Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is swarmed by teammates Juan Uribe… (Paul Buck / EPA )
This is real.
To those sitting in Dodger Stadium late Wednesday night as another comeback victory filled the joint with a dizzying chill, the conclusion was inescapable.
For those who kicked over their long-empty plastic cups and nacho trays when leaping into the air with Andre Ethier's game-tying, pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning, there can be no other explanation.
For those who slapped their fists together in imitation of Yasiel Puig's booming celebration on second base after he stole a double to set up the winning run in the 12th inning, what else could they think?
This is real. The Dodgers are real. Their current 48-game stretch — they’ve won 40, hello, you kidding me? — has sometimes felt like magic and occasionally appeared to be luck, but it’s been neither.
You don't win nine out of 11 games against three probable playoff teams during that span by chance. You don't win four of your last eight games when trailing entering the ninth inning with mirrors. You don't win 17 of your last 18 road games — this so surreal as to be unbelievable — on bloops and breaks.
This is as real as the red stains that covered the pants of Adrian Gonzalez late Wednesday after teammates doused him with sports drink after he delivered the winning hit in the 12th inning in the Dodgers' 5-4 win over the New York Mets. Fittingly, it was two buckets' worth. This team has taken every reasonable explanation and doubled it.
"All this stuff doesn't happen by accident," Skip Schumaker was saying earlier this week. "It just doesn't."
Everyone knew they have the richest payroll in baseball history. But who would have thought that guys like Schumaker would help turn this into baseball's richest experience?
This is as real as a rocket launched from a flying Puig from right field to gun down the Mets' Marlon Byrd at third base in the second inning Wednesday. The throw looked like a 150-foot fastball. Fans literally gasped. That's who he is.
This is as real as the two-strike desperation foul ball that Mark Ellis used to save himself with bases loaded in the sixth inning. Moments later he beat out a double-play grounder to score the Dodgers' first run. Like Schumaker and Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston, Ellis owns the little things. That's who they are.
This is as real as a bullpen where a majority of the pitchers — Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and J.P. Howell — are holding batters to below .200 averages not only during the streak, but for the season. It has been trumpeted that Jansen retired 27 consecutive batters during the streak, but equally impressive is that for the season, of the 231 batters he's faced, he's issued just 10 walks. Steady for long stretches, that's who these guys are.
This is as real as a starting rotation in which Clayton Kershaw might be the best pitcher in baseball, but his sidekicks Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke are a combined 22-6. Ryu was supposed to be tiring in late summer in his first major league season, but he's unbeatable since the All-Star break, going 5-0 with just four walks to 126 batters. Greinke has been nearly unbeatable in Dodger Stadium, going 6-1 with a 2.32 ERA. A three-man rotation that should scare the bejabbers out of any postseason opponent, that's who they are.
Will all of this translate into October victories? Folks, many of these feel like October victories. Of course, when summer gazing narrows into an autumn microscope, there will be questions.
How will Don Mattingly strategically work his biggest games as a manager? How will Matt Kemp fit into a lineup that no longer relies on his pop? Will Ryu really stay strong as he enters uncharted waters? Will Puig's recklessness backfire in the late inning of a big game … or later, after the game, outside the stadium, when the challenges for a rich 22-year-old are even greater?
But, for now, this is as real as the chatter from fans who are saying they've never had this much fun at a Dodgers game and fans saying they can't remember when this team was so exhilarating. As real as a star pitcher from the Dodgers' last title team texting this columnist with a screen full of exclamation points.
"Wow!" texted Tim Leary, a 1988 hero, shortly before midnight Wednesday. "Puig pulled off a Gibby! Hauling butt to second base!"
Perhaps the best indication of how the fans view this team is through the identity of the celebrity who received the most cheers Wednesday night. This guy received more love than Kanye West or George Lopez combined.
It was Robert Horry. He was squeezed into a seat several rows behind home plate, and at the sight of him, a deep roar swelled from thousands who seemingly understand that his past has become their present.
These Dodgers are playing like those Lakers. These Dodgers are playing like last-second shots to beat Sacramento and big rebounds to win championships. We've seen this for many years over at Staples Center, and now it feels like we're finally seeing it at Chavez Ravine.
This is real.