LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – It was nearly midnight on Wednesday when Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent a pitch from Pedro Feliciano into left field for a double, producing a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the New York Mets in what has become a season of heroics for the Major League Baseball team.
Gonzalez’s shot extended the Dodgers winning streak to eight games, and erased a 4-0 deficit, the team’s second come-from-behind win in six days. On Friday, the Dodgers scored four times in the ninth inning to beat Tampa Bay 7-6.
“The magic has happened again,” the Dodgers’ fabled 85-year old announcer Vin Scully excitedly proclaimed to his listeners as the Dodgers stormed back on Wednesday night.
The victory over the Mets gave the Dodgers a 40-8 record since June 22, the best 48-game performance since the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals went 41-7, according to information provided by the Dodgers from the Elias Sports Bureau.
When the streak started, Los Angeles was 30-42 and 9.5 games behind the leaders in the NL West. Today, the team boasts a 70-50 record and sits 7.5 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the division.
It is also a dramatic return for the team to Los Angeles’ good graces, after the club fell into bankruptcy in 2011 as owner Frank McCourt and his wife battled in divorce court.
The team’s image was further besmirched on opening day, when a San Francisco fan was beaten by two Dodgers fans and suffered brain damage.
The comeback began when investment banking firm Guggenheim Partners acquired the team last spring for $2.15 billion with a group that included basketball great Magic Johnson. The new owners spent heavily to sign free agents and trade for players like Gonzales.
The Dodgers’ amazing turnaround has excited the usually laid back Los Angeles fans, who in the past would arrive late and leave early. On Wednesday following Gonzales’ winning hit, the crowd would not leave.
“It was unbelievable in terms of the energy, in terms of the excitement, in terms of the crowd — everyone was giving high-fives to each other,” said 66-year-old Gideon Wolf, a Dodgers fan since 1975, who was attending his second game in four days.
PUIG, RAMIREZ LEAD OFFENSE
The team’s resurgence began not long after the addition of Yasiel Puig, a muscular Cuban refugee who the Dodgers signed not long after he stepped off a boat after his defection from the island nation.
Since he was called up from the minor leagues on June 2, the 22-year old, blessed with a sprinter’s speed and a home run swing, has destroyed opposing pitching, with 11 HRs, 27 RBI and a .368 batting average in only 63 games.
At about the same time, other Dodgers seemed to wake from their early season batting slumber. Gonzalez, acquired last year from the Boston Red Sox, began driving in runs.
Former National League batting champion Hanley Ramirez, traded to the Dodgers last year after struggling for the Miami Marlins, began spraying the field with base hits. He is batting a robust .360, with 11 HRs and 37 RBI.
“Puig really elevated the team, and now they have attitude,” said Jeff Fellenzer, a professor of sports business and the media at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.
“They feed off his energy and approach every game like they’re going to find a way to win.”
The Dodgers already had Clayton Kershaw, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner as the National League’s best pitcher, and spent heavily to add South Korean star pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin and free agent Zack Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young winner.
As the streak has grown, unlikely heroes have stepped up to help them win. Second baseman Mark Ellis, a 36-year-old known mostly for his defense, has been hammering the ball, hitting .313 since July and driving in 19 runs in 33 games.
“It’s not one or two guys, it’s been the whole team who all get at-bats,” Ellis said. “Pitchers have been incredible. Bullpen’s been amazing. It’s been fun.”
The Dodgers rise from the depths of the standings ironically evokes memories of 1951, when the Dodgers were caught at the end of the season by the 1951 “Miracle” New York Giants, who put together a 39-8 run to erase the then Brooklyn Dodgers’ 13-game lead.
Giants outfielder and third baseman Bobby Thomson concluded the Dodgers’ collapse with his iconic “shot heard ‘round the world,” a three-run homer that pushed New York past Brooklyn.
“I didn’t know (about passing the ’51 Giants),” second baseman Mark Ellis laughed. “I know we’re playing good baseball.”