SAN DIEGO -- The brightly lit scoreboard at Jack Murphy Stadium looms high above the rightfield stands. It is unavoidable from almost any vantage point, but particularly so if your seat is in the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout.
That is why it is so curious that so many Dodgers said they couldn't see it last night.
Scoreboard? What scoreboard?
You mean the one showing the Atlanta Braves spitting out the bit and wasting a golden opportunity to win a doubleheader from Cincinnati?
You mean the one showing the play-by-play of the Braves scoring two runs in the ninth but coming up short, 10-9?
You mean the one giving the details of why the Dodgers are still in first place by a game and a half even though they were playing butterfingers against the Padres and losing, 8-2?
You mean that scoreboard?
Sorry, we can't see it.
The Dodgers don't necessarily expect us to believe they are not paying attention to the Braves, of course. It is one of those sporting cliches that athletes repeat because they think it is expected of them.
You take them one game at a time. You just go out and have fun. And you don't look at the scoreboard.
"You can only control your own game so that's where your focus has to be," Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia said yesterday. "Only two things can happen when you watch the scoreboard and they're both negative. Either the team you're watching is losing and you become complacent or it's winning and you put pressure on yourself."
Then there is the less elaborate thinking of Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, who says he doesn't watch the scoreboard any more than he has to for one simple reason: "It makes me too freaking nervous."
Yesterday, the Dodgers' protestations had a certain amount of truth on their side. Why should anybody watch the Braves' progress on the scoreboard, after all, when there is a perfectly good television set in the locker room?
All afternoon, right up until their own game with the Padres
began, the Dodgers found themselves unable to escape the unblinking eye of WTBS and ESPN.
High above the floor in the center of the visitor's clubhouse, the Braves were playing the Reds.
In the trainer's room, the Braves were playing the Reds.
Even out on the field as they took batting practice and ran wind sprints, there on the huge screen in the middle of the rightfield scoreboard, the Braves were playing the Reds.
So when Braves outfielder Ron Gant made a shoestring catch to end the Cincinnati eighth in the first game, there was a shout of agony from the trainer's room.
And when David Justice took a called third strike in the bottom of the eighth, the Dodgers' Mitch Webster thumbed him out as he wandered by the set in the locker room.
And when Terry Pendleton started Atlanta's 10th-inning rally with a double that Cincinnati outfielder Paul O'Neill bobbled, John Candelaria yelled, "Pick up the ball!"
And when Gant won the game with a single that scored Pendleton, the locker room suddenly turned quiet except for the sound of cards slapping on a table.
So it is clear that the Dodgers weren't paying any attention to the Braves at all. No more than teams have always paid attention to their closest competitors.
Dodgers announcer Vin Scully remembers how players used to listen to the scores on headsets left in the dugout for pre- and post-game shows.
"We were in Philadelphia in 1959," Scully said, "and Phillies general manager John Quinn came into the booth hollering at me that I was stealing signs and sending them to the bench. Well, in the first place, the players were just listening to the game and in the second place, the Phillies were killing them."
Finally, our diligent search for a player who would speak the truth was rewarded when, as the Dodgers straggled onto the field last night, Jim Gott stayed behind as long as he could to watch the Braves.
"That's sick," the relief pitcher said when told of those who insist they don't watch the scoreboard. "How can they say that? I don't care if you can't control it, it's still exciting."
A couple of hours later, as the Braves were choking on their own exhaust fumes, it was about as exciting as it gets.