NLCS Game 1: Plenty of good seats still available

fernandoLOS ANGELES—When waiting to pick up my credentials, badges and cross through the security throng to get into Dodger Stadium yesterday, there were a handful of people who casually walked to the ticket window looking to get into tonight’s game.

No one was turned away because the games weren’t sold out. In fact, even now after Billy Ray Cyrus sang the National Anthem and Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs heard the loudest boos during the player introductions, there were big pockets of empty seats all over beautiful Dodger Stadium.

More notably, I didn’t spy a single well-known celebrity out on the field before the game unless Frank Robinson counts.

In other words, the ballpark is definitely too good for the LA fans. They have great weather, great food, plenty of things to do whenever they want and all day to do them. That’s why baseball seems to be nothing more than a casual thing here. Unlike in Boston, New York, Chicago and Philly, it’s not life and death.

“I tell the players they should all play in the northeast at some point then they wouldn’t be so sensitive,” the notoriously insensitive Dodgers’ third-base coach and former Mr. Phillie, Larry Bowa said. “”It’s not life or death here. Nobody’s going to jump off a bridge.”

They probably won’t egg a players’ house after a bad game, either.

“There are so many movie stars here and so many things to do that the Dodgers are like fourth or fifth,” said Californian Jimmy Rollins. However, Rollins was quick to point out that he was really from California.

Northern California.

“No movie stars,” he said.

The coolest sighting at the ballpark?

Fernando Valenzuela.

You know he could breathe through his eyes like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands, right?

Yep, that was Fernando. And as I ate a light lunch in the media dining room and sat across from the ex-Dodger great and Cy Young Award winner, I was regaled with tales about the proper technique and arm angle of how to throw the scroogie.

These days Fernando is the Spanish-language announcer for Dodgers’ radio broadcasts, and looks just like he did when he was pitching during the 1980s and ‘90s, albeit with a few extra pounds. The shoulder-length hair brought back by Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men, has been neatly shorn.

Anyway, here are a few things I learned about Fernando this afternoon:

• No, he cannot breathe through his eyelids. This was a disappointing fact to learn.
• Fernando was once a teammate with Jamie Moyer in Baltimore in 1993.

• Nope, Fernando had no idea what a guy like me can do for fun in LA. Another disappointing fact to learn.
• Sarge Matthews chatted with Fernando earlier. I learned this when I walked up to Sarge and said, “Did you see that! That was Fernando Valenzuela!” He yelled back, “I know!”
• Fernando brought the heat at 90 mph and threw the screwball in the 70s. He had two pitches – a fastball which he changed speeds with and the screwball. If he threw the screwball to lefties, he’s plunk them, he said. Once, he drilled Roberto Alomar with one simply because he couldn’t control it.
• Fernando has no idea why pitchers don’t throw the scroogie any more.
• Leslie Gudel, the Los Angelino by way of Pasadena, was also a big Fernando fan back in the day. She also liked Ron Cey because she played third base for her school softball teams way back when.

So yeah, how about that? Fernando Valenzuela. Not bad.

Shine on you crazy diamonds

Here it is… this is Charlie Manuel’s World Series ring shown off by hand model extraordinaire, Leslie Gudel. The BlackBerry pictures certainly don’t do the ring justice, but trust me – the thing is as big as a belt buckle. In fact, Charlie even reported that there is some room for him to grow into the ring.

More importantly, it’s nice. It’s not tacky like the one the Marlins got in 2003. However, it’s definitely something noticeable when it’s worn. Several of the players left the ballpark with their new bling on and it stood out.

Anyway, here’s Chuck’s ring:

chucks-ring

chuck_ring

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Speaking of the hand model, we were a bit taken aback when Chipper Jones said he was going to play out his current contract and then “sail off into the sunset.”

Unlike with Curt Schilling, there is no debating that Chipper is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

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matthewsOh, here’s a crazy story… at Tuesday night’s game at the Bank, I asked a few members of the Phillies PR staff when the team would make the traditional White House visit that championship teams often are honored with.

Actually, not to be confusing, I asked, “Hey, when is the team going to visit the White House. You guys have that off-day, afterall?”

I figured the question was appropriate considering the team will be in The District next week and had an off-day scheduled for Tuesday. But, good question, right? It was quick, concise and to the point and can illicit just a handful of answers.

Or so I thought. Apparently it was a stumper because no one on the staff had an answer to give me or another colleague of the writing press corps.

So imagine our surprise this morning when we woke up, clicked on our mobile devices and saw that the team web site was reporting that the Phillies would visit with the President next Tuesday at the White House.

