Los Angeles Dodgers fans almost expected Yasiel Puig to come through last night – a feeling they haven’t had since his rookie season. In years past, Puig might have chased a bad slider out of the zone, or tried to homer and roll over on a weak grounder.
This year, things are different. This year — last night — Puig battled to a 3-2 count, took a quick chomp of a foul ball, and laced a walk-off, two-run double to left field. He threw his arms up in celebration as soon as the ball left his bat, knowing that Austin Barnes was going to score the winning run from first. He knew he had become the latest Dodger hero in a season full of them.
As though being 51 games over .500 (85-34) wasn’t enough. As though running away with the best record in baseball wasn’t enough. As though an MLB-leading 16th series sweep Wednesday night wasn’t enough. The Dodgers, who have the best home record (51-14) in baseball, will almost surely have the added benefit of home field advantage throughout the postseason — including, if they get there, the World Series.
It almost feels unfair in a year that has been so improbable already, that the Dodgers will get to play in front of a raucous home crowd for the majority of their postseason games. Or maybe it’s just the Baseball Gods finally smiling down upon Chavez Ravine, after 28 years of pain, misery, and seventh innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Either way, the Dodgers have been unstoppable in 2017, especially at Dodger Stadium. The multi-colored levels of seats around the field hold tens of thousands of fans every night who pile into the park to see the best baseball team in Los Angeles history. Joe Davis, in his first season stepping into the immortal Vin Scully’s shoes, belts memorable line after memorable line from the play-by-play booth.
He has been given no shortage of material — the Dodgers have now won 37 games when trailing, and have walked off 10 times. Both stats lead the majors. A testament to the team’s depth, as well as its will to win, is that Puig became the 11th different Dodger to get a tying or go-ahead RBI in the ninth inning or later this season.
That means that in 65 home games, Dodgers fans have gone home happy 78 percent of the time. In those 51 wins, almost 20 percent have been of the walk-off variety. And it’s been the unsung (Kyle Farmer, Barnes, etc.), as well as the stars (Justin Turner, Puig, etc.) doing the walking off.
There is something special about this 2017 Dodger squad, and the home fans know it. Dodger Stadium has been a national treasure for years, but this may be its best season yet. Considering the way the Dodgers play inside it, and the 1-2 punch they’re expected to have in any playoff series, and the lockdown closer at the end, and the plethora of players who can win a game with one swing, and, oh, that they’re the best team in baseball… should terrify anyone who comes into Los Angeles to try their hand at winning in October.
You never know what will happen with baseball. If we have learned anything from past postseasons, it’s that they are crapshoots and the best team rarely wins. But the best team also rarely has this much magic on their home field. Unlike the last several years, the Dodgers will control their own destiny, on their own field, in front of their own fans.
That home-field advantage will give the Dodgers their best shot at a World Series title that has eluded them for the past 28 years.