The NLCS: Are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

George SherrillLOS ANGELES—Lots of interesting plots and subplots to last night’s Game 1 of the NLCS here at Dodger Stadium. The biggest, of course, was the Phillies’ ability to get clutch hits against the Dodgers’ lefties.

Both of the three-run homers and a key double from Ryan Howard came against lefties Clayton Kershaw and George Sherrill. The notable one there was the blast off Sherrill by lefty Raul Ibanez. After all, no lefty had homered off Sherrill in 98 games and nearly two seasons.

For a team that went out and got Sherrill specifically to pitch to the Phillies sluggers in late-game playoff situations, Ibanez’s homer was huge. Deeper than that, five of the Phillies’ eight hits in the Game 1 victory were from lefty hitters against lefty pitchers.

So it begs the question… are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

Yeah, yeah, it’s only Game 1, but if Pedro were to dial it up in Game 2 and the Phillies go home with a two-game lead and Cliff Lee ready to pitch in chilly and rainy Philly, this one might be over before it gets started.

So are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads? Certainly based on some of the moves the Dodgers have made it’s not an unreasonable idea. After all, in addition to trading for Sherrill, the Dodgers got Jim Thome to do what Matt Stairs does for the Phillies. In fact, Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti cited Stairs when talking about the move to bring in Thome.

The thing about that is people barely knew Stairs was on the Phillies until he crushed that ridiculously long homer at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. Reliever Jonathan Broxton has been known to get salty when talking about Stairs’ homer and the Dodgers fans booed Stairs louder than anyone else during the player introductions.

So maybe the Phillies are in their heads?

We’ll see as the series wears on, but in the meantime Tommy Lasorda (the greatest phony in baseball history according to those in the know), is already chirping. The old Dodger manager was reportedly talking trash about the 1977 NLCS where the Phillies took Game 1 only to lose it in four games.

Really, 1977? That was generations ago. As one of Lasorda’s old players Davey Lopes said in regard to Larry Bowa harboring ill feelings about a controversial call in the 1977 NLCS:

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on.”

Maybe they can’t. Maybe they’re too wrapped up on what happened last year.

Here’s a few fun facts:
• The Phillies are 1-6 all-time in Game 2 of the NLCS. The only Game 2 victory came last year at the Bank against the Dodgers.

• The Phillies and Dodgers are meeting for the fifth time in the NLCS, which is tied for the most championship series matchups with the Pirates and Reds. Chances are those two teams won’t be playing each other in the NLCS any time soon.

• The Phillies have won 15 of their last 21 games in the NLCS dating back to 1980.

• Dodgers manager Joe Torre is making his 14th straight trip to the playoffs. He has not been to the World Series since 2003 and hasn’t won it since 2000.

Third and fourth innings: Pay back time

LOS ANGELES – Here we go!

After Brett Myers threw one behind Manny Ramirez in Game 2, and Russell Martin got plunked by Jamie Moyer and crop dusted by Clay Condrey, Dodgers’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda fired one over Shane Victorino’s head.

Gee, wonder what he was trying to do there?

After the purpose pitch, Victorino rightly gestured at Kuroda to drill him on the body if he’s going to do that crap and not up near his head. The conversation continued after Victorino grounded out to first base. Again, he told the pitcher to hit him instead of playing that head hunting bit.

Fine. All over, right? Message sent and received.

Or not.

As the benches spilled out onto the foul territory, Manny Ramirez exacerbated the situation by doing that chicken hold-me-back bit. Then Larry Bowa began chirping again and gesturing, which incensed things even more.

Yes, imagine that – Bowa stirring it up.

Here comes the cheap shot(s):

Hey Larry, how come Charlie could take these guys to the playoffs and you couldn’t? Go back to coaching third, tough guy.

Why can’t Davey Lopes just do the earth a favor and punch Larry Bowa in the mouth? C’mon Davey, I’m sure there are at least a few dozen guys behind you ready to pile on.

Anyway, the Phillies went quietly in the fourth. J.A. Happ has settled things down for the pitching, too. After giving up a one-out single to Matt Kemp, Happ retired four hitters in a row until he walked Manny. Happ also walked Martin, which set the table for Nomar Garciaparra’s two-out, RBI single.

End of 3: Dodgers 7, Phillies 1

Enough talk, let’s get it on

First things first… the Phillies announced their NLCS roster this morning and despite the speculation, reliever Rudy Seanez was not added. Just like the previous round against the Brewers, manager Charlie Manuel will go with 11 pitchers against the Dodgers

The Phillies:
Pitchers: Joe Blanton, Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Brett Myers Scott Eyre, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer and J.C. Romero.

Infielders: Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, Pedro Feliz, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

Outfielders: Pat Burrell, Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, So Taguchi, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth.

Catchers: Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz.

The Dodgers:
Pitchers: Jonathan Broxton, Cory Wade, Hong-Chih Kuo, Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, James McDonald, Derek Lowe, Chad Billinsgley and Hiroki Kuroda

Infielders: James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna

Outfielders: Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Juan Pierre

Catchers: Russell Martin and Danny Ardoin.

OK, so is everybody tired of talking and contemplating Manny hitting cleanup for the Dodgers? The face that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (especially Utley) have not hit with much alacrity during the playoffs?

Yep, it’s old. It’s tired. But it’s what we do. No, Davey Lopes wasn’t too keen on talking about the events of three decades ago, but what about the rest of us? Yeah, we know most of the Phillies weren’t even born – or didn’t care – about the Phillies and “Black Friday” and we know that occurrences of last week have no affect on a game today, let alone games played 31 years ago. But here in Philadelphia it’s part of the communal suffering. Why should the Red Sox and Cubs corner the market on the little cottage industry of sports lament?

Go sing “Sweet Caroline” or blame a Billy Goat for another loss or something. We’re in the playoffs over here. This is serious business.

So how will it play out? Yeah, good question. In that regard I guess I’m with everyone else in that the Dodgers and Phillies are incredibly evenly matched. It’s just uncanny. In fact, if the Dodgers looked in the mirror the reflection looking back at them would be the Phillies. Both clubs pitch well – the bullpens and starting corps are equally solid. They both use speed well and have decent hitters that roll off the bench. For the Dodgers guys like Nomar Garciaparra are the go-to, late-inning bat. For the Phillies it’s Greg Dobbs.

Tactically, Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel square off, but in the playoffs most managers will make all moves by the book anyway. If it comes to playoff acumen, though, Torre has the edge.

The Phillies have the advantage with the power hitters – that is if they get it going. During the NLDS the Phils won two games with the long ball and they have been scoring runs with homers all season long. Sure, the Dodgers piled up the runs in the NLDS against the Cubs with their new-look lineup, but come on… it’s going to come down to the pitching and defense.

It always does.

In that regard the difference could be how well the Dodgers’ right-handed heavy pitching staff performs against the Phillies’ power-hitting lefties. That means the series will come down to Utley and Howard. That’s where the Phillies are pinning their hopes.

“You look at Chase Utley, you think him getting four hits every day, but that don’t work that way,” Manuel said. “Baseball is 162, get in the playoffs how many games is it. So therefore that’s the way you look at it.

“We’re getting back to that even keel. That up and down. Like guys they don’t hit every day. Human nature plays a big part of the game. It’s hard to sit and explain to someone how you feel and like what’s going on and like with you and all that, and that’s the mental part, and also that’s the part we have to work through and that’s the part where guys on some nights they can go four for four, they have hot and cold nights and they have hot and cold weeks. Sometimes they have a cold month.

“Sometimes they have a season cold. But at the same time, I mean, that’s the way the game goes.”

Utley and Howard. There it is… Phillies in 7.

Here come the Dodgers (and Bowa)

Hey, hey folks. Took a few days off as most have noticed. Truth is, it wasn’t by design. I really wanted to gather my thoughts and write down all the stuff I saw in Milwaukee regarding this ballclub and all the things we can expect for the upcoming series against the Dodgers, but, you know, I got a little busy.

It happens.

Nevertheless, the format of the in-game updates will hold during each and every game from Philadelphia and Hollywood. In fact, I might even add a few cool features for the trip in California. After all, it is California. If I’m going to write about the biggest series going from the capital of glamour and superficial excess, I ought to go all out…

Right?

So yeah, it’s an exciting time to be a fan, writer, player and whatever else of the Philadelphia Phillies. Who knows, they might even win the whole thing? Why not? Teams have won the World Series by accident… at least teams have gotten there through no fault of its own. Take the ’07 Rockies, for instance. Or the ’06 Cardinals and the ’03 Marlins. Talk about accidents.

