Dodgers welcome change of scenery

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

LOS ANGELES – They'd packed a lot into 24 hours, the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers.

They'd done Cole Hamels and Pat Burrell, Brad Lidge twice, they'd made a hitter out of Brett Myers and watched the Dodgers insist on taking the long way out of their little ballpark, which mostly didn't work.

They'd shake hands backed by condolences, Charlie Manuel and Shane Victorino losing family members between the last pitch of Game 1 and the last pitch of Game 2, and still trudging through. Manuel leaned on the batting cage Saturday afternoon, just as he had Friday afternoon, through the thoughts of his mother passing.

And they'd seen the Phillies win. Twice. Amid towel wagging, insult bellowing, just plain euphoric folks who'd missed the drama of a good, raucous October.

And so it was with some relief that the NLCS took a day, the whole thing moving west, leaving behind the sun and warmth of Philly for, well, the sun and warmth of L.A.

On Saturday, breezy and electric blue, witnessed through sleep-deprived eyes, they'd all downplay the events of the previous two days, the slumps and the achievement and the plain flukishness. The Phillies are OK where they are. The Dodgers don't think they've played their real game yet.

"I think we're better," Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp said in the aftermath of Friday's loss. "I know we're better. We just haven't played good here."

Miami Heat coach Pat Riley used to say – and in this very town – that a series didn't start until the home team loses a game. Maybe this is something Joe Torre can fix. But, so far, it looks more like something Manuel can sustain. It's still about pitching, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton against Hiroki Kuroda and Derek Lowe, and then the bullpens, over Sunday and Monday nights. The Phillies' bullpen has yet to pitch in a deficit, the Dodgers haven't even had a tie score to maintain, which is why the Phillies are up, and gaining, and happy enough.

"Last night, after coming into the clubhouse, there was music on," said Moyer, the 45-year-old left-hander who'll start for the Phillies on Sunday. "It wasn't ridiculous. It was just music. I mean, the music might have been ridiculous, but it wasn't ridiculously loud."

He laughed an old-guy laugh.

"I'm sensing there's some excitement but not exhilaration, like, 'Hey, we just won!'" he said. "It's, 'OK, we won today but there's still a task here.' And I like that. It's very workmanlike. And I think that last year, getting into the playoffs and losing three straight with the majority of this group that's here this year, I think that left a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths, me included. And I think there's a far greater appreciation this year for where we are, and there's a better understanding of where we are and where we've come from."

Everybody took batting practice, the flaws strangely similar. The leadoff men, where the series could still turn, are struggling; Jimmy Rollins is 1 for 9 with four strikeouts, Rafael Furcal is 1 for 9 with two strikeouts. The cleanup hitters, where the – right – series could turn, have had no impact. Ryan Howard is hitless in eight at-bats (after going 2 for 11 in the division series) and has seen so many curveballs he's spent the entire series on his front foot. The Dodgers' cleanup hitters – Russell Martin in Game 1 and Andre Ethier in Game 2 – are 2 for 7 in that role, meaning Manny Ramirez could be on his own.

(Ramirez might not need help Sunday, however. He has 18 career hits against Moyer, 10 of them home runs. "That doesn't mean nothing,'" he said. "We're down 0-2.")

But, what separates them so far is one floating sinker and Casey Blake's insistence on driving the ball through the middle, when 20 or 30 feet in either direction would have tied the score Friday evening.

No, the Dodgers aren't the hot team anymore. Instead, they'll have to cold start again, as they did six weeks ago, against what is now the hot team. The 84-win Dodgers, no matter how many times remade for September and October, have for two games played like an 84-win team that's in a little over its head. It's just two games, but they're creeping up on the brink of elimination.

The Dodgers have a running joke during batting practice. When balls fall on the warning track, someone invariably says, "A home run in Philly." They stopped laughing at it a while ago, but, again, it always has to be said.

Except, and here's the thing, the Dodgers hit two home runs in Philadelphia this season, three including Manny's on Friday night. The game changes at Dodger Stadium, where the evening air is heavy and the walls are a little farther away. The game changes, and we'll see if the outcome does. This particular game happens to fall on the 20th anniversary of the last time the Dodgers hosted an NLCS game. And, hey, if they're not going to hit with runners in scoring position, they'll gladly take the historic karma.

"A momentum switcher is what we need tomorrow," