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April 18, 2004
The Season's Still Young, But ...

We're just two weeks into the 2004 season, but the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to be firing on all cylinders -- an unusual occurrence for a team known for starting slow. Pitching, defense, and even timely hitting have come together, the latter of which has always been an issue despite having one of the league's highest payrolls:

The Dodgers have won four in a row after an 8-3 loss at San Diego on Tuesday, good for a 4-1 start on a nine-game, 10-day trip against the National League West. They're feeling good at 8-3, and even Bonds' towering solo homer on a 95-mph fastball from reliever Darren Dreifort in the eighth couldn't dampen their mood.

"It's just momentum," Bradley said. "Momentum can switch at any time, but we've got it right now."

Most fascinating is the performance over the past two seasons of closer Eric Gagne, a failed starter at the major-league level for the two seasons prior to that. Gagne now has a record string of 66 consecutive saves going back to 2002. Last night he notched his third save in as many days, although he had to struggle to get it:

Gagne struggled with his command in his third appearance in as many days, a day after Bonds smashed a two-run homer against him on a 100-mph fastball in the Dodgers' 3-2 series-opening victory.

Pedro Feliz led off the ninth and connected for an opposite-field homer, a rarity for a right-handed batter at SBC Park, and the crowd stood and cheered as the Giants had runners on first and second on a walk, a sacrifice bunt and another walk.

But Gagne showed the mettle that helped him win last season's National League Cy Young Award, recording his fourth save when shortstop Cesar Izturis fielded Grissom's slow bouncer up the middle, stepped on second and threw to first to end the game and give the Dodgers victories in the first two games of a three-game series.

The Dodgers have won each series they've played so far this year, including two against the San Diego Padres, whose general manager (Kevin Tower) claimed that the Blue's struggles with mediocrity revealed a character flaw in the team. By the time the season is over, Tower will probably regret that remark more than any other he's made so far this year. It's early yet, but the Dodgers are winning on the road and at home and with complete efforts from all phases of their game. Hope springs eternal in the Dodger fan's breast -- perhaps this may be the year that we win a playoff game ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 18, 2004 9:40 AM

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