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.

Your town is pretty cool, too

ANGRYVILLE – They handle defeat very well in Los Angeles. They don’t mope, freak out, or litter the field with D-sized batteries or the ubiquitous beach balls that bounce around through the seating areas during the action. They really don’t even complain, to be perfectly frank.

They just go home. They leave early and fight traffic. They put the crippling defeats out of their minds by skipping work to play in the sun. They just forget about it as they frolic in the grass with cool drinks and lots of pretty friends.

Loss? Nah, they don’t deal with it at all in Los Angeles. Who has the time?

In Philadelphia we know loss all too well. It’s in our DNA. It’s intense… no wait, that’s wrong. It’s intensity.

Each morning we all wake up before the dawn just as the rage has regrouped so we can wipe the bitter-tasting bile that has encrusted the corners of our mouths with the outer black sleeve of our spittle-coated MotorHead t-shirts. Then we drag our sorry asses off the couch where we collapsed just 45 minutes earlier and instinctively thrust a middle finger at the rest of the world.

The day begins in Philadelphia. The fury must be unleashed. We lose again.

But there is always a fleeting moment – one that usually occurs in the time it takes to get from one knee to a standing position after unfolding oneself from the couch – when stock is taken. A moment, as fast as a flap of a hummingbird’s wing, enters our twisted and angry heads:

World weary. Saddened by my years on the road. Seen a lot. Done a lot. Loss? Yeah, I know loss. I know loss with its friends sorrow, fury and death. Yes, loss and me are like this… we’re partners as we walk on the dusty trail of life.

But something happened in Los Angeles. Beneath that tiney, porcupine-like exterior, glimpses into our souls were exposed. There was warmth, fear, insecurity…

Victory?

Yes, victory. The Phillies are going to the World Series. They will play these games in the prime of the night beginning on Wednesday in a city like Tampa or Boston – places that it’s easy to look down at our sad, wretched lives of angry and failed dreams. In Boston and/or Tampa, with their white, sandy beaches, gourmet restaurants, unimpeded gentrification, high-brow universities and sunshiny skies not all that different than in Los Angeles where for 364 days God gives them the gift of perfect weather and climate. That 365th day it might get cloudy.

So when we show up to these cities en masse to watch the local nine fight for our civic pride, they see us coming. We stick out with that crippled walk of defeat, clenched jaws of stress and disgust, fists balled up and middle fingers erect. When we take the exit ramp off the boulevard of broken dreams to enter these happy, little towns, the local authorities are ready. They’ve been tipped off ahead of time and are prepared to set up a dragnet at a moment’s notice.

But what hurts worse isn’t the condescending attitudes or the arrogance in which those people flit through life so carefree and cheery. That we can handle just fine with our jealousy and resentment, thank you very much. No, instead we’re put off by words and hackery. Our dander rises with mockery and stereotypes.

Hey, we know who we are and we accept what others might think and believe, too. We’re cool with it – it doesn’t define us, but sure, if folks want to take the easy way out who are we to blame them? But the insulting part is that they just don’t even try any more.

Boo Santa. Cheer injuries. Snowballs at the Cowboys. Batteries for J.D. Drew. Cheesesteaks. Cracked bells. Anger and passion. Rocky Balboa.

C’mon man, doesn’t anybody want to work anymore? Doesn’t anyone want to learn the truth? Isn’t anyone tired of the hypocrisy and the complacency?

Worse, with some folks from our town now coming to grips with the prospect of winning, they just might attempt to hack it up and fire back at the places that scorn us with their cheap, tired newspaper stories. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the city rip is OK, just like that inanity of politicians betting cheesesteaks against lobsters based on the outcome of a game.

Can we stop this before it starts? Do we owe the citizens of the Tampa Bay area a rip job just because of the notion that the sports team that represents them might beat the one that represents us? Do we have to generate some faux anger with the folks of New England who follow a baseball team that plays in an outdated stadium with high-priced talent?

I have a better idea…

Let’s stop it before it starts. Let’s be better for a change. Let’s act like true winners now that it just might fit us for a change. Let’s not be like Tampa or Boston or Los Angeles.

Let’s just be a town with a winning baseball team trying to win the World Series.

“Winning is hard. Nothing about winning comes easy,” Charlie Manuel said. “… believe me, there’s a price you pay for winning, too.”

That price can sometimes mean dignity, self-respect and the ability to think clearly.

Just because we’re good for once doesn’t mean we get to hack it up, too. Let’s stay good.

***
While we’re talking the World Series, here are some facts and figures about the Phillies courtesy of CSN producer, Neal Slotkin:

Making sixth World Series appearance in franchise history – first since 1993

Phillies now 4-0 in NLCS closeout games

0-4 vs teams currently in AL East :
IF TB wins, Phillies will have played all 5 current teams from the AL East in a World Series:
1915 – lost to Red Sox 4-1
1950 – lost to Yankees 4-0
1983 – lost to Orioles 4-1
1993 – lost to Blue Jays 4-2

If TB wins: Phillies 5-10 all-time vs Tampa (2-4 at Tropicana Field)

World Series Experience: (5 players – 3 hitters, 2 pitchers)

So Taguchi: 3-15 (.200 BA, 1 RBI) – Only Phillie with a World Series hit
Eric Bruntlett: appeared in 2005 WS w/HOU, never batted
Pedro Feliz: 0-5 in 3 games with Giants in 2002

Brad Lidge: 0-2, 4.91 ERA in 3 games (3.2 IP) with HOU in 2005
Allowed 4 hits, 2 R, 3 ER, 1 HR, 6 K
Scott Eyre: 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 3 games for Giants in 2002
Allowed 5 hits, 1 R, 0 ER in 3 IP, 1 BB, 2 K

Other Player Notes
Cole Hamels: 6th Youngest starter to win LCS Clinching game
Becomes fourth Phillies player named NLCS MVP:
Cole Hamels – 2008
Curt Schilling – 1993
Gary Matthews – 1983
Manny Trillo
– 1980

3-0 this postseason, 3 playoff wins is 2nd in franchise history (Carlton 6)

Jimmy Rollins: 3 career leadoff homers in postseason, most all-time
Only player in MLB history with 2 leadoff home runs in same postseason
NLCS: .143 BA (3-21), 1 HR, 1 RBI, 8 K

Jayson Werth: 13 K – most among any player in 2008 playoffs (Rollins tied for 2nd with 4 other players with 10)

Shane Victorino: Leads all players with 13 postseason RBIs

Pregame: Celeb spotting

LOS ANGELES – Part of the fun of going to baseball games at Dodger Stadium isn’t so much about watching the home team . Oh sure, the Dodgers are very popular though maybe not as much as the Lakers. The Dodgers are even more popular now that they have Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez.

But Dodgers games are fun for people watching, but more specifically, celebrity watching. Though Los Angelinos are pretty non-plussed about seeing famous actors and starlets out in public interacting with the rabble, the visiting scribes (like the ones from Philadelphia) took a keen interest in spotting some familiar faces in the stands.

While the Dodgers and Phillies took batting practice this afternoon, Penny Marshall was on the field talking to Torre. The funny thing about that was we were just in Milwaukee where her hit show, “Laverne & Shirley” was set.

Unfortunately, no one alerted Laverne to this fact or the one in which a few of us paid homage to one of her pals by visiting the statue of The Fonz.

While Laverne and Torre chatted, Jon Lovitz took in batting practice from the seats behind home plate. A particularly funny idea about this was when one of the scribes suggested that someone walk by Lovitz, trip and fall to the ground, before jumping up in the air while yelling, “ACTING!”

Yeah, I guess you had to be there.

Meanwhile, as this was all going on, Danny Devito chatted up some TV reporters near the Dodgers dugout on the third base side of the field. Truth be told, Devito is much shorter in person.

I’m sure we’ll see a few more notable Hollywood types, but really, how much different is it than being in DC and seeing George Will or some sort of politico. That’s the way it is in an industry town.

Fourth & Fifth innings: Book those flights soon

MILWAUKEE – The Phillies are more than halfway through this one and the scribes are scrambling to make reservations to Los Angeles. My guess is that the rates are going to climb quickly by tomorrow when the run on them by folks from Philly.

Who knows, maybe we can all crash at Larry Bowa’s pad?

Meanwhile, after Jayson Werth’s homer, Game 1 starter Yovani Gallardo has retired six in a row. It looks as if the Brewers and the Phillies have gotten comfortable.

The same can be said for Joe Blanton, too. When J.J. Hardy singled to lead off the fifth, it was the first hit for the Brewers since Ryan Braun got a two-out single in the first. It was a run of 10 in a row for the big righty, who is on the way to turning in his best outing as a Phillie.

Then again, playoff wins are always big for the Phillies.

Following Hardy’s single, Blanton retired three straight, including two strikeouts in a row. His pitch count is a robust 75, which is the only thing likely keeping him from throwing a complete game.

End of 5: Phillies 5, Brewers 0