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

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.

Game 4: Phillies 6, Brewers 2

MILWAUKEE – Charlie Manuel went with Brad Lidge in the ninth with a four-run lead mostly because there won’t be another game until next Thursday. Because the closer struggled a bit in Game 1 on just three days of rest, the Phillies might need to make sure they stay sharp the rest of the week.

At the same time, the Phillies will have a pitching staff rested and chomping at the bit when the Dodgers come to town next Thursday for Game 1 of the NLCS. Obviously L.A. will be sharp and rested, too, so it should be a pretty good series.

After all, pitching and defense are the keys to playoff baseball. During the regular season it’s often difficult to find rest for some pitchers, but here the Phillies and Dodgers will get some built into the schedule.

They can thank the prime-time TV schedule for that.

Anyway, down to the clubhouse for more color and flavor from a celebratory clubhouse. Do they pop the champagne for the NLDS? The Rockies did last year, but is it necessary?

Oh hell, why not? After all, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen every year with the Phillies.

Live it up!

Game 4: Phillies 6, Brewers 2

Phillies win series 3-1

NLCS Game 7

Plenty of hype during the pre-game, but not as much as one would expect… especially for a Game 7 started by Roger Clemens. Psycho Lyons related a funny comment by our boy Scotty Rolen, which I’ve heard and seen him say thousands of times.

Damn!

Why did the Phillies have to trade him?

Top of 1
Craig Biggio leads off with a homer tight to the line in left. He quickly circles the bases with his head down, but when he gets back to the dugout and sits down with his helmet off, he suddenly looks old.

There’s one for Astros.

Bottom of 1
Clemens retires the side in order, but reaches a three-ball count on each hitter. Rocket throws 18 pitches in the inning – nine balls and nine strikes. Bob Brenly points out on the telecast that Clemens always battles against a high pitch count.

“Sometimes he throws 100 pitches by the fifth inning,” Brenly exclaimed, as if it were an in-depth point.

And sometimes he likes to wear women’s underwear, mince around the house and be called “Sapphire,” but no one ever mentions that.

It’s still 1-0 for the ‘Stros.

Top of 2
That Thom Brenneman has a wonderful speaking voice. It’s forceful, yet kind. No one should feel annoyed when he announces that Jeff Suppan walked leadoff hitter Jeff Kent. Nor does anyone mind that he spells his first name “Thom.” To me that spelling says that Thom is willing to take the extra step. He’s not going to cheat anyone by hiding the “H” like all those sissy boys named “Tom.”

I like that.

I recall seeing Thom walk into the bathroom in the press box at Citizens Bank Park between innings when his Arizona Diamondbacks were in town last May. Thom took a urinal next to his broadcasting partner Mark Grace, who, as everyone knows, might be the funniest of all the good guys in the history of the game. Anyway, Grace and Thom were taking a leak as I was washing my hands when one of their cronies came into the room and started giving Grace a hard about taking a whiz between innings.

“Do you have time for that? What happens if you don’t make it back in time for the start of the inning? Aren’t you worried? You better hurry up,” the crony chided Grace.

“Doesn’t take too long to drain something this small,” Grace laughed back.

What a gem.

Jim Edmonds made a fantastic diving catch to rob extra bases from Brad Ausmus. Edmonds often is accused of hot-dogging and intentionally taking a slow route to the ball in order to make diving, highlight-reel catches because he loves the attention that comes with being on ESPN. However, in the seventh game of the NLCS, Edmonds isn’t going to pull such a stunt. He truly made a dynamic catch.

Thom exults it and it is replayed from three different angles and varying speeds before the Cardinals come up in the bottom half of the inning.

Bottom of 2
Rolen leads off and flies to center on the second pitch. After Clemens threw 18 pitches in the first, shouldn’t Rolen make the old man work a little more? Making matters worse, Edmonds grounded weakly to second on the first pitch. That’s two outs on three pitches for Clemens.

Reggie Sanders only takes a pitch before grounding to third.

Six up and six down for Clemens on 23 pitches

Top of 3
Missed the first part of the frame, but saw Carlos Beltran swipe second after drawing a walk. The stolen base coupled with an aggressive tag up on a routine fly to center helped Beltran score his record 12th run of the series when Edmonds’ throw skipped past Rolen at third.

Beltran has yet to be caught stealing in 38 attempts as a National Leaguer. Too bad he won’t keep the streak going next season when he’s making $20 million with the Yankees.

Bottom of 3
Tony Womack works Clemens to 2-2 before legging out a double to left-center. Mike Matheny smartly moves him over to third before pitcher Suppan lays down a perfect squeeze bunt. Great call by Tony La Russa. Womack timed it well by waiting for Clemens to commit to the plate before digging to the plate. Suppan can handle the bat pretty well for a pitcher. The only play was to first.

The squeeze makes it 2-1

Top of 4
I need to go for a run. Maybe I’ll hit the road at 9:45 or 10 p.m.

My son Michael had a bath and spent the evening at the Barnes & Noble with my wife. He’s going to have a bottle and go to bed while I contemplate running and watch Game 7.

Jeff Kent, the hero in Game 5, leads off by getting hit by a pitch. Meanwhile, the commentators are talking about La Russa’s uncanny ability to steal signs. Pretty fascinating. Sometimes, they say, La Russa will stand behind the cameras at the end of the dugout so he can get a clean view at his target without getting caught.

Morgan Ensberg singles to make it first and second with no outs. This gets the bullpen stirring for the Cardinals. Luckily for Suppan, he is able to get a ground out and a whiff from Brad Ausmus with runners on the corners. He gets Clemens to strikeout to wiggle out of the jam.

I recall writing a bunch of deadline stories about Suppan in 2003 and noting that making a deal for him would be a good move both financially and with the rotation. Apparently, general manager Ed Wade did not see what I wrote. In case he stumbles on here, I’ll re-post those old stories here and here.

Bottom of 4
Clemens sits down Larry Walker, Albert Pujols and Rolen in order. Of the 13 hitters he has faced, Clemens has thrown a first pitch strike to 11 hitters. Incidentally, Rolen is the only hitter he started with a pitch out of the zone.

Through four innings, Clemens has thrown 53 pitches (36 strikes), while Suppan has hucked 77 pitches.

Still 2-1.

Top of 5
Beltran hits a screamer to Rolen, but the big boy gobbles it up for the second out. Bagwell skies one to the track in left to end a pretty uneventful frame. Suppan really needed an easy one, especially against those big bats.

Bottom of 5
Thinking about that run but it’s raining. I hate running in the rain.

Edmonds leads off with a single for just the second hit off Clemens. The commentators just pointed out that the last time the Red Sox made it to the World Series, Clemens started Game 6 and won his first Cy Young Award. As soon as this is pointed out, the big right-hander strikes out Sanders.

Clemens, of course, was something of a novelty that summer of ’86. For those of us who didn’t live in New England, he kind of came out of nowhere. Actually, we knew about him because he struck out a record 15 hitters as a injury-riddled rookie in ’85, and had been the star pitcher for the College World Series-winning University of Texas, but he wasn’t a household name.

It’s funny what a 24-win season followed by 18 more seasons of averaging 16 wins a year does for a guy.

Anyway, Womack reached and was picked off by Ausmus thanks to a bad call by first-base umpire Eric Cooper.

I wonder what that Jim Wolf is doing?

Top of 6
Still raining. Looks like the run is off unless this game ends before midnight. I’d like to get one in sometime today.

Now Thom is talking about the Astros’ crazy run to the playoffs. I think the run is best described by Paul Hagen in the Daily News.

Wait a second… what happened to that inning? Looks like Suppan got out of it with 12 pitches. He’s up to 98 through six, but should be out of the game because he’s slated to leadoff the sixth.

Bottom of 6
Roger Cedeno singles for Suppan. Good choice in a hitter, because Cedeno is 11-for-25 against Clemens. Try to figure that out. Edgar Renteria bunts him to second and good old Larry Walker, cut from the same cloth as Mark Grace, hits a dribbler to Clemens for the second out.

Coincidentally, Walker and Biggio used to have some sort of communication via the bathroom in the visitor’s dugout at Veterans Stadium.

I took a picture of it.

How good is Albert Pujols? So good that he knows that Clemens is going to eventually throw him a fastball. He waits for it and laces a double to left to tie the game. Then, Rolen lines a first-pitch fastball over the fence in left to put the Cards up by two.

Anyone who knows me knows what I think about Rolen. Don’t get me started on him, because I’m not allowed to root.

It would interesting to hear what Rolen will say about his homer after the game. It will be even more interesting to hear what he says if his homer is the last hit Clemens allows in his career. I’m sure Scotty will tell his daughter about it. She’s due to arrive in January.

Top of 7
Orlando Palmeiro pinch hits for Clemens with two outs and reliever Kiko Calero hits him. It’s the only hiccup in the inning as the Cards hold on to the 4-2 lead.

Bottom of 7
Simple organ for the stretch. Sure is a far cry from Ronan Tynan at the Stadium. Meanwhile, the cameras zoomed in on Rolen during the playing of “God Bless America.” If the game holds with the current score, he’s the big star and Pujols is the MVP.

Smartly, astros’ skipper Phil Garner taps 20-game winner Roy Oswalt to relieve Clemens. His first pitch bounces five feet in front of the plate, but he impressively retires the side in order by striking out two.

Maybe Oswalt should have started in place of Clemens?

Top of 8
Here comes crazy Julian Tavarez, the John Holmes of Major League Baseball. Yeah, that’s right. He’s also a bit crazy, but that’s pretty well documented.

Renteria makes back-to-back good plays at short to retire Beltran and Jeff Bagwell. The Cardinals can smell it. Just for good measure, Renteria makes another stunning play, but when he rifles it to first, it smacks Tavarez on his glove-covered broken hand.

Interesting.

Bottom of 8
Old Phillie Marlon Anderson smacks a pinch double to start the frame. He comes around to score on Larry Walker’s single with two outs. The cardinals are so close they are starting to breathe heavy. You can see their hearts race.

Top of 9
Jason Isringhausen takes the ball and quickly retires the first two hitters. La Russa looks like he needs oxygen. When the final out is recorded, the Cards look relieved and like they are going to break into a group cry. Why not, there are tons of guys on that team who have played a long time and never made it to the World Series.

Larry Walker, Jim Edmonds are the old boys who are getting their first shot, while Rolen and Pujols are the kids who are stepping onto center stage. Then there are Sanders and Renteria, who seem to get to the Series every year.

Good for them.

For Rolen, he is getting what he left Philadelphia for. I wonder if all the headaches, arguments, back stabbings, name-calling, booing and mistreatment was worth it for Rolen.

From the way his face looked when his pregnant wife Nikki ran out onto the field to join in the celebration, it looked like everything was worth it. A man saw his dream come true by smacking a homer. His wife, pregnant with his first child, came onto the field to hug him, all of the TV people wanted to talk to him and his teammates wanted to pour champagne on his head. How cool is that?

Yeah, Philadelphia is a million miles away.