Speaking of accidents, Larry Bowa is back in town with his Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. Certainly no one ever thought that Bowa would have been in a playoff game at Citizens Bank Park not in Dodger Blue instead of Phillies.

What a life that guy leads, huh? After getting the axe as manager of the Phillies, Bowa landed on a gig talking about baseball with ESPN and XM Radio, which led to a job as the third-base coach for the New York Yankees and now LA Dodgers. If you are scoring at home that’s the top sports media company on the planet followed by the two most storied baseball franchises ever.

Still, it’s not difficult to get the sinking suspicion that all things being equal, Bowa would much rather be in Philadelphia with the Phillies. You can take the Bowa away from the Phillies, but never the Phillies out of Bowa.

Here’s a bet: at some point during the FOX telecast of the NLCS there will be a few hard-hitting stories on Bowa and Phils’ first-base coach Davey Lopes and their role in “Black Friday” as well as the Phillies-Dodgers rivalry from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Black Friday, for those who were not around for the 1977 NLCS between the Dodgers and the Phillies, or for those historically challenged on baseball lore, remember the game as the one where the Phillies missed their best chance to get to the World Series. It’s the game where Greg Luzinski famously misplayed a fly ball against the wall at the Vet and where Bowa made that terrific play at shortstop to make a throw to first in attempt to nail Lopes on a ball that caromed off third baseman Mike Schmidt. Only first-base ump Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe at first, which paved the way for more miscues as the Phillies blew a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth.

In fact, Bowa talked about it quite a bit about those old days on Wednesday afternoon.

“They were good series,” Bowa said, clad in his Dodger uniform and that traditional “LA” cap. “We grew up playing them in the Coast League – they were in Spokane and we were in Eugene, Oregon. We had a rivalry going then. They seemed to get the best of us in those games.

“We always made a mistake late. It cost us, but they’re very competitive. You remember when Burt Hooton was pitching and the crowd got into it, he couldn’t throw a strike. Then the rain game with Tommy John. The play in left field where Bull (Greg Luzinski) was still in the game and Jerry Martin had been replacing him and he wasn’t in and it eld to a run.

Davey Lopes. I know Davey says, ‘Let it go.’ But he was out. He knows he was out and he can go look at that all day. A hundred thousand times he was out. But those were good games. They were good games and they seemed to bring out the best in us. I think Garry Maddox dropped a ball which he never dropped. It was just one of those things.”

Davey, indeed, says, “Let it go,” and then some.

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on,” Lopes said.

“The rivalry was great. The intensity of playing those games was as equal to the World Series and a lot of times it’s more difficult and intense because you’re trying to get to the World Series,” Lopes said. “It’s almost like – I don’t want to say let down, but gratification that you got to the World Series.”

No matter what anyone says about his personality (or lack thereof), Larry Bowa is far and away the most knowledgeable baseball man a guy like me has ever come across. The old salt knows everything there is to know about the game. He might not ever get another managing gig again, but a guy like Joe Torre has no qualms about adding him to a coaching staff.

“He’s a younger version of Don Zimmer for me,” Torre Said. “He’s got a great deal of passion – shoots from the hip. He’s very emotional. But one thing about it, he cares very deeply about all the stuff he teaches to these young players and never relents. He’s there on a day-in-day-out basis and when things aren’t working it’s not a lot of fun to be around him. But he’s got a big heart and he’s got a great ability to teach and he’s very thorough and never gets tired.”

Here’s the thing about those old playoff games from the ‘70s… the current Phillies don’t get it. Chase Utley had no idea what “Black Friday” was until he was told about from one of the scribes. Even after he learned all about it, he still didn’t seem too impressed.

Game 1 starter Cole Hamels kind of heard about those classic games, but doesn’t think he or his teammates really care about it that much.

“I wasn’t even born,” Hamels said.

Besides, Hamels says, the current crop of players would much rather create their own legacy rather than ride the coattails of one that began over three decades ago.

“We want to be the team that everybody remembers as the team of 2008, went to the World Series and won the World Series,” Hamels said. “So it’s something that we’ve been with each other since February, and I think it’s just something where we’ve developed tremendous friendships and bonds that we want to be able to have these memories for when we’re older and we’re retired and out of the game.”

Besides, Lopes says they got the call right the first time.

“Tell Bowa I was safe,” he said.