Turner’s homer was amazing — but not as amazing as Gibson’s

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Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was similar …
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… to Justin Turner’s homer in Game 2 of the NLCS, but it was mostly quite different.

Make no mistake: Justin Turner’s game-winning home run Sunday night in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Chicago Cubs was an amazing moment if you are a Dodgers fan.

Even more amazing was how Turner’s blast was hit exactly 29 years to the day after Kirk Gibson hit his famous game-winning homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers against the Oakland Athletics. In fact, it was only 40 minutes from being the exact moment.

Turner even added to how similar the two moments were after the game when he revealed what he was doing on Oct. 15, 1988.

“One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma’s house and watching that game and watching Gibby hit that homer,” said Turner, who was about a month shy of his fourth birthday then. “Yeah, I can’t even put it into words right now. It’s incredible. The most important thing was, obviously, helping us get another win. But that’s something down the road, hopefully many, many years from now I’ll get to tell stories about.”

But as astounding as Turner’s home run was for the Dodgers on Sunday night, it was not as amazing as Gibson’s. Hey, mister. I was in the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium for Gibson’s homer. I saw Gibson’s homer. And this, mister, was not as good as Gibson’s homer.

(That was my best Lloyd Bentsen impersonation, by the way. And you, you apparently were doing your best Dan Quayle impersonation.)

Let me point out at least some of the ways that Gibson’s homer was a much better moment than Turner’s homer.

  • First of all, Gibson’s homer was in the World Series and Turner’s was in the NLCS. If the Dodgers manage to lose their 2-0 lead to the Cubs, Turner’s homer will scarcely even be remembered.
  • Second, and this may be the biggest difference: The Dodgers were an enormous underdog to the Athletics in 1988. In fact, no one even expected the Dodgers to make it out of the NLCS. It was almost as much of a miracle that they beat the New York Mets to get to the World Series. The 2017 Dodgers had the best record in baseball and even though they had trouble in August and September, it’s not a big surprise that they are in the position they’re in.
  • Next, Gibson’s home run, even though it was only in Game 1, has long been regarded as the thing that defeated the A’s. Oakland did manage to win Game 3, 2-1, on a walkoff homer of their own by Mark McGwire, but virtually nothing else is remembered. Not Orel Hershiser’s two complete-game victories, giving up two earned runs in 18 innings. Not Mickey Hatcher’s two homers and his .368 batting average. Virtually nothing.
  • Turner’s home run came with the score tied 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. If Turner doesn’t win the game there, it merely goes into extra innings. Gibson’s homer came with the Dodgers losing 4-3 1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. If he makes an out, the game is over and the A’s win the opener on the Dodgers’ home turf.
  • Gibson’s at-bat in 1988 was his only appearance of the World Series. His knees were so torn up, it was amazing he was even able to hobble up the dugout steps and onto the field for Game 1 of the Series. Turner is batting .429 (a team-leading nine hits in 21 at-bats) in the playoffs two home runs and 10 RBIs. Gibson wouldn’t play again in ’88; Turner figures to be a big part of whatever the Dodgers do this postseason.
  • The drama on Gibson’s home run was ratcheted up as far as it could go: a 3-2 count with Mike Davis on second base and two outs. Davis stole second during Gibson’s at-bat to get into scoring position. Turner’s came on a 1-0 count with two outs and runners on first and second. Yasiel Puig had led off with a walk and Chris Taylor later got on base with a walk two batters later. If Turner even just hits a single, Puig has a good chance to score and win the game for the Dodgers. If Gibson singles, Davis has a good chance to score and tie the game for the Dodgers. However, if Gibson had hit a ball to right field, he might’ve been thrown out at first because of his bad knees.
  • Turner’s homer was caught, rather spectacularly, in fact. Keith Hupp, a 54-year-old retired South Gate policeman, is suddenly a celebrity after nabbing Turner’s shot. However, if anyone was going to catch JT’s ball, Hupp might have had the best statistical chance. Hupp, according to an ESPN.com story, has caught 10 home runs this season alone and 18 over the past two. He caught Cody Bellinger’s 35th and 36th home runs, which gave him the Dodgers’ all-time rookie record. Sunday’s homer wasn’t even the first Turner NLCS shot against the Cubs Hupp had nabbed; he got one last year too. He said he studies the ESPN Home Run Tracker before every game he attends. The fate of Gibson’s home run, meanwhile, remains unknown after 29 years.