Wha happened?

I guess the query was too complex or maybe they thought I asked if the team was going to the White House right this minute. As in, “Hey, are guys going to visit the White House, right now?”

Hey, it’s not the first time this type of confusion has occurred in the past month. But the season is young… they’ll get it together and make sure I don’t have answers to basic questions at least once per series.

And of course I will always report back to you there in front of your computer… that’s right, I’m looking out for you, dear readers.

So yeah, the Phillies are going to the White House next Tuesday. In fact, Gary Matthews already has an in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since his daughter and President Obama’s daughter were friends in Chicago.

Yeah, that’s right… Sarge rolls with the leader of the free world.

Eighth inning: Big relief

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Brett Myers is turning in his best outing of the season. Who knows… maybe it’s the best outing of his career. Sure, he might have had some overpowering and dominant performances during his career, but for what the Phillies need right now Myers is delivering big time.

Double headers are always taxing on pitching staffs and coaches absolutely loathe them. When the notion that the Phillies and Brewers would prefer to play a double dip on Sunday, one could see a cold shudder go up and down the spines of Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee. The havoc that would become of their pitching staff was just too much to fathom.

But up stepped Myers and down sat the bullpen. Thanks to seven innings from Joe Blanton in the opener, Manuel should have a stable of fresh arms when the Phillies go to Atlanta on Tuesday.

Through eight innings Myers has allowed two hits and has thrown just 88 pitches. Better yet, there is no one warming up in the bullpen. In fact, Myers received a well-deserved standing ovation and hanky wave when he walked up to the plate in the eighth.

How huge would a complete game be?

Meanwhile, Shane Victorino singled in the eighth to cap off a 4-for-4 game, while Jimmy Rollins drew his third walk to reach base safely in five straight plate appearances.

More from Leslie
I’m a big fan of Ned Yost, but either he’s making some bad calls or the inmates are running the asylum… and poorly. Yost’s team is exceptionally undisciplined. They’ve allowed Brett Myers to go deep in this game by routinely swinging at the first pitch. 88 pitches through 8 innings!!! This is a dream come true for the Phillies. They got 7 innings out of Blanton in game 1, tying his high as a Phillie… and now this out of Myers. With the day off tomorrow the Phils will head into Atlanta (a place they’ve dominated this year) with a lead in the wild card race and a well rested bullpen, thanks to the Brewers.

Could Yost have actually looked past this series and to their next series with the Cubs? At what’s soon to be 3-11 in their last 14 games, the Brewers are falling fast. Yost will likely finish out the season in Milwaukee, but at this rate, he won’t be there past that.

Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Sixth & seventh: Chowing down

Sorry about the delay, folks. I had to get up out of my seat and grab a drink to make sure I stay hydrated in this humidity. Hopefully we get a break from this oppressive, sultry weather soon. Truth be told, I’m a cool weather guy.

It should be noted that there is/was free food in the media dining room this evening. The Phillies served hot dogs, pizza along with the usual salad bar offerings. Not bad – all for free, too. Usually it costs $10.

Still, the concepts of “free food” and “the media” should send a cold shiver down your spine. Frankly, it’s a scary sight in which it’s quite possible for a guy to be mauled, run over, smacked with a pointy elbow by someone boxing out for position or lose a digit if grabbing for something.

Here in the press box they bite first, think second. Do yourself a favor and stay out of the way.

On the field Myers cruised through the sixth with another clean frame, including his second whiff of the game. But in the seventh, Prince Fielder broke up the shutout with a line-drive home run that reached the first row in right field.

It should be noted that Ken Mandel just walked by and said, “It should be noted that the Phillies ‘Never surrendered’ against a team with Corey Hart.”

Yes, I will apologize for Ken. Sorry.

Anyway, Fielder homered twice this series after not hitting one for a month. The big slugger is up to 30 now and it seems to me that the Brewers chances will ride on his wide back. Who knows – maybe he’ll get it going in Chicago this week.

For the Phillies, Jimmy Rollins walked in the sixth inning to reach base for the fourth straight time in the game. When Jimmy goes, the Phillies go. The team’s record is remarkable in games in which Rollins scores a run.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley has hit in eight straight games though he is really hitting. Who knows, the numbers in the box score to lead to something. After all, I recall during Jimmy Rollins’ long hitting streak that he really was scuffling despite the fact he had a hit in 10 straight games. But once he found a groove it was lights out.

It’s lights out here for the Brewers… stick a fork in ‘em?

Leslie chimes in
I’m sitting 20 feet from John and I can tell you it’s not nearly as hot out here as he perceives it to be. I’m thinking you need to take the Starbucks drip out of your arm, John… the caffeine has your sweat glands working overtime.

The conversation on this end of the press box has shifted from Brett Myers to Sarah Palin. A 6-0 lead can have that effect on people.

I guess you have to be from Southern California to enjoy this type of weather, huh? I guess your seatmates are helping to fan you off with those flapping gums.

Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Fifth inning: It’s really hot

It’s really muggy here at the park tonight. Oppressively so. I’m not doing anything other than typing and thinking and I’m sweating like Dom DeLuise at a clam bake.

Yes, that’s graphic. And obscure… graphically obscure.

Nevertheless, if I’m sweating like the irrepressible Captain Chaos (who didn’t love those Cannonball Run movies? Just thinking about them makes me laugh at the spot on Norm McDonald imitation of Burt Reynolds), I’m sure Brett Myers is as lathered up as a Clydesdale hauling a wagon full of hay.

So far the heat and humidity doesn’t seem to be bothering Myers. After Ray Durham’s two-out single in the fourth, Myers retired four in a row – three straight on balls that didn’t leave the infield.

Interestingly, Myers has just one strikeout, though the economy of his outing doesn’t really manifest itself in his pitch count at 57. Still, the big fella isn’t laboring and hasn’t been stressed by anything other than throwing strikes.

Check this out: Brett Myers is pitching a very mature game. He’s in control even though he isn’t exactly overpowering.

Myers doesn’t have to sweat out this one. It’s pretty evident here in the fifth that he is going to pitch the Phillies into a tie for first in the wild-card race. Moreover, the Phillies could be just one game behind the Mets for the NL East after the New Yorkers blew a late lead in a loss to the Braves.

Man do they miss Billy Wagner.

With the bats the Phillies didn’t kick up much of a fuss against reliever Tim Dillard. However, Shane Victorino picked up his third hit of the game with a two-out single. That’s not bad for a guy who came into today’s action with just seven hits in September. Today he has four in both games.

Leslie chimes in
OK, I seriously believe that’s the first time I have EVER been called a pessimist! More often than not I’m considered too soft when it comes to this team.

So, Pat talked about feeding off his clutch, game-winning hit in game one. He’s doing just that. That hit to deep center is another home run if he pulls it like he usually does. Maybe someone reminded him he’ll be a free agent in a few weeks. A nice run in these last 13 games would go a long way for both Burrell and the Phillies.

Phillies 6, Brewers 0

Second inning: Hello, Mr. Baseball!

Saw Bob Uecker – the famous Mr. Baseball – in the media dining room between games. Bob was wearing a sharp button-down shirt and a gaudy Bluetooth device before preparing to entertain the good folks in Milwaukee with some more splendid analysis.

The character he played in Major League wasn’t far off, folks.

Which reminds me of a funny story:

A few years back when the Brewers were in town, a member of the Philly media approached Uecker to tell him how much he enjoyed his work as well as his acting in the film, Major League. After thanking the press dude for the compliment and exchanging some more small talk, the pair split up.

Suddenly, though, Uecker stopped, turned around and called back to the media guy, “Hey, have you seen the second movie yet,” referring, of course, to the sequel in the Major League film series.

“No,” the press guy answered.

“Don’t, it sucks,” Uecker said.

That Bob Uecker – always looking out for you.

Meanwhile, Brett Myers sat down three more Brewers in a row in the second inning. That’s six up and six down for the big fella on 16 pitches (11 strikes) and five on balls hit into the air.

The Phillies’ offense continued to put pressure on Jeff Suppan and the Brewers in the bottom of the second when Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino reached to leadoff the frame. But for the second inning in a row, a double play – this one from Pedro Feliz – ruined a potentially huge threat…

That was until Myers singled to right with two outs to drive home another run. The white rally towels handed out to the fans flitted and flew a few pitches later when Jimmy Rollins smashed a single to left-center to drive in Chris Coste from third and a rumblin’, stumblin’, bumblin’ and slidin’ Myers from second.

If the sight of Myers circling the bases and sliding into home doesn’t make a guy want to twirl a flag, nothing will.

Onto the third.

Phillies 4, Brewers 0

Leslie chimes in: Jimmy should have never tried to stretch that single into a double to start the game… but it worked.

Brett Myers should have never been sent home in the second… but it worked.

The Phillies have had some things fall there way today… they’d better not push their luck!

Always a pessimist, Leslie… sheesh!