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Dodgers' Jamey Wright would love to finally be a fall guy

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

The Dodgers reliever has played 17 major league seasons without experiencing the postseason. Now, at 37, he has perhaps his best chance as L.A. tries to grab the final wild-card berth.

September 18, 2012|By Steve Dilbeck, Los Angeles Times

Jamey Wright could count the years. He could count the games, all the nights spent away from family. Could count the wins and losses, even the thousands of pitches that have constituted his 17-year career.

Only what he's counting on now is what he's never had.

Jamey Wright hungers to pitch in the postseason.

"I play for the opportunity to get champagne sprayed in my eyes," Wright said. "I want it to burn. I want to feel it for a lifetime."

Seventeen seasons is a long time to play baseball. A long time to go without tasting the playoffs. To chase an unfulfilled dream.

Now, at age 37, Wright finds himself with perhaps his best opportunity to finally play in the postseason. The Dodgers remain one game back of the final National League wild-card berth with 15 games to go as they open a three-game series Tuesday in Washington.

It is one of the reasons he spoke up last week at a players-only meeting, urging teammates to dial up the intensity, to seize a moment guaranteed to no player.

"Like I told the guys in the meeting, I've had too many dreams about it. Too many dreams about pitching in the World Series and the playoffs for it not to happen," he said. "It's not just the superstars — [Matt] Kemp and [Andre] Ethier and [Josh] Beckett — us other guys have those dreams too, and I guarantee you I've had more than any of them."

Despite the Dodgers playing .500 baseball the past two months, Wright has done his part down the stretch to keep them in the playoff hunt. He's become a valuable piece of the bullpen, which is a long way from where he started the spring, coming into camp as a non-roster invitee.

"During spring training you could just see what a clubhouse presence he had," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "He brings teams together. Just a solid, veteran guy who's all about winning.

"And then when the season started you went, 'Well, not only is he valuable in the clubhouse, he's valuable on the field.'"

Earning his way onto a team in the spring wasn't exactly a new experience for Wright. This was the seventh consecutive year he went to a camp as a non-roster invitee, the seventh spring he had to battle new skeptics to find a spot on a major league roster.

As with most of his other 10 stops, he started as a long reliever and then moved up in the bullpen pecking order. With the Dodgers, he is 5-3 with a 3.48 ERA.

Now with injuries to Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra and Scott Elbert, Wright has been pitching later in games — and with remarkable success. In his last 11 games and 10 1/3 innings, he has not allowed a run and not walked a batter, while striking out six and allowing just six hits.

"He's kind of moved himself up," said Manager Don Mattingly "We always say guys are the ones who carve out their role. He's done everything we've asked. [Early in the season] he was in the game when we were way up or way down, and then slowly kept getting outs. We kept moving him deeper into the game and he's been great."

He's been at his best when the games meant the most, when there is a postseason to chase down.

Mattingly played 14 seasons for the Yankees without making it to the playoffs until his final season. That's a particularly lengthy and painful stretch for a player who was the centerpiece of the team.

Wright doesn't have to look far in the dugout to find empathetic eyes.

"I know what it would mean to him," Mattingly said. "You know there is really nothing you can do about it, other than play, but still you have to hear it.

"I'm sure it's something he thinks about. We keep playing for a reason. I mean, you love playing and obviously you enjoy the money, but there's something past that you play for."

The closest Wright came to the postseason was in 2002 when the Cardinals, with starters Matt Morris and Woody Williams, made a late trade to the Royals to pick up Wright.

He made three starts for the Cardinals — with a 2-0 record and 4.80 ERA — before Morris and Williams returned and he was sent to an already set bullpen. When the Cards announced their playoff roster, he was not included.

This past weekend, he found himself pitching against the Cardinals as the Dodgers tried to chase them down for the final wild card. After the Dodgers lost the opener, 2-1, Wright had a fitful night.

"My stomach was hurting. I couldn't sleep," he said. "I thought, 'That's the toughest loss of the entire season. The team right in front of us.' Then [Friday] we get the win and we're one game out of it and now I can't sleep because I'm so damn excited.

"It's an exciting time right now. Looking at it now just really makes me wish I'd had more opportunities in the last 16 years to pitch in these kinds of games in September."

sports@latimes.com

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