also, there was a bit of a problem with alcohol and security. One person in our group said that they didn't enforce the standard 2-beers per person rule, and he went and bought four. They also didn't appear to stop beer sales at some concessions in the 7th inning, which is also a baseball standard. Additionally, it seemed like there was less security at this game than for a typical USC football game. The result was that the last 2 innings of the game were absolutely nuts in the stands. So many fights broke out that I thought I was at a Raiders game, circa 1994. And then, hilariously in the 8th inning, the video board showed someone stealing one of the blue and white flags that were lined around the top of the stadium. The man simply pulled the rope and took it down. The board showed this image and had the words "Put the flag back please!" At that moment, we looked around, and realized that most of the flags at the top of the Coliseum, which we saw before the game, were gone. At least 30 flags must have been stolen that night. And then a half-inning later, the videoboard showed another man stealing one of the few remaining flags and the text on screen read "I said, put the flag back!"

As for the game, the Dodgers tried to play without a leftfielder due to the shallow left field wall. They moved Andre Eithier to center, had Andruw Jones play a rover position near second base, and usually had shortstop Rafael Furcal play a bit back. Joe Torre continued this defensive alignment into the later innings with Delwyn Young taking on the rover spot. It was a nice idea, and one that immediately came to mind we saw just how short the fence in left field really was. But it didn't appear to be effective. The ball still managed to get through the infield a few times, and there were a handful of occasions where the ball got stuck in a no-man's land of sorts by the 60-foot screen. If the Dodgers play here again, they may want to go with the alignment Terry Francona used for the Red Sox and employ a traditional infield while covering right, right-center, and left-center. Still, the Dodgers lost the game in part because Kevin Cash and Kevin Youkilis hit two of the cheapest home runs you'll ever see over the left field screen. James Loney also got a solo shot above the screen, and props to Blake DeWitt for hitting a legitimate bomb in the 9th inning.

One other note: Did the Dodgers really need to play Sweet Caroline in the 8th inning? This isn't Fenway Park, yet Boston fans were cheering and singing along gleefully. Dodger fans sitting near us booed.

Overall, it was a special night for baseball, and this game certainly ranks as one of the highlights of Frank McCourt's time as owner of the team.

--The next question for the Dodgers revolves around their left field situation. Juan Pierre is beginning to sound resigned to being the odd-man out. While he's upset about what might happen to him in the 2nd year of a 5-year deal, the reality is that Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are two terrific young players who have earned the right to be in the lineup every day. Pierre continues to be a defensive liability and his on-base skills just aren't what they should be for a man whose game relies on speed.

With Opening Day coming up tomorrow, this season promises to be a very exciting one. The NL West is the most competitive division in baseball, and it might be the game's best. Only the Giants appear to have no shot, and any one of the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, or Padres could win be in the World Series. I'm going to make the bold prediction on this site right here and say that the Dodgers will win the NL. I think prognosticators are underestimating the skill of their talented young players like Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, and Jonathan Broxton. These are the Dodger stars for the next generation and they've all gotten some significant MLB experience by now. I expect Rafael Furcal to have a much improved season and Andruw Jones should bring a nice power boost to the table. Brad Penny and Derek Lowe have both proven themselves to be reliable and consistent starters, most scouts I've heard from like the addition of Hiroki Kuroda, and the bullpen is pretty solid. We don't know what will happen at third base, where Blake DeWitt is the leading candidate to start on Monday, but Jeff Kent is back in the lineup at second base which will also help.

I see the Dodgers winning the West, the Brewers winning the Central, the Mets taking the East, and then the Diamondbacks edging out the Rockies and Padres for the Wild Card. In the American League, I see the Mariners edging past the Angels in the West, the Indians winning the Central, the Red Sox repeating in the East, and the Tigers blowing past the Yankees for the Wild Card. In the end, I think the Indians will win that one extra game they missed out on last year, taking the American League and then beating the Dodgers in the World Series. I've been wrong before, but that's how I see MLB shaping up in 2008.

--Congratulations to Ben Howland and UCLA for reaching the Final Four for the third year in a row. In this day and age in college basketball, where players are often one-and-done, where parity in the game is as great as its been, and where the Pac-10 is as strong as its been in years, it's hard to imagine any team making the Final Four in three consecutive seasons. The Bruins certainly had an easier road this year than in the past, but they did everything necessary to get to San Antonio.

Next up for UCLA is Memphis, whom Bruins fans remember from their tight Elite 8 contest in 2006. I'd argue that both teams are better in 2008. Memphis is the most exciting team to watch in college basketball, utilizing Derrick Rose and the Dribble-Drive Motion to race past opponents. If one team can slow down the Tigers though, it's UCLA, whose stifling defensive play should make things very tough on the Tigers. Memphis is also one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, and that will hurt them in a slugfest. I see UCLA winning another tight contest against John Calipari's crew and then playing an epic title game against North Carolina.

--The Lakers are hurting. After beating Dallas and Utah on the road, it looked like they'd be able to handle life without Pau Gasol. But home losses to Charlotte and Memphis have changed that view. Now we learn that Derek Fisher is playing with a partially torn tendon in his foot, and we're wondering just how the Lakers will defend the pick-and-roll. Still, good news might be on the horizon. Gasol won't be playing tonight against Washington, but he should come back for Wednesday's game against Portland. Andrew Bynum is also nearing a return.

--Once again, you can hear me on the radio this Tuesday from noon to 1 PM on KSCR 1560 AM and

March 30, 2008 12:55 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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