So Turner’s home run, while plenty dramatic, was the most dramatic. It may be the straw that breaks the Cubs’ back, like Gibson’s broke the Athletics’ — or it may just be one part of a long story that could still end in victory or in defeat for the Dodgers.

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Dodgers’ ratings up 28% on SportsNet LA

Imagine you own a baseball team and that you have the best record in the majors. Your home attendance was well over 3 million and, on top of that, your local TV ratings went up 26% over last season.

What could be better, right?

Logo_for_Spectrum_SportsNet_LAYou’ve probably figured that I’m talking about the Los Angeles Dodgers and it’s true: According to SportsBusiness Journal, the Dodgers’ ratings on SportsNet LA were up 26% from 2016. However, the team ranks only 25th out of the 29 U.S. Major League Baseball teams in average ratings. SNLA’s Dodgers ratings averaged only a 1.55 for the year, despite being in the nation’s No. 2 market with MLB’s No. 1 team.

Of course, most Dodgers fans know that SportsNet LA, which is owned by Charter Communications, is available only on Charter TV to about a third of the L.A. market. So even though the ratings were up considerably, it was still limited audience potential.

The Dodgers still managed to have a better average rating than the Angels, who had only a 0.94 rating on Fox Sports West. The Angels saw their rating go down 8% from last season. It’s pretty incredible to see that the Dodgers, limited as their TV audience is, still had a rating 65% higher than the Angels.

It’s important to note the Dodgers’ 1.55 rating was their highest since 2012, two years before SportsNet LA launched, when the team was televised by Fox’s Prime Ticket.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians led MLB in regional ratings with an 8.33 average. That was up 28% from last season. Rounding out the top five were the Kansas City Royals (8.00), the St. Louis Cardinals (7.18), the Boston Red Sox (5.49) and the Baltimore Orioles (5.18).

Nationally, baseball ratings were up slightly. ESPN ratings were up 6%, with Sunday Night Baseball up 8% to an average of 1.7 million viewers. Fox was down 2% to 2.1 million viewers. Fox Sports 1 was flat at 448,000.

OVER AND OUT

The U.S. men’s soccer team’s 2-1 loss Tuesday to Trinidad and Tobago not only keeps the United States out of the 2018 World Cup, it also severely hampers Fox’s ability to draw big ratings from the tournament.

I’ve seen at least two quotes from people this week saying “there is no way to overstate” what a crushing defeat Tuesday’s game was both for U.S. soccer and for Fox. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but whatever.

It’s not likely the United States would have lasted very long in the World Cup group stage anyway, not with the team that had so much trouble even in qualifying. But Fox now has the task of making the event from Russia attractive to U.S. fans who don’t have a team to pull for.

Some have said the network could spend more time on Mexico. SI.com quoted Fox Sports president Eric Shanks saying last month that Fox had already planned to market Mexico as its second team behind the U.S. There is also likely to more coverage of international stars, such as Argentina’s Leo Messi, Brazil’s Neymar and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

The soccer surge in U.S. popularity — though seen by some as glacial — will still bring viewers to the World Cup, no matter who’s in or who’s out.

HILL BENCHED

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Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks by ESPN. (ESPN photo)

ESPN has suspended Jemele Hill for another political Twitter post. In response to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones saying any of his players who knelt during the national anthem would be benched, Hill suggested Cowboys fans boycott the team’s sponsors.

The network said Hill would be suspended for two weeks. She had previously tweeted that President Donald Trump was a “white supremacist,” and later apologized.

ESPN’s public editor, Jim Brady, who criticized Hill’s tweets about Trump, said “when it comes to this latest action by ESPN, I am a bit perplexed.

“Don’t get me wrong, I understand exactly what it is that upset ESPN about Hill’s actions: One of its highest-profile personalities suggested an advertiser boycott that would impact an important network partner, and she did so on Twitter, the same platform she used to call out Trump. And, make no mistake: Many of the NFL’s advertisers are also ESPN advertisers. Additionally, the calling for a boycott — or, at least, a strong encouragement of it — treads close to activism.

