"You know you're going to win," Maddux said of the first-place mind-set. "You just don't know what day."
Even a team as streaky as the Dodgers?
"This team had it when I got here. We had it when we lost eight games in a row [in August]," he said. "Usually, you know when you're going to win and the other team knows when you're going to win. When I was with San Diego, we were saying in June that the Dodgers would win it."
With Sunday's 1-0 loss, the Dodgers are 81-75, 2 1/2 games in front of the Arizona Diamondbacks with a magic number of five. The Dodgers finish the regular season with a day off Monday followed by six games: three home games against Maddux's former team, the Padres; then three games in San Francisco. The Dodgers are 9-6 against San Diego (4-2 at home) and 7-7 against San Francisco (3-4 at AT&T Park).
With Sunday's 13-4 win, the Diamondbacks are 78-77. They finish the regular season with four games in St. Louis (where they haven't played this year); then three with the Rockies at home. Arizona is 2-1 against St. Louis and 12-3 against Colorado (5-1 at Chase Field)
The Dodgers need their pitching to hold up and Manny Ramirez to continue his one-man revival act for one more week. For 50 years in Los Angeles, the franchise has done pretty well hanging on to final-week leads, with three exceptions, and they were doozeys.
In 1962, they entered the final week leading the Giants by three games, went 1-5, then lost a best-of-three playoff series.
In a wild 1982 race with Joe Torre's Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers took a one-game lead into the final week, but were already backsliding on a five-game losing streak that became eight. They won their next three games to set up the crushing loss in San Francisco on the final day of the season, when Joe Morgan slugged a three-run homer off Terry Forster in Candlestick Park and put the Braves in the playoffs.
And in 1991, they led by one game going into the final week, went 3-3 and lost by a game to Atlanta again. The Dodgers also let a lead get away in the final week of the 1996 season, but reached the playoffs as the Wild Card.
Teams that let leads get away late seem to swing from perhaps a little too much of that confidence Maddux talks about to an overreacting sense of panic and pressure. Injured catcher Gary Bennett was on the 2006 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who had a seven-game lead with 11 to play, went on an eight-game losing streak and clinched on the last day of the regular season.
"We may have relaxed a little too soon," he recalled. "With that big lead, we were girding for the postseason with two weeks left. I remember we had a meeting, setting up the starting pitching, arranging days off for the regulars to be well-rested for the playoffs. That might have been a tad premature, because we really had to sweat it out. But we were a streaky team that whole year and we got hot again in the postseason, and the next thing you know, we won the World Series."
The Dodgers can relate to the Cardinals. Not the World Series part, because the Dodgers are in a 20-year drought. But they have been streaky. They came out of the eight-game losing streak of August (their second this season) with an eight-game win streak and 16 wins in 21 games. But they also have a manager that has gotten pretty good at understanding how these final weeks are supposed to end.
"We know what we have to do," said Torre. "We're not looking for any help. We assume we have to win our games to get the magic number to zip. We control our destiny and we want to earn it by doing it."
Final week matchups (all times PT)
Tuesday, vs. Padres, 7:10 p.m.
Wade LeBlanc (1-1, 5.63) vs. Chad Billingsley (15-10, 3.22)
Wednesday, vs. Padres, 7:10 p.m.
Shawn Estes (2-3, 4.73) vs. Clayton Kershaw (4-5, 4.28)
Thursday, vs. Padres, 7:10 p.m.
Jake Peavy (9-11, 2.77) vs. Greg Maddux (7-13, 4.31)
Friday, at Giants, 7:35 p.m.
Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.84) vs. Brad Hennessey (1-2, 8.65)
Saturday, at Giants, 6:05 p.m.
Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.29) vs. Matt Cain (8-13, 3.80)
Sunday, at Giants, 1:05 p.m.
Chad Billingsley (15-10, 3.22) vs. Tim Lincecum (17-4, 2.46)