NLCS: The greatest Dodger

Vin ScullyLOS ANGELES—OK, it’s quite fair to point out that the Dodgers’ fans are not the most savvy ones out there. They miss a lot of the nuance of the game, which lends much to the reputation as not quite as knowledgeable as they ought to be. But give them credit where it is due—they were quite loud last night for Game 1 of the NLCS.

Part of that has to do with the fact that the PA system is pumped up way past 11. Out on the field it sounds just bounce all over the joint. There’s a lot of cinder block-like concrete in Dodger Stadium that just doesn’t absorb the sound well. In that sense, it’s kind of like old Shea Stadium.

Dodger Stadium is nothing like Shea, though. For one thing they have those damn beach balls bouncing all over the place here. Even though it’s a tight, 1-0 game heading into the middle innings, fans are just happily batting a ball and clapping along with the pre-programmed sound affects blasted through the PA.

Yet another reason Dodgers fans are not taken seriously.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Dodger fans when Vin Scully retires from broadcasting after the 2010 season. After all, it is not farfetched to think that a lot of people are baseball fans simply because they like listening to ol’ Vin do the games. Heck, I’ll even admit that I subscribed to the MLB package on Comcast simply to be able to get the Dodgers broadcasts and hear Vin spin his yarns and tell stories about the game and the players.

In the official ranking of sports announcers, Vin Scully was rated as the best of all-time. However, to me it just doesn’t seem good enough. Sure, Vin announces baseball games and I’m sure if asked he’ll humbly say it isn’t anything more than that. But I disagree. Vin behind the microphone is like a concert pianist at the keyboard, a great painter with a brush in hand, or a great writer typing away at a laptop.

The guy is truly an artist.

He’s also the link between the real Dodgers of Brooklyn and the Los Angeles version that came about in 1958. More than anyone, Vin Scully is the Dodgers. Like Harry Kalas in Philadelphia, there are very few people who have heard baseball without Vin describing the action.

Let’s see if those fans stick around when he retires.

The NLCS: Phillies in five

dodgersLOS ANGELES — Let’s just put it out there on the line—Dodger Stadium is my favorite ballpark. It isn’t so much about the actual facility as it is what it represents. Of course the reality of how Dodger Stadium was built compared to its ideals of manifest destiny and a veritable garden party don’t exactly mesh, but still… the views!

That’s the part that’s amazing—sitting in the actual ballpark one can see palm trees and flowers with the picturesque San Gabriels looming just beyond the pavilion. Yet when one goes to the very top of the park to exit and looks out at the skyline of Los Angeles with its hulking post-modernist buildings and the Hollywood sign off to the right it’s hard not to think of the opening scene from “Blade Runner.”

Dodger Stadium is the second oldest ballpark in the National League, but it represents the future. It always has.

So we’ll go to Dodger Stadium on Thursday afternoon for the first game of the 2009 NLCS. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be back later next week, too, in order to figure out which team will go to the World Series.

If the Phillies won the National League at Dodger Stadium last year, why can’t they do it again?

Well, they can do it again. After all, in Game 1, Cole Hamels will face 21-year old Clayton Kershaw in a battle of young lefties. The interesting caveat in this matchup is Kershaw is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA in four starts against the Phillies. Plus, three years ago he was still in high school. Of the teams that he has faced at least twice in his short career, Kershaw is the worst against the Phillies.

Moreover, the Dodgers will send ex-Phillie Vicente Padilla to the mound in Game 2. The Phillies know him well and understand that he is full of weaknesses and can easily be intimidated. As Jimmy Rollins said during Wednesday’s workout:

“When he’s good, he’s really good. If not, he’s way off.”

Take away his win against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS and Padilla hasn’t pitched seven innings since the middle of July. Besides, that Game 3 was Padilla’s first appearance ever in the playoffs so who’s to know if he can keep his focus long enough to be known a s a big-game pitcher.

Hiroki Kuroda is known to the Phillies and not in a good way. Sure, everyone remembers that incident with Shane Victorino during last year’s NLCS, but more telling is that the Phils are 6-for-60 in three games against the Japanese righty.

Then there is Randy Wolf, the ex-Phillie who pitched the first-ever game at Citizens Bank Park. Pitching for other teams at the Bank, Wolf is much better than he was as a Phillie. However, Wolf’s playoff debut wasn’t too good and he was pushed out of a Game 1 start to go in Game 4.

So it will come down to the bullpens. If the Phillies can get a lead and hold it, they will return to the World Series. But if they let Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Wolf hang around, it could prove to be a tough road for the Phillies.

I’m not sure that will happen. That’s why I’m going with the Phillies in five games. Yeah, that goes against the conventional wisdom, but these aren’t the Phillies of yore. These guys know how to win and so they won’t have to return to Southern California until the end of October when they face the Angels in the World Series.

Yeah, that’s it—Phillies vs. Angels in the Fall Classic.

Can the Phillies repeat? It’s tough, says Dodgers manager Joe Torre who was guided the last team to do it in 1998-2000 with the Yankees.