“But it’s not the job of Hill — or any other ESPN journalist, for that matter — to concern herself with the network’s business relationships. In fact, the separation of ‘church and state’ is a longstanding core concept in any news organization worth its salt. So it shouldn’t matter whether Hill’s comments put ESPN in a bad position with the NFL, any more than with the network’s excellent reporting on concussions that has done the same. I’m not suggesting that months long investigative reporting efforts and tweets are of equal importance; they’re not. But both should be treated the same when dealing with the impact on ESPN’s core business relationships.

ESPN has dozens of journalists who spend much of their time chasing stories that don’t reflect well on the network’s business partners, and the network has done a good job defending its journalists in those cases. That’s why the company’s reaction to Hill’s tweets should be worrisome to other journalists at the company.”

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

CBS and NFL Network get a rare quality matchup on Thursday Night Football with the Philadelphia-Carolina game at 5:25 p.m. PDT. It’ll go up against Game 5 of the American League Division Series of the Cubs and Nationals on TBS, starting at 5. Sunday’s NFL games are New England-New York Jets at 10 a.m. and Chargers-Oakland at 1:25 p.m. on CBS, Rams-Jacksonville at 1 p.m. on Fox, and New York Giants-Denver on NBC at 5:20 p.m. The Monday night game is Indianapolis-Tennessee at 5:15 p.m. on ESPN. … Last week’s MNF Minnesota-Chicago telecast had an 8% boost in ratings to a 7.0, according to SportsBusiness Daily, thanks to the halftime unveiling of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer. … No. 13 USC hosts Utah at 5 p.m. Saturday on ABC. UCLA is at Arizona at 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks. ESPN will make a GameDay visit to James Madison University from 6 to 9 a.m. Saturday before its game against Villanova. It’s the ninth trip the show has made to an FCS school. …

The NBA season tips off Tuesday with TNT showing the night’s only two games: Boston-Cleveland at 5 and Houston-Golden State at 7:30. ESPN will have a doubleheader on Wednesday: Philadelphia-Washington at 4 p.m. and Minnesota-San Antonio at 6:30. The Clippers and Lakers start the season Thursday by playing each other. TNT will have that game, too, at 7:30 p.m. … ESPN will show NBA Rookies: The Introduction at 5 p.m. Thursday, featuring Lonzo Ball of the Lakers, Markelle Fultz of the 76ers, Jayson Tatum of the Celtics, Josh Jackson of the Suns and De’Aaron Fox of the Kings.

ESPN and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) have signed a five-year multiplatform agreement through 2021. … ESPN also announced it will not have its annual season-opening 24-hour college basketball marathon this year. Citing programming challenges, it will instead show a new early-season tournament, the Phil Knight Invitational from Portland, Ore.

The NFL is full of frustrations

Rams, Chargers and Mike Pence among them

NFL_Shield_mark_rgbThe NFL these days is very frustrating, both on and off the field. It’s like going somewhere on an L.A. freeway, almost getting to your destination and then suddenly getting caught in a debilitating traffic jam that freezes you in your position for an hour.

Allow me to illustrate what I mean:

• On the field, the Los Angeles Rams had been a pleasant surprise, taking possession of first place in the NFC West at 3-1 until the Seattle Seahawks came to town Sunday. Seattle held off the Rams 16-10 at the Coliseum. It was extremely frustrating for the Rams, who, in spite of five turnovers, came close to pulling out a victory in the final minute.

Quarterback Jared Goff moved the Rams 55 yards in the final 1:09, but rookie Cooper Kupp barely missed a diving touchdown catch on third down, and Goff’s fourth-down pass to Kupp was too low.

• Off the field, here’s a crucial Rams stat for you: Their attendance Sunday against Seattle at the Coliseum: 60,745 (almost one for every Rams turnover). USC’s attendance Saturday against Oregon State: 60,314. The Rams would like those thank those 431 people very much.

• The Los Angeles Chargers (still getting used to saying that) had been a surprise, too, but not in a good way. They started the season 0-4, but finally picked up a victory Sunday, winning 27-22 on the road against the New York Giants. Fortunately for the Chargers, the Giants were also an 0-4 team.

The Chargers snapped a nine-game losing streak dating to last season (a streak that followed them from San Diego). Quarterback Philip Rivers’ 10-yard TD pass to Melvin Gordon with 2:58 left was the game-winner. “I never thought 1-4 could halfway feel decent,” Rivers said afterward.

