Dodgers' revival is part patience, part 'meshing,' Magic Johnson says

Johnson, part owner of the Dodgers, says fighting through injuries has made the team stronger, as he enjoys the view at Dodger Stadium from atop the National League West.

The view from Magic Johnson's Dodger Stadium office Wednesday was nothing short of idyllic.

The outfield grass never seemed greener, fans were filling the most distant seats on a warm summer day, and the Dodgers were about to end July atop the National League West, a destination that seemed well off their road map a few weeks ago.

Johnson is accustomed to the scenery, but he loves his new view.

"This," he said, "is what we thought we would see."

On July 1, the Dodgers were 38-43, four games out of first place, with a .469 winning percentage. After their 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday, they had a 21/2-game lead over Arizona. They were 19-6 in July, including a 10-2 run after the All-Star break and a 27-7 surge since they were 12 games under .500 on June 21.

There's a long way to go, but the Dodgers' revival has so far been remarkable. When they could have splintered, they became stronger. When wolves called for the head of Manager Don Mattingly, club executives held steady and waited for Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez to return from injuries before deciding whether their vision of a winning team could be fulfilled.

"It was never discussed," Johnson, a part owner of the Dodgers and their most prominent public face, said of dismissing Mattingly.

"Because we knew, when you looked at our team, shoot, we lost most of the guys right early in the season. We never fielded the team that we thought we would have. Hanley went out in preseason, and when the season starts, we start losing guys. Zack right off the bat. Matt. So we can't say, 'Man, this is Don's fault.'

"We had a lot of injuries. We were patient and I'm glad we were and look what has happened. He has proved to be a good manager and he's doing a good job."

This resurgence goes beyond the exploits of Yasiel Puig, although he's a key part of it. The return of Ramirez after two stints on the disabled list fueled their offense and stabilized their infield, his 0-for-4 performance Wednesday aside.

A few smart moves by Mattingly, notably moving Kenley Jansen back to the closer's role, fortified the bullpen. The acquisition of Ricky Nolasco from Miami solidified a starting rotation that needed help in the fourth and fifth spots.

All this success comes despite Kemp being on the disabled list for the third time this season.

"I don't think we would have thought of anything like this at the beginning of July," Mattingly said of occupying first place.

"I think we knew we had a good club and we were capable of something like this and I think that's what you hold onto when you're struggling…. The fact that we basically persevered says a lot for our guys, and they've stayed strong and kept playing hard."

For Johnson, who laughingly acknowledged the Dodgers did much of their heavy lifting while he was on vacation, the explanation is as clear as the view from his office.

"We made a lot of changes last season and we never really became a real team in terms of meshing together. But even despite the injuries, when we first started the season we started meshing together," Johnson said.

"And I think that what was also missing when I called all the players before the season was we needed leaders, because that was missing last season. And we see that [Clayton] Kershaw and [Adrian] Gonzalez are doing a wonderful job and they and Hanley Ramirez are leading our team."

Puig, he said, brought several missing elements.

"Not only his skill set of being a really good baseball player, but also that fire and passion. He passed that on to the other guys, and I think that then we just really started coming together," Johnson said.

"And then everything we had talked about that we were not doing well, we started doing well."

Again, this isn't over.

"We've got millions of miles to go here," said General Manager Ned Colletti, who made only a move to add catching depth Wednesday before the nonwaiver trading deadline.

But Dodger Stadium has been alive the last few weeks, a magnet for entertainment and athletic stars, and Johnson hopes that will last.

"When I played for the Lakers, we were never satisfied, and I want this team to never be satisfied," he said. "That's what kept our edge because we just kept pushing forward until we had the championship.

"We've got to keep pushing forward until we have the division won and we're in the playoffs, and then we'll worry about the playoffs once we get there. We've got to keep pushing."


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