This is my town?
Not on Saturday, it wasn't.
Not with huge chunks of empty Dodger Stadium seats. Not with huge holes in an emptying Dodgers lineup. And not with huge runs piled atop a noodle-armed Dodgers knuckleballer.
The Dodgers theme of "This is my town" works well when the team and the stadium actually feel like a vibrant, hopeful Los Angeles. On a disillusioning Saturday afternoon against the San Francisco Giants, it was neither.
In a game that symbolized the season's first two weeks, the Dodgers looked like a team on a shrinking budget, played like a team with shrinking expectations, and eventually disappeared under huge pitching.
The final score was 9-0. The final image was of rag-doll Tim Lincecum twirling tan bats into those new giant stadium pretzels. The final verdict was that the Dodgers were beaten before they even started.
They showed up to a stadium that contained little of the usual Giants-Dodgers fever. Even with a reported attendance of 44,734, I've never seen so many empty seats for this rivalry. The number of people in Bleacher Beach could have gathered around a fire pit. The folks in Mannywood would have occupied one cul-de-sac.
The Dodgers also showed up with a lineup that contained four subs from a thin bench, but, no, I don't blame Manager Joe Torre for resting some veterans the day after a night game, particularly those who have struggled against Lincecum.
"I've got to do what's best for us over the long haul," Torre said.
But while Manny Ramirez, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Russell Martin rested, reserves Jamey Carroll, Ronnie Belliard, A.J. Ellis and Garret Anderson, who make less than $4 million combined, combined for two errors and a passed ball, leading to three runs.
Finally, the Dodgers showed up with their oddball fifth starter, knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, who is paid $411,000 and can give up some big-money knocks. This time, battered for seven quick hits, he lasted only three-plus innings that were so brutal, fans roared when he departed.
"I know we are better than that," Torre said.
Are they? Eleven games into a 5-6 Dodgers season, it seems as if they are no longer better than every other team in the National League West. While most of the rest of the teams in the division may not have passed them, they've certainly caught up with them.
If Colorado can close games, it can win. If Arizona can get more starting pitching, it can win. If the Giants hit, they'll win. If only the Dodgers were the Dodgers of the last two seasons, they would win.
But, again, are they? They desperately need the return of Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario to the bullpen, which should happen within the next couple of weeks. But they also desperately need more power off the bench and another starting pitcher, neither of which could be happening any time soon.
As much as Torre has kept the possible effects of the McCourt divorce away from the field, this weekend marks the first time in several years that they are playing an NL West team that is spending more money than them. Baseball history shows that an 11th-ranked payroll is rarely a championship payroll, and Saturday showed the trickle-down effects of this sort of depressed Dodgers economy.
Meanwhile, the Giants spent the day celebrating the two things that the Dodgers don't have -- a top-10 payroll and a genuine ace.
Don't you love watching Lincecum pitch? Looks like one of those Fantasia magic mops, flying hair, stick body, hypnotic effect. He gave up four hits in six scoreless innings, fooling the Dodgers on 80-mph changeups and 90-mph fastballs and ball movements and leg lifts and all sorts of unexplainable stuff. Oh yeah, and a kid who never batted at the University of Washington was three for four with three runs batted in, including a perfectly stunning run-scoring bunt single.
"All in all, a pretty good day," the two-time Cy Young Award winner said with a grin.
Afterward, sitting in front of his locker with long black hair framing his pale thin face, Lincecum looks like a teenage goth. His arms are two churros. His smile is that of a child. He seemed happiest when talking about when he messed up, failing to run from second base in the fifth inning when he didn't see Anderson drop a fly ball, nearly causing a triple play.
"Out, safe, whatever,"' Lincecum said, laughing.
"We just didn't do the job today," Torre said. "I didn't know what. . . was going on."
He wasn't the only one. As shadows slowly overtook Saturday's brightness, the scattered Dodgers fans who bothered to stay for the end of the game filed quietly away, seemingly too weary or worried to bother chanting at their victorious rivals.
This is my town? It was, if that town is Kansas City.