• The New York Football Giants (as they used to be called back when it was necessary to make a distinction) have been absolutely rotten this season. That’s never a good thing in New York. Things got even worse for them Sunday against the Chargers when wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. left the game with a broken ankle. He’s out for the season. Beckham was the fourth Giants wide receiver to leave the game with an injury. OBJ wasn’t even the first receiver to have a broken bone: Dwayne Harris broke a foot on a kickoff return. The other WRs, Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall, each had sprained ankles.

• There was another major injury Sunday and here we cross over from the on-the-field troubles into the off-the-field troubles. In the Houston Texans’ 42-34 loss at home to Kansas City, defensive end J.J. Watt broke his left leg and is also out for the year. Watt has been a great help to the city of Houston as it has tried to rebound from the damage of Hurricane Harvey, raising more than $30 million.

Early Monday, Watt expressed his heartbrokenness on Twitter:

As if he actually needed to apologize for anything.

• Then there’s the vice president of the United States. Mike Pence and his wife Karen attended the game between the 49ers and Colts at Indianapolis on Sunday, but left before the game ever started because members of the 49ers kneeled during the national anthem.

It’s doubtful Pence was surprised by the kneeling. If any team is going to protest, it’s the 49ers. It was Colin Kaepernick, their former QB, who started it all last season in San Francisco. It also took away from the ring of honor ceremony for former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

Certainly, Pence has every right as an American to protest, as he did, in a public way. My feeling is, the players do too. As expressed here two weeks ago, I would rather that the players stood for The Star-Spangled Banner, but:

It is their right. It is not something I would do and I can imagine it’s a step they would rather not take either. But they apparently feel so strongly about the matter that this is what they have been moved to do.

While I disagree with it, I support their right to do it.

The thing that bothers me is how Pence and others say kneeling during the national anthem shows disrespect to the military and to the flag. That’s not true. As I said in the aforementioned post, “the right to protest is one of the freedoms those [military] men and women were fighting for.”

• Last week, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton took a news conference question from a female reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, about the routes his receivers run. Newton smiled after the question. “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” he said. “It’s funny.”

Cam? It’s not funny.

• Finally, Disney is picking the Monday Night Football game on ESPN between Minnesota and Chicago to unveil the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Why Monday Night Football? Because it’s Disney. Disney owns ESPN, MNF and the whole Star Wars franchise. It’s synergy from a galaxy far, far away.

Baseball playoffs ready for a wild ride

If the rest of the baseball playoffs are as crazy as the two wild-card games were, we’re in for a roller-coaster ride.

MLB Primary Marks - Digital ArtThe American League Division Series start Thursday with Boston at Houston at 1 p.m. PDT on MLB Network (Bob Costas, John Smoltz) and New York at Cleveland at 4:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. Game 2 in each series will be Friday. It’ll be the Red Sox and Astros at 11 a.m. on FS1 and the Yankees and Indians at 2 p.m. on MLB Network.

The two National League Division Series begin Friday with Chicago at Washington at 4:30 p.m. and Arizona at Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. Both NL series will be on TBS, although it’s likely the Diamondbacks and Dodgers will start on TNT because baseball teams can’t even say hello in less than three hours.

Game 2 in each NL series will be Saturday. The Cubs and Nationals will be at 2:30 p.m. and the D-backs and Dodgers will be at 6. The AL will be off on Saturday.

I wondered in last week’s TV-Radio column if Joe Davis, the Dodgers’ TV voice, would be involved in the team’s postseason radio coverage. I didn’t receive word until Tuesday that Davis will be calling the Red Sox-Astros ALDS games for FS1. Davis will be teamed with David Cone, A.J. Pierzynski and reporter Jon Paul Morosi. The Yankees-Indians series will be announced by Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz with reporters Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal.

The D-backs-Dodgers series on TBS will be called by Brian Anderson with analysts Dennis Eckersley and Joe Simpson and reporter Lauren Shehadi. The Cubs-Nationals series will be called by Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling with reporter Sam Ryan.

Wednesday night’s NL wild-card game with Arizona defeating Colorado produced a 3.2 big-market overnight rating on TBS, according to SportsBusiness Daily. It was the most watched cable TV show of the night, but the lowest rating for a wild-card game since the new format began five years ago. Meanwhile, Tuesday’s AL wild-card game in which the Yankees topped Minnesota earned a 5.2 rating on ESPN.

‘TAR WARS’

Following Thursday’s Yankees-Indians game on FS1 will be a completely fictional movie about a completely real event.

