Pregame: Tonight is the night

LOS ANGELES – The consensus around here with the media types is that tonight’s Game 5 is bigger than most people believe. It’s big, sure… it is, after all, the NLCS. But aside from the obvious, Game 5 will decide which team goes to the World Series.

Yeah, that’s right … the winner of tonight’s game will go to the World Series.

Obviously, if the Phillies win it’s all over, and in that regard things look pretty good for them. Cole Hamels, the team’s best pitcher, has been close to Koufax-esque during the playoffs. Since the Dodgers countering with Chad Billingsley, a pitcher who struck out four of the first six hitters he faced during Game 2, but then retired just four more hitters for the rest of the game, it appears to be a matchup that favors the Phils. Billingsley damn-near melted down in Game 2 and then he and his teammates began chirping at each other.

But if the Phillies don’t get it done tonight at Chavez Ravine, it gets tougher back in Philadelphia beginning on Friday night. For one, Hiroki Kuroda, the lights out pitcher that has baffled the Phillies in three starts this year, will pitch against Brett Myers. The Phillies’ pitcher wasn’t so sharp despite winning Game 2, and has a gimpy ankle to go along with it.

If there is a need for Game 7 on Saturday, Derek Lowe will make his third start of the series against a Phillies pitcher to be determined. Typically, Saturday will be Jamie Moyer’s turn in the rotation, however, the veteran lefty has lasted just 5 1/3 innings in two starts in the playoffs for an ERA of 13.50.

So there it is – tonight is the night. The Phillies definitely do not want to return to Philadelphia this weekend without the Warren Giles Trophy. Otherwise, it might just slip out of their hands.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Phillies
11 – Jimmy Rollins, ss
28 – Jayson Werth, rf
26 – Chase Utley, 2b
6 – Ryan Howard, 1b
5 – Pat Burrell, lf
8 – Shane Victorino, cf
7 – Pedro Feliz, 3b
51 – Carlos Ruiz, c
35 – Cole Hamels, p

Dodgers
15 – Rafael Furcal, ss
16 – Andre Ethier, rf
99 – Manny Ramirez, lf
55 – Russell Martin, c
7 – James Loney, 1b
30 – Casey Blake, 3b
27 – Matt Kemp, cf
33 – Blake DeWitt, 2b
58 – Chad Billingsley, p

Third inning: Brett Myers – Professional Hitter

There’s an old sports saying that goes something like this:

The series doesn’t start until the home team loses for the first time.

If that’s true, this could be one of those series where the home team wins every game. Or, the series could truly begin on Sunday night if the Phillies take care of business at Dodger Stadium with the chance to go for the sweep on Monday.

A Phillies sweep to go to the World Series? Really? What world are we living in? Does gas still cost more than $3 per gallon?

Did I just jinx it?

Anyway, Brett Myers gave back a run on a two-out single by James Loney. As is the case with just about everything in baseball, it wasn’t the hit that hurt Myers the most, it was the two-out walk to Andre Ethier and the one-out walk to Russell Martin.

Oh, those bases on balls…

Myers nearly waded into the mess up to his knees after Greg Dobbs booted a grounder with two outs to load the bases. After that, the pitcher got out of the inning with a strikeout on Blake Dewitt in which Myers seemed to throw nothing but curves.

As we all remember all too well, Myers got into the most trouble when he got away from his fastball and leaned on the deuce too much.

For one reason or another, Billingsley just seems to be finding trouble for himself. Pat Burrell laced the first pitch of the inning to left for a single before Jayson Werth lined an 0-2 pitch into the corner in left for a double. An intentional walk to Greg Dobbs to load the bases set up a force at the plate on a soft grounder hit by Carlos Ruiz.

That made it look as if Billingsley could wiggle out of it or, at the very least, that manager Joe Torre was going to bring in a reliever after the intentional walk. With Myers heading to the plate with one out and the bases loaded, it looked like an easy second out as well as the light at the end of the tunnel.

After all, why would Myers go to the plate looking to swing the bat. He has six hits going back to the 2004 season and once was told to go to the plate and leave the bat on his shoulder. Certainly in this situation – bases loaded and one out in a playoff game – Myers would be told to stand there and take pitches simply to avoid hitting into a double play.

But that would be too easy. It also would make sense.

