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Here's the skinny on how to win by playing good Dee

Dodgers hope Gordon learns like he runs: fast

June 24, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Dodgers hope Dee Gordon learns as fast as he runs.
Dodgers hope Dee Gordon learns as fast as he runs. (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)

There should be an expression for what happened in Anaheim late Saturday afternoon, something to explain this streak of light piercing the shadows and blinding an unsuspecting baseball team into a confused heap.

Angels, you've just been Dee'd.

In a deeper organization, he might be on the bench. In another era, he'd probably be in the minor leagues. But on this day, the Dodgers' Dee Gordon showed another brilliant glimpse of why the tiny kid with the toy statistics is still hanging around.

"Whatever is happening here, I'm just riding it," Gordon said with a big grin Saturday after the Dodgers used his bat, cleats and glove to triple-up the Angels in a 3-1 victory that ended a four-game losing streak.

Angels, you've just been Dee'd.

Gordon scored in the first inning after poking a single to right, stealing second, then racing home after Albert Pujols fielded a grounder and foolishly tried to throw him out at third, bouncing the ball off Gordon and into foul territory.

Gordon scored again in the sixth inning after lining an opposite-field shot over Mark Trumbo's head in left field for a triple, then racing home on Jerry Hairston's grounder.

"That's what his speed does — it puts a lot of pressure on you," said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. "Dee kind of got us a couple of runs by himself."

Gordon then finished the job in the field by starting two nifty double plays at shortstop and making a lunging stop that saved a run.

"I have the most fun making those kinds of plays," said Gordon. "It's awesome to be able to help out the team like that."

Maybe, like any kid, he just likes to get dirty. When the 24-year-old Gordon walked into the Angel Stadium clubhouse early Saturday evening after the victory, his shirt and pants were still covered in streaks of brown basepath.

But then you soon realize, Devaris Gordon is not like any other kid. A pack of reporters was blocking his locker because they were interviewingA.J. Ellisin the adjacent stall, so Gordon could not reach his shower stuff. A crusty veteran would have shouted for everyone to get out of his way and barged through the pack. The ever-polite Gordon simply stood outside the circle and quietly undressed in the middle of the room.

"I'm just so happy to be here," he said later. "I know I've struggled, and I'm just grateful to have a chance."

With his gracious and humble air of daily accountability, he is easy to like. Because he is one of the team's hardest workers — he showed up more than five hours before Saturday's game to work on his bunting with Dodgers instructor Maury Wills — he is easy to cheer for.

But goodness, sometimes Gordon is hard to watch. Behind that constant smile lies three months' worth of grimace, not only from the kid, but from the team that had prematurely heaped so much on his slender shoulders.

He woke up Saturday hitless in his previous 17 at-bats, and having not scored a run in a week. His on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter was a minuscule .252. He had committed more errors — 13 — than any other regular major league shortstop.

He represented perhaps the most stunning aspect of the Dodgers' season — how are they in first place with a leadoff hitter who somehow can't seem to find first base and a shortstop who doesn't consistently make the routine plays?

"We got fooled a little bit by the second half he had last year — it's been more of a battle than I thought," Mattingly said frankly before Saturday's game. "I thought he would be more consistent than he's been."

Entering the spring, Gordon's .300-plus average and on-base percentage in the final months of 2011 were enough for the Dodgers to think they could build around him. Little did they know that they would suddenly be a first-place team that has risen in spite of him.

"A year ago, we're looking to build . . . now we're in first place, you're looking at it like, what are we doing here?" Mattingly said of Gordon's place on the roster. "Well, we're going to be in a pennant race and he's going to be getting it, that's just the way it is."

And, man, he's getting it, little rips from every corner from those who rightfully wonder how a high school basketball player with just 31/2 years of minor league experience can anchor a championship team. The harder he's tried, the worse it has become, until, on May 18, he was finally benched for a few days and moved out of the leadoff spot for a dozen games.

"I think it's more psychological and emotional," said Wills, a former Dodgers shortstop who has worked extensively with Gordon. "He's just a kid, and most kids his age would have fallen completely apart already."

But since what Gordon smilingly refers to as "my detention," he has started to come together. It doesn't always show in the box score, but his at-bats seem more thoughtful, his fielding more relaxed, and then here comes a day like Saturday, when the great Pujols is flustered and the calm Angels are ruffled and the kid steals one.

"This is a grown man's league, and I'm a grown man," he said. "You've got to take it, and I'm doing my best to take it."

And, for once, giving it.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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