The Pine Tar Incident: Making of Tar Wars, looks at the July 24, 1983, “Pine Tar Game,” in which Kansas City’s George Brett had a home run taken away against the Yankees and was called out for having too much pine tar on his bat. A protest by the Royals was upheld and the game was later restarted from the point of Brett’s homer. According to a Fox news release, the movie “imagines what it would be like if someone had actually made that film, and tells the story of the Pine Tar Game in a manner that reflects the absurdity and idiosyncrasy of the original events.”

So it’s a fictional movie about what it would be like to make a nonfictional movie about a true-life event.

No, thanks. It was strange enough in real life without adding this to it.

 KATIE BAR THE DOOR

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Katie Nolan is moving from Fox to ESPN. (Fox Sports photo)
The stream of talent that has gone recently from ESPN to Fox has reversed a little with a notable figure: Katie Nolan.

Nolan, who has most recently hosted Garbage Time with Katie Nolan on FS1, will join ESPN on Oct. 16.

She has a great irreverent sense of humor that is prominent in her work and, as it turns out, in news releases.

The official ESPN news release said this about Nolan:

“She will have a prominent digital presence while also making appearances across ESPN studio programming. Announcements regarding her specific assignments are forthcoming.”

Two paragraphs later, Nolan was quoted.

“Nolan said: ‘I could not be more excited to have a prominent digital presence while also making appearances across ESPN studio programming. When I was a little girl, I always dreamed that one day announcements regarding my specific assignments would be forthcoming.’ ”

GRIDIRON GATHERINGS

The NFL Thursday night game is between the strangely 2-2 New England Patriots and the 2-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on CBS and NFL Network.

On Sunday, the Chargers are playing a 10 a.m. game at the New York Giants and the Rams are at home to face Seattle at 1 p.m. Both games are CBS games that contractually must be shown in their entirety in the Los Angeles market. Fortunately, CBS owns not only KCBS (Channel 2) but also KCAL (Channel 9). The Chargers, therefore, will be shown on Channel 9 and the Rams on Channel 2. A similar situation occurred last weekend for Fox, who showed the Rams on KTTV (Channel 11) while farming out the Chargers to KCOP (Channel 13), which Fox also owns.

The extra CBS channel actually enables L.A. viewers to choose up to four NFL games during the day Sunday (and yes, I know the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package lets you watch any game you want). Channel 11 will have Carolina-Detroit at 10 a.m. and Green Bay-Dallas at 1:25 p.m.

The NBC Sunday night game is Kansas City-Houston at 5:20. The ESPN Monday night game is Minnesota-Chicago at 5:15.

In college football, there are only two games in which both teams are ranked and one of those is Thursday night. No. 17 Louisville plays at No. 24 North Carolina State at 5 p.m. on ESPN. The other is No. 23 West Virginia at No. 8 TCU at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on FS1.

USC is on Pac-12 Networks on Saturday. The No. 14 Trojans host Oregon State at 1 p.m. UCLA has a bye.

 UP & DOWN THE DIAL

The WNBA Finals earned their highest rating since 2003. The five-game series, in which the Minnesota Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks, earned a 0.5 rating, up 24% from 2016’s Finals featuring the same two teams. Game 5 had a 0.8 rating, doubling last year’s deciding game mark of 0.4. Game 5 had a 7.9 rating in Minneapolis-St. Paul and a 0.9 in L.A. … The Anaheim Ducks will have 74 games televised by Prime Ticket, Fox Sports West and KCOP this season, starting Thursday at home against Arizona at 7 p.m. The Kings host Philadelphia at 7 tonight on NBCSN. Formula 1 racing will move from NBC to ESPN starting in 2018. There will be 16 races on ESPN2, three on ESPN and two on ABC, which showed its first F1 race in 1962. ESPN’s last F1 race was in 1997. … The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup playoffs start at 11 a.m. Sunday on NBC from Charlotte, N.C. …

NBC has acquired rights to the Six Nations Rugby Championship, starting in 2018. The event features England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales. …The U.S.-Panama World Cup soccer qualifier will be shown at 4:35 p.m. Friday on ESPN2. … The World Gymnastics Championships from Montreal will be shown 11 a.m. Saturday on NBC and at 10 a.m. Sunday on NBCSN. Olympic Channel will also have coverage Thursday through Saturday. …

ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were honored by the National Press Club on Wednesday with the Fourth Estate Award, which recognizes journalists who have made significant contributions in the field. Other honorees have included Wolf Blitzer, Gwen Ifill, Charlie Rose, Andrea Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Jim Lehrer, Walter Cronkite, Christiane Amanpour and David Broder. … NFL reporter Josina Anderson and analyst Damien Woody have signed extensions with ESPN. Pac-12 Networks may not be able to get distribution on DirecTV, but they have worked out a deal with Alibaba to distribute content in China.