Myers swung at the first pitch and hit one that rolled with all of the alacrity in which Burrell or Myers run the bases. The hit was slow and sloppy, which means in some weird sense it was perfect.

It also opened up this game as if it was a 10-pound trout with its tanned belly glistening in the sun. Myers’ ugly single sent two more runs scurrying home and also provided the impetus for us to watch the big pitcher go from first to home on Shane Victorino’s two-out triple.

Billingsley struck out four of the first six hitters he faced, but wasn’t around it to get four more outs.

Weird.

2 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 5 K – 59 pitches, 36 strikes.

I hope this game ends in time for me to catch my flight tomorrow morning.

End of 3: Phillies 8, Dodgers 2

Second inning: Throwing the curve

They just showed all-time Dodgers great, Sandy Koufax on the TV here hanging above my head. If he is sitting where I think he is, Tommy Lasorda is directly behind him.

Great… Sandy Koufax is going to go home with pasta stains on his shirt and peanut shells in his hair.

“Dammit Lasorda, chew with your mouth closed…”

It goes without saying that Sandy Koufax was one of the greatest pitchers ever. Actually, it might be more apt to say he put together four of the greatest seasons in a row. Sandy was like a comet – he developed late and before anyone knew what they were looking at, he was gone. That actually enhances his legend because Koufax’s career was cut short because of that curve ball he threw. It simply put too much pressure on his arm until he just couldn’t do it anymore.

So yes, Sandy Koufax suffered for his art. That makes him a genius.

If you don’t think so, just look at the stats from his last four seasons. Better yet, find the box score and play-by-play from his perfect game against the Cubs. Just awesome.

Legend has it that the pitch Koufax suffered for – the curve – was the best ever. No one before or since could chuck the deuce like Koufax. Brett Myers tried in the second, but Sandy’s old team posted the first run of the game set up by a leadoff single by Andre Ethier and a long double from James Loney.

But Myers limited the damage by getting a strikeout, a grounder and a fly ball, though his pitch count soared to 36.

Chad Billingsley brought the heat. To start the second the righty whiffed Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth with an overpowering array of pitches. Even though Greg Dobbs broke his bat fighting off a slider, he got just enough to get a two-out single.

That changed everything. Big time.

Carlos Ruiz laced a fastball into the gap in left-center for an RBI double then scored the go-ahead run when Myers, inexplicably, poked a slider into center for an RBI.

Yeah, that’s Myers’ second hit of the playoffs. And yes, he had just four hits during the entire season.

Brett Myers: Professional hitter.

Another two-out single by Jimmy Rollins set the table for Shane Victorino’s two-run single on a 2-2 pitch.

That hit set off epically loud “Beat LA!” chant that rattled the row homes in South Philly all the way up to Lombard.

These people… good fans.

Here’s the thing – it all happened with two outs. Better yet, it all happened without the long ball.

End of 2: Phillies 4, Dodgers 1

First inning: ‘Throw it at the mascot’

Another big crowd here at the Bank doing the big, “Beat LA!” chant and waving those white hankies. It looks like a great day for baseball here in Philadelphia even though there are some shadows splashed across the outfield grass.

Perhaps they could be a problem until the sun drifts more to the west?

Anyway, Jim Eisenreich, the great hitter on the ’93 Phillies threw the ceremonial first pitch. Ol’ Eisey still looks like he can play. He very definitely could hit – especially in ’93. I still can’t believe that GM Lee Thomas was able to get Eisenreich for that club.

Speaking of getting it, it certainly looks as if Brett Myers has it this afternoon. His fastball looks like an electrical wire that was knocked to the ground and is shooting sparks and hissing like the meanest snake ever. Better yet, Myers looks as if he has, what ballplayers like to call, “The Ass.”

That means exactly what one would assume it means. As such, Myers crop dusted Russell Martin with one high and tight and buzzed one behind Manny Ramirez.

I wonder if he was trying to hit the mascot?

Nevertheless, Myers whiffed both Martin and Ramirez to end the inning and to send the crowd into screeching hysterics. He threw 13 pitches.

Aside from a two-out walk for Chase Utley, the Phillies went quietly in the first against big right-hander, Chad Billingsley. Like Myers, Billingsley notched two whiffs.

End of 1: Phillies 0, Dodgers 0