May 13 offered an equally exciting finish. Adam LaRoche's grand slam in the top of the eighth put the Braves up, 4-2, but Milton Bradley responded with a grand slam of his own in the bottom of the inning to give the Dodgers a 7-4 victory.
Los Angeles fans also witnessed a trio of shutouts. Derek Lowe three-hit the Padres on April 15, and two days later, Jeff Weaver blanked the Padres on five hits. Weaver twirled another shutout Sept. 9, striking out nine while three-hitting the Rockies.
The most memorable day of the year at Dodger Stadium, though, might have been Sunday, Aug. 14, when 48,055 saw Mets ace Pedro Martinez take a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. Antonio Perez tripled with one out, though, and Jayson Werth followed with a home run. Just like that, what seemed likely to become the first no-hitter in Mets history became a 2-1 win for the Dodgers and Brad Penny, who struck out nine and threw 122 pitches in a complete game.
Through it all, fans in blue filtered through the turnstiles at Chavez Ravine. Through 80 games, paid attendance was 3,558,593 -- the second-highest mark in franchise history. If the Dodgers draw their average crowd (a National League-best 44,482 this season) on Thursday, they'll finish only 5,746 sold tickets shy of the 1982 franchise record for paid attendance (3,608,881).
While last season's division championship certainly had a lot to do with the Dodgers' strong ticket sales during the offseason and early in the year, manager Jim Tracy knows that a team doesn't draw 45,730 for a meaningless, late-September game against the last-place Pirates (as the Dodgers did on Sept. 24) unless its fans support it in good times and bad.
"The loyalty of these fans and how great they are they are -- and the fact that they continue to come out -- you really would've liked to give them more than we did," Tracy said. "The five years that I've been here, these are some of the best fans I've ever seen."
Assessing the damage:
Tracy said Wednesday's defeat -- in which the Dodgers struggled to scratch out a slim, 3-2 lead before Yhency Brazoban (4-10) allowed a two-run homer to lose the game -- was indicative of the Dodgers' season.
"It's games like that that make the difference between being mediocre and being very good," Tracy said. "We have 14 rookies out of 32 active players in there ... I can't remember a team that was playing in October that had that many rookies."
After an extended discussion, Tracy singled out missing "components" in the clubhouse -- assumedly the departures of Adrian Beltre, Steve Finley, Alex Cora, Shawn Green et al. -- and injuries as the prime reasons for the Dodgers' falloff from last year's 93-win campaign.
"Injuries play a part. They're not an excuse," Tracy said. "Would [good health] have made us a 90- to 95-win club? No. But given that the divisional leader is a .500 club, could it have kept us in that radar? Yes, it could have."
The hardest part for Tracy, personally, has been watching other clubs celebrate while the Dodgers limp to the finish line, only a year removed from a divisional title.
Third baseman Andy LaRoche was named as the organization's 2005 Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year. Starter Greg Billingsley was honored as the organization's Pitcher of the Year.
LaRoche, playing for Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, batted .305 with 30 homers, 94 RBIs and 95 runs scored. Billingsley, in 28 games (26 starts) for Jacksonville, was 13-6 with a 3.51 ERA. He allowed only 116 hits in 146 innings while striking out 162.
Penny shut down:
Brad Penny will not pitch again this season. Tracy scratched the right-hander from his scheduled start Saturday.
"After his bullpen session the other day, he still has a mild bit of tightness in his forearm, yet. It was a very thorough and extensive bullpen," Tracy said. "I just don't feel like it's worth the risk, to go out there and prove a point in a meaningless game."
If Elmer Dessens does not pitch on Thursday, he will likely start either Saturday or Sunday, with Edwin Jackson starting the other game.
Lowe (12-14, 3.63 ERA) will start against the Padres at 7:05 p.m. PT on Friday at PETCO Park. The Padres, who are in the process of setting their rotation for the postseason, are considering a number of candidates for the final three starts of the regular season.