Which Dodgers team will we see in the postseason?

What a strange, crazy, atypical season it has been for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

postseasonFor the most part in 2017, the Dodgers were eye-poppingly, jaw-droppingly fantastic. That was the strange, crazy, atypical part.

From April through the first half of August, they could quite almost literally do no wrong. No opponent was too tough. No deficit was too steep. Any ace a team would throw against the Dodgers was vanquished. Any hill the Dodgers had to climb was conquered.

As a fan, it was extremely difficult to know how to handle this strange turn of events. The Dodgers never do things this easily. Sure, the team has won five National League West Division championships in a row, but they are seldom one of those teams: a team that is overwhelmingly overpowering.

By Aug. 25, they had a record of 91-36 (.717) and were leading the NL West by a staggering 21 games. Then the bottom dropped out and they lost 16 of their next 17 games (.059, as long as we’re posting winning percentages). They managed to go 11-6 the rest of the way and finish at 104-58 (.642) and win more games than any Dodgers team since they moved to L.A. 60 seasons ago. Only the 1953 Brooklyn team (105-49) have won more; the 1942 team went 104-50. The 1974 team (102-60) is the last one to win as many as 100 games.

Of course, none of those regular-season figures means much in the postseason. The ’53 and ’74 teams lost in the World Series and the ’42 team didn’t even win the NL pennant, finishing two games behind St. Louis.

The Dodgers will face either Arizona or Colorado in the NL Division Series that starts Friday night. The question in 2017 is, which Dodgers team will we see: the do-no-wrong team of the season’s first 4½ months, or the do-all-wrong team of the last 1½ months?

Los Angeles has barely sniffed the World Series since the 1988 championship season. Whatever fans the team has that were born that year will soon be in their thirtysomethings.

The Dodgers’ record still wound up being the best in baseball and guarantees them home-field advantage throughout the postseason. In fact, the Dodgers are the first team to earn home-field advantage in the World Series, if they get that far. Baseball, thank goodness, scrapped the idea of having the league that won the All-Star Game get home field in the World Series this season; prior to that, the leagues simply alternated home-field advantage each year.

Home is exactly where the Dodgers’ hearts are. They have the best home record in the majors at 57-24 (.704). But they were only 5-8 at Dodger Stadium in September. Seven of those losses were to Arizona (3) and four to Colorado (4).

Clayton Kershaw, the ace of the Dodgers, had an 18-4 record and won his fifth NL ERA title at 2.31. But he’s 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in the postseason.

Shortstop Corey Seager finished the year with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 77 RBIs. But he hit only .179 in September. Hopefully for the Dodgers, October will be better for him: He went 3 for 3 in the season finale Sunday at Colorado.

Dodgers fans should not, under any circumstances, expect the NL Division Series to be easy. Both of the team’s possible opponents — the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies — won the season series against the Dodgers. The D-Backs went 11-8 (4-6 in the first half of the season, but 7-2 in the second) while the Rockies were 10-9 (5-7 in the first half, 5-2 in the second).

The Dodgers spent most of 2017 being amazing, but I say their chances of even advancing past the Division Series are 50-50 at best. Getting to the World Series, at long last? Not happening.

THE SEASON JUST PAST

Now, while I settle in for another inevitable postseason of Dodgers disappointment (what a Gloomy Gus I am), here are a few notes from the just concluded regular season:

  • Despite continuing efforts to pick up the pace of baseball games, MLB’s average time of game in 2017 was up 4½ minutes to a bloated 3 hours, 5 minutes, 11 seconds. This after the majors had managed to get game time to drop from 3:02 in 2014 to 2:56 in 2015.
  • MLB tried to get the players union to go along with three time-shortening measures — restricting catchers to one trip to the mound per pitcher each inning, employing a 20-second pitch clock and raising the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level, at the top of the kneecap — but it declined. The commissioner has the right to implement them unilaterally next season.
  • Led by the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton’s 59 and Yankees rookie Aaron Judge’s 52, there were a record 6,105 home runs in the majors in 2017, topping the record of 5,963 set in 2000 during the steroids era.
  • Feast or famine: There was also a record set in strikeouts with 40,104, up from the 38,982 set just last year.
  • Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros led the major leagues in batting at .346. He won the American League batting title for the second straight season and third time in four years. Not bad for a guy who’s maybe only 5-foot-6. Maybe.
  • Major league attendance finished below 73 million fans for the season, the fourth drop in the last five seasons.
  • Of all the divisions winners, the defending champion Chicago Cubs have the fewest wins at 92. Still, many expect them to have a rematch with the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
  • For pitchers, this was only the fourth season in major league history with no 20-game winners. Four pitchers, including the Dodgers’ Kershaw, topped the list at 18.
  • There was also a fourth straight record low in complete games with 59. There were 83 last season, 104 in 2015 and 302 in 1998.

Faust ready to step into role as Kings TV voice

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Alex Faust will be the Kings’ new TV announcer, replacing the retired Bob Miller. (Los Angeles Kings photo)

If you thought Dodgers broadcaster Joe Davis was young, wait till you see new Kings broadcaster Alex Faust.

Faust, 28, takes over this season as TV play-by-voice for the Kings on Fox Sports West, replacing the legendary Bob Miller, who retired after last season. Faust can be heard Thursday night in the preseason game against Arizona. The season opener for the Kings is next Thursday, Oct. 5, against Philadelphia.

Faust told the Los Angeles Times he is doing all he can to learn about Kings history and tradition, having met both with Miller and with longtime radio announcer Nick Nickson. Both Miller and Nickson are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I may not be able to give you exact days and events, but telling that broad story — being able to understand someone who’s coming from a perspective of 20, 30, 40, 50 years following this team — it’s incredibly important,” Faust told The Times. “It’s probably been the most challenging part of this job.”

Faust has also met with the 29-year-old Davis, who had a similar task this baseball season: filling the booth after the retirement of Vin Scully.

 WHERE’S JOE DAVIS THIS WEEKEND?

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Joe Davis is concluding his first rull season with the Dodgers. (Fox Sports photo)

All season, we’ve tracked the weekend wanderings of Davis as he balanced Dodgers broadcasts with doing college football and basketball for Fox. Thankfully for him, he has no Fox football assignments this weekend and will be able to call the Dodgers’ final three regular-season games at Colorado for SportsNet LA.

They also will be the final three TV games Davis will be able to do since postseason games are exclusively shown by national networks. There is no word if Davis will be involved at all on the Dodger Radio Network. In past years (until his retirement year last season), Scully would move over to radio and do the first three and the last three innings, and Charley Steiner and Rick Monday would handle the middle innings. It remains to be seen if Davis would do any radio.

The American League wild-card game will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN and the National League wild-card game will be at 5 p.m. Wednesday on TBS.

The AL Division Series starts Thursday on Fox Sports 1 and MLB Network and the NL Division Series starts Friday on TBS.

FIRST THE ANTHEM, THEN FOOTBALL

All the turmoil in the past week over NFL players protesting during the national anthem has overshadowed the games themselves. Recently, right along with coverage plans, NFL news releases from TV networks have also included if they plan to show the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. Spoiler alert: They will.

Typically, the anthem has been sung while networks are away on commercials, or when they’re still doing their pregame shows. But with protest passions running so deep, the networks, to their credit, are covering the anthems for their news value.

Thursday night, CBS and NFL Network will show Chicago-Green Bay at 5:25 p.m. On Sunday, the Rams visit Dallas at 10 a.m. on Fox at the same time Pittsburgh plays Baltimore on CBS. At 1 p.m., Fox is shipping the Chargers’ home game against Philadelphia to KCOP (Channel 13) since Fox is obligated to show the entirety of both the Rams and Chargers to the Los Angeles market. Indianapolis-Seattle is the Sunday night game on NBC.

In college football, No. 5 USC visits No. 16 Washington State at 7:30 p.m. Friday on ESPN and UCLA hosts Colorado at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

Games featuring two ranked teams include No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech at 5 p.m. on ABC and No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 13 Auburn at 3 p.m. on ESPN.