“Well, first off, you’ve got a bulls-eye on your back,” Torre said. “That’s one. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up. And then if you have a young pitcher that nobody knows, it seems to be a challenge to that young man to show what they can do against the world champs or those teams.

“So, I think when you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there. And the Phillies, they’ve experienced those ups and downs. They go through and have a good streak, and I think they went down to Houston and got swept. But the thing about it, when you have a ball club that has been as consistent, knowing they’re good, they rebound from things like that. I think that’s the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they’ve been. Early in the year this year they didn’t win any games at home. It didn’t seem to bother them. They just kept plugging away. I think that’s why they’re so good. Not to mention the talent they have. When you look down that lineup, a couple of switch hitters at the top and then a couple of left-handers and then (Jayson) Werth who’s that blue-collar guy, you may compare him a little bit to Casey Blake type of individual, they’re going to fight you every step of the way. They’re a ballclub that has a purpose—they have a purpose out there, and we certainly are aware of it.”

Let’s pause for a second and think about the notion of Charlie Manuel becoming the first manager to repeat as World Champion since Joe Torre and the first National Leaguer to do it since Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine of 1975 and 1976…

Yeah, Charlie Manuel.

“You like to be able to look over your shoulder and know that your manager believes in you. He’s there for you,” ex-Phillies and now Dodgers pinch hitter Jim Thome said. “Charlie does that. He keeps it relaxed so all you have to do is go out and play. You can’t explain how important that is.”

It starts on Thursday afternoon from here in California.

Is everyone ready?

You talking to me?

Legend has it that rookie Scott Rolen once left the Phillies clubhouse at the Vet after getting hit repeatedly by Dodgers’ pitcher Hideo Nomo, strolled over to the visiting clubhouse, and called out the pitcher. Essentially, according to the legend, Rolen told Nomo that the beanballs stopped now, only not so nice.

From that point on, Rolen always hit well against Nomo.

This apparently occurred back when there weren’t TV cameras everywhere or guys with BlackBerrys ready to put the TwitPic online.

Yes, those were simpler times.

Nevertheless, when Prince Fielder left the visitors’ clubhouse at Dodger Stadium to go into there were teammates, cameras and security guards on the scene. The next thing you know, voila, there’s a YouTube video.

Like this one:

Hot, hot heat

LOS ANGELES – It’s hot. Damn hot. It’s so hot here in Los Angeles that it no longer qualifies as a dry heat. It’s just freaking hot. The sun is up there beating down on our heads and cooking everything below and everyone is just kind moving around slow.

I don’t see too many clouds in the sky. That means there is no badly needed rain in the forecast to help salve the wildfires raging nearby in the San Fernando and Simi Valleys.

It seems as if the warm weather caught a few people off guard here at Dodger Stadium. Like the rest of us, the Dodgers staff is also moving slowly in attempt to conserve energy. In fact, they are moving so slowly that the press room drink machine wasn’t set up, nor were the lineups posted.

Then again, Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson just rolled in while I was typing this. However, Cole changed out of his dark suit and into his pre-game warmup gear rather quickly and talked on the phone in the seats behind home plate. The rule is no cell phone in the clubhouse… starting pitchers included.

Nevertheless, I snapped a photo of Hamels yapping on his cell phone with my cell phone. I’m sure the picture is grainy and undecipherable.

Anyway, off to the field to hear what Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Torre, Charlie Manuel and Brett Myers have to say. It’s another big game tonight…

Then again, they all get bigger from here on out.

***
It’s worth pointing out that our old pal Doug Glanville wrote about his old pal, Terry Francona in an op-ed piece for The New York Times.

One friendly dude writing about another friendly dude… that’s almost like looking at a photo taken from a camera phone of guy talking on his cell phone.

Eighth inning: Big crowd, no bats

LOS ANGELES – I heard all the stories about Dodgers fans and their penchant for arriving to games late and leaving early. But so far tonight everyone seems to be staying until the end.

Why not? The Dodgers are playing well. Better yet, the attendance of 56,800 is the largest crowd in the history of this old joint.

And I was here…

Watching the Phillies not hit – what’s up with that?

After Chris Coste singled to start the eighth, the Phillies went down quietly.

Why don’t we just add this one into the win column for the Dodgers and call it a 2-1 series already. One more win from LA and there will be a Game 6 in Philadelphia on Friday night.

Off to work… check back later to see all the latest.

End of 8: Dodgers 7, Phillies 2

First inning: Early TKO?

LOS ANGELES – The conventional wisdom around these parts is that the fans here at Dodger Stadium are loyal, friendly and laidback. Moreover, they are really into their team – they stick with the Dodgers no matter what.

However, that same conventional wisdom indicates that Dodger fans are nowhere close to being as loud as they are at the Bank. The one thing the fans in Philadelphia do well is loud.

Since I’m sitting outside high above home plate, I have to admit that it’s pretty loud. There is a Shea Stadium feel to this place (or is it that Shea had a Dodger Stadium feel since this park is/was older?), only not as loud.

The fans are prettier, too.

The Phillies’ first at-bats weren’t what anyone would call pretty. In fact, Hiroki Kuroda’s first six pitches were strikes which got him two outs. Chase Utley drew another walk (his fifth in the last two games), but made the third out of the inning when he was nailed trying to steal.

