LOS ANGELES – There's only so much a man can write off to a slick baseball, or a pitcher's claim to the inner half, or some hardball attitude, or this puffed-up Philly thing that crept into the National League Championship Series.
Over the course of a couple of games, a man gets flipped, shoved, spun around, hit in the knee enough, it begins to appear less like strategy and more like target practice.
And so it was that Russell Martin ordered the fastball that hissed over Shane Victorino's head on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, that emptied the dugouts and bullpens, that turned this series from best-of-seven to tell-yer-story-walkin'.
The words might never have passed Martin's pursed lips.
But they flew from the helmet he slammed to the infield. They screamed from the fists that pounded the water bucket. They burned from the eyes that glared into the Philadelphia Phillies' bench.
For a second consecutive game, Martin stood in the batter's box and looked like an unarmed guy in a sword fight.
When he'd had enough, they all had had enough. And, in case Hiroki Kuroda was unsure of the protocol, Derek Lowe and Rick Honeycutt summoned Kuroda's translator to the bench and appeared to fill him in.
On Sunday, Jamie Moyer hit Martin in the first inning with a pitch that, granted, Martin could have bare-handed and thrown back harder. Clay Condrey, at 90 mph, went up and in on Martin in the second inning, leaving Martin in the dirt.
A few minutes later, the Los Angeles Dodgers led by five runs. There were two out. There was no one on base. Shane Victorino, meet the wrong place, the wrong time. Nothing personal.
Baseball justice is a vague, mystical, sometimes playground, often goofy thing. But the Phillies had that coming. Not at the head, as Victorino rightfully pleaded. And nobody should have stepped a foot out of the dugout on either side because they each had lived the code a hundred times before. But at some point, some Dodgers pitcher was going to work up the courage Billingsley lacked and leave a bruise, ultimately harmless but for the scare and its symbolism.
"That situation, we should have taken care of it over there," Ramirez said, meaning Philadelphia. "You know, we should have taken care of it over there."
Derek Lowe had said the same thing before the game.
"The one thing you don't want to do is feel like you're getting pushed around, with the other team thinking they can do whatever they want and you're not really going to stand up for yourself," he said. "And it seemed like for those few innings, seemed like that's what they did. Now did that translate into them scoring all those runs? I don't know. But, the bottom line is you can't allow them to dictate, to pretty much let them do whatever they want. You have to stand up for yourself."
Victorino understood, mostly. He pointed at his helmeted head. Not there, he said. Anywhere but there. He put a hand on Martin's shoulder. Victorino and Martin had spent time together in the Dodgers' farm system, never on the same minor-league team but raised by the same baseball men.
"I wasn't surprised they tried to hit me," Victorino said later. "But I was surprised they tried to hit me in the head."
Myers, who is ground zero in all this, claimed the fastball that buzzed Ramirez's spine slipped. So the only mid-90s pitch he threw that missed the catcher's mitt by three feet happened to come during Ramirez's at-bat. The Dodgers' best hitter. The postseason's best hitter. That's just horrible luck for Myers.
Still, he said, "I think that's why they went after Shane. An eye for an eye. They probably think that I threw at Manny's head."
"But," he said, "I didn't."
Of course not. Neither did Kuroda.
"It just slipped out of my hand," Kuroda said.
There you go. Nobody ever has thrown at anybody until the book comes out.
In baseball, even in October, this is known as détente. A couple of Dodgers almost get hit. (Martin actually did get hit, twice, but neither were fastballs, so those don't count). A Phillie almost gets hit. A few guys lose their minds and have to be restrained by teammates because that's the rule; somebody has to overreact, usually the guy with the bald spot.
No doubt, the Dodgers had been pushed around for two games. The Phillies were that good. The Dodgers would win Game 3 Sunday night and make it a series or, well, tell their story walkin'. They won 7-2.
"It's baseball," Martin said. "They've been going up and in on us. They had made us a little uncomfortable. We needed something."
Mostly, they got Moyer, who didn't have the stuff or the command to get out of the second inning. But they also got even. Which, in their view, was just as important.
"We're not quitters," Martin said. "We've come too far."