 UP & DOWN THE DIAL

Doris Burke
ESPN’s Doris Burke will primarily be an NBA game analyst this season. (ESPN photo)

Doris Burke has been named as a game analyst for the entire ESPN NBA season. She will continue her sideline duties during the postseason and important games during the regular season. … Kara Lawson will be an analyst for the Washington Wizards this season while continuing her ESPN commitments, according to SportsBusiness Daily.Mike Milbury will fill in as NHL analyst on NBCSN while Mike Olczyk recovers from colon cancer surgery, according to USA Today.ESPN’s Barry Melrose will also serve as an analyst for NHL Network, SBD reports. … Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose will be a part of Mike Greenberg’s new morning show on ESPN, according to The Hollywood Reporter.Paul Pierce has officially been named an NBA analyst by ESPN.

DirecTV is allowing some customers to cancel their NFL Sunday Ticket package if they cite the national anthem dispute as their reason, according to the Wall Street Journal. DirecTV usually doesn’t allow cancellations once the season is underway, but it said it is making exceptions this season because of the protests. … NBA TV will debut Open Court: Coaches Edition at 4 p.m. Tuesday. It’s a roundtable of coaches, including Washington’s Scott Brooks, Sacramento’s Dave Joerger, Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd, Utah’s Quin Snyder and Golden State’s Mike Brown.

The ESPN-owned Puerto Rico Tip-Off basketball tournament is being moved to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., Nov. 16-19 because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

Trump’s NFL comments simply fan the flames

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Members of the Cleveland Browns kneel during the national anthem on Sunday in Indianapolis.

President Donald Trump’s method of facing issues seems to be to stir them up rather than to calm them down, to make them worse instead of better.

It’s a method many people seem to follow these days, so for someone like me, who usually seeks to avoid conflict, it’s a difficult time.

Last week, when the president made one of those so-called “off-script” comments about the NFL players who have protested racism by kneeling during the national anthem, it felt like all he was doing was making things worse. And by worse, I mean worse for each side of the issue.

The president said at a rally in Alabama: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now, out! He’s fired! He’s fired!’ ”

First of all, can you even think of another time when a president of the United States has used a word in public that would cause at least some TV networks to bleep it? That in itself offends me worse than any national anthem protest.

Next, instead of solving any problems that might be associated with these protests, these remarks simply made them worse, fanning the flames of racism. More than 200 NFL players were observed by The Associated Press to be kneeling or sitting during The Star-Spangled Banner during Sunday’s games. Last week, fewer than 10 protested.

Major League Baseball had its first anthem kneeler. The Los Angeles Sparks chose not to be on the court for the national anthem before Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

If the president wanted to quell this behavior with his comments, he has failed.

In addition, in many stadiums, there were fans who booed the players or yelled “Stand up!” at them during the anthem. In some ways, that’s even worse national anthem behavior than that which the players are exhibiting. At least the players are making a silent protest. Both groups, however, have the right to protest the way they see fit, as long as it’s peaceful.

I completely understand those who are saying things about how members of the armed forces have fought and died for America and how they believe national anthem protests are disrespectful to those men and women. I would answer, however, that the right to protest is one of the freedoms those men and women were fighting for.

A little over a year ago, I wrote the following when Colin Kaepernick, then with the San Francisco 49ers, first began kneeling during the national anthem:

Even though I may disapprove of the way Kaepernick and others are choosing to protest, I completely support their right to do it.

In a democracy, you see, we have freedom to speak and express ourselves the way we see fit. That’s a right we have in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of speech walks hand in hand with freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble peaceably and freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

You didn’t know this was going to be a civics lesson, did you?

People are not required to stand at attention with their hand over their heart during the national anthem. It is encouraged, but not mandated, so if NFL players like Kaepernick want to express an opinion or back a cause by not standing, they can.

It is their right. It is not something I would do and I can imagine it’s a step they would rather not take either. But they apparently feel so strongly about the matter that this is what they have been moved to do.

While I disagree with it, I support their right to do it.

For the president to summarily dismiss these people, to in essence suppress their right to protest, is wrong.

During NBC’s Football Night in America pregame show Sunday night, former NFL coach Tony Dungy interviewed Miami Dolphins players Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas about not only their national anthem protests, but also their work within the Miami community, including police ride-alongs.

Dungy, a Christian man I admire enormously, had this summation:

“We’ve got to listen to each other and go forward with a plan to make it better,” Dungy said. “That’s what leaders should do, including, in my opinion, our president.”