The replay appeared to show Utley sneaking in safely under the tag, but Rafael Furcal blocked the bag with his foot before slapping down the tag.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers wasted no time getting after Jamie Moyer. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez singled on three straight pitches, with Manny driving in the first run. Moyer loaded the bases when he drilled Russell Martin on the knee with one that got a little too down and in.

Certainly Moyer was in a great spot to come undone. Instead, the old lefty battled Nomar Garciaparra for a strikeout and got ahead in the count to Casey Blake until his lined one into right for the second run.

Clearly the Dodgers have a pretty good plan for facing Moyer. Either they are looking for specific pitches or certain locations. Sometimes they jump on the first pitch or they wait. Who knows, maybe the Dodgers watched the tape from Game 3 of the NLDS where the Brewers handled Moyer and decided just to copy that.

Either way, it looked like the early knockout punch was delivered when Blake Dewitt knocked in three runs with a double (triple?).

No movement in the Phillies’ ‘pen though J.A. Happ probably should get limber.

End of 1: Dodgers 5, Phillies 0

Pregame: Lineups, lunch and notes

LOS ANGELES – We’re back here at Dodger Stadium after a morning run through Pasadena and Santa Anita. Soon it will be time to find something to eat, which looks very promising. Guys with my habits and mindset do better with the culinary choices in California than in Philadelphia. So far I have seen concession stands by Panda Express, California Pizza Kitchen, Corona and a few other progressive-styled eateries.

Yes, a guy like me could do well here in Southern California.

The big question will be if Jamie Moyer and the Phillies do well in LaLa Land. A victory tonight will be (as they say) huge. A 3-0 advantage could make this trip to California shorter than planned.

Then again, the Dodgers have been down 0-2 in the playoffs and come back to win three different times and in all instances they won four games in a row. In 1955 the Brooklyn Dodgers rallied to beat the Yankees; in 1965 Sandy Koufax helped the Dodgers come back against the Twins; and in 1981 the old gang with Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey finally beat the Yankees.

But all of those comebacks were in the World Series, not the NLCS.

In the meantime, here are the lineups for this afternoon’s game:

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

Dodgers
15 – Rafael Furcal, ss
16 – Andre Ethier, rf
99 – Manny Ramirez, lf
55 – Russell Martin, c
5 – Nomar Garciaparra, 1b
30 – Casey Blake, 3b
27 – Matt Kemp, cf
33 – Blake DeWitt, 2b
18 – Hiroki Kuroda, p

Walking into Edison’s lab

LOS ANGELES – The guard said the corridor snaked through the belly of Dodger Stadium and would lead me and another writer to the visitors’ clubhouse. Obviously the guy knew what he was talking about since he just sent Jamie Moyer the same way just moments before.

They say that sometimes the journey is much more interesting than the arrival. In this case it seemed right on after I made a quick left turn down another dark and dingy hallway before stumbling onto a sight to behold.

There was Manny being Manny.

Dressed in his Dodgers’ workout gear complete with the headband and everything, Manny eyed me and another scribe like a deer distracted from grazing by a couple of squirrels rustling through the brush.

But rather than scurry away, the other writer and I slowed our pace and not-so inconspicuously turned to watch Manny workout all by himself in the batting cage. There, he went through a range of routines before taking that fluid and famous right-handed swing at a ball resting on a tee.

Before our eyes could focus on the sound of the ball striking the bat and rocketing toward the mesh net at the other end of the cage, Manny was deep into his hitting routine again.

“It’s kind of like wandering into Edison’s lab, isn’t it,” I said.

Yes it was.

At the same time, strolling through the outer concourses, hidden corridors, clubhouses and field of Dodger Stadium is like going into a baseball history time machine. Forget about all the greats that took the same steps as me, Dodger Stadium and its geography is an important part of baseball and U.S. history. The Dodgers, after all, were the first baseball team to move to a city west of St. Louis. The move set off such an all-encompassing chain of events that have never stopped. Ever. Just think about the time that games begin and wonder if that had anything to do with the migration west.

Anyway, Dodger Stadium is a relic. It’s old without the wear. It’s small and cramped, but not claustrophobically so. The vistas from the seating area are right out of Ansel Adams on one side and Blade Runner on the other.

It’s a cross between awesome and totally awesome.

Interestingly, the infield grass is cut to golf-course level and the distance from the stands to the first and third bases is obscenely close. There’s no doubt that the people sitting along the third-base side of the field have gotten an earful from Tommy Lasorda in the past, and Larry Bowa this season.

But those views… wow!

But wouldn’t you know it, after making a conscious effort to pack a camera for the trip in order to snap some pictures for the site, etc., I left the damn thing at home. Yeah, such a dumbass.

Nevertheless, I was able to snap one with my phone, but they never turn out well. In the meantime, I’ll be heading over to the ballpark soon to regale readers with more tales from out here on the coast. Here’s a tidbit to start… a lot of my colleagues believe this series is coming back to Philadelphia late next week.

I’m not so sure.