That has put Philadelphia in position to wrap up a spot in the World Series on Wednesday with ace Cole Hamels on the mound, looking to bring an abrupt end to the Ramirez-led Dodgers playoff run in Game 5 of the NL championship series.
The Phillies seem to have things set up pretty well to be the NL representative in the World Series. They have a 3-1 lead in the NLCS with their best starting pitcher heading to the hill, and even if Hamels can’t get a win, they have two more chances at home to end this series in a ballpark where the Dodgers have yet to win this year.
“I think it would be more exciting to clinch at home in front of the home crowd, but any time you can do it sooner I think makes it a little bit easier on your sense of worry or excitement,” said Hamels, who has won both his starts in this postseason with two runs allowed and 17 strikeouts in 15 innings.
Brilliant pitching by Dodgers relievers was a big reason the team won the NL West and swept the Cubs in the division series, but that group blew a chance to help even the NLCS on Monday.
Starter Derek Lowe turned a 3-2 lead over to the relief corps in the sixth inning, during which Clayton Kershaw surrendered the tying run, but the Dodgers went ahead 5-3 in the bottom half. That lead lasted until the eighth inning, when set-up man Cory Wade gave up a two-run homer to Shane Victorino and closer Jonathan Broxton surrendered a two-run shot to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs as the Phillies emerged with a 7-5 victory.
“I didn’t really see that coming. Our bullpen of late has been tremendous,” said Lowe, removed by manager Joe Torre after throwing just 74 pitches. “You’re not going to keep an offense like this down.”
The Los Angeles bullpen had thrown 11 1-3 scoreless innings in this series before giving up five runs Monday while allowing six hits and three walks in four innings. Opposing batters had been hitting .186 without a home run against Dodgers relievers in the playoffs.
Their 3.33 ERA during the regular season ranked second in the NL behind Philadelphia (3.19).
“You’re going to have these games,” said Broxton, who had allowed just two homers all year. “You got to wipe it out and get ready to play them again.”
Ramirez is doing nearly all he can to keep the Dodgers’ season going. He has reached base 12 times in 18 plate appearances during this series, driving in at least one run in each game.
The Phillies failed to retire Ramirez once Monday as he walked three times, singled and doubled, improving to 11-for-22 in the playoffs.
His arrival from Boston at the trade deadline keyed the Dodgers’ push to a division title and many felt he could carry them to the World Series, which he helped the Red Sox win in 2004 and ’07. Instead, Los Angeles is one loss from being eliminated, needing to win Wednesday and take both Games 6 and 7 in Philadelphia, where it’s 0-6 this season.
“We can only do it one at a time,” said Torre, who opted to cancel Tuesday’s scheduled workout. “I sense we’ll be back right here with the right attitude. These guys have been playing hard.”
Ramirez’s nine RBIs through Monday tied him for second-most in the postseason behind Victorino, who has set a team playoff record with 11 RBIs as he continues to be the Phillies’ spark plug.
Before playing a major role in causing the benches to empty in Game 3 and letting his bat do the talking in Game 4, Victorino keyed Philadelphia’s 8-5 win in Game 2, driving in four runs and making a leaping catch at the wall to preserve a three-run lead in the seventh.
The speedy center fielder also hit a grand slam off Milwaukee’s CC Sabathia in Game 2 of the division series.
“This is what you play for as a kid. You play for it in the minor leagues, you get an opportunity and try to make the best of it,” Victorino said. “I go out there every day I do the same thing. I’m not trying to change.”
Hamels (2-0, 1.20 ERA) is unlikely to change much, either. He’s allowed two runs in seven innings in each of his three starts versus the Dodgers this year, including a 3-2 victory in Game 1 on Thursday.
Two of the six hits Hamels allowed in that game were to Ramirez, but the left-hander also struck out eight and he enters Wednesday knowing a similar performance could be enough to send Philadelphia to its first World Series since 1993.
“This one is definitely important just for the fact that we almost are there,” Hamels said. “We’re almost to the World Series. We’re almost at the chance of becoming world champions.”
Opposing Hamels will be Chad Billingsley (1-1, 6.55), who looks to atone for his awful Game 2 performance. He allowed a season-high eight runs, eight hits and three walks in 2 1-3 innings.
The right-hander held Chicago to a run and five hits in 6 2-3 innings to win his lone division series start, but the Phillies have a lot more depth from the left side of the plate. Though Billingsley has held Ryan Howard hitless in four at-bats this year, switch hitters Jimmy Rollins and Victorino and lefty-hitting Chase Utley are a combined 8-for-12 against him in 2008.
“It’s pretty much do or die,” Billingsley said. “We’ve just got to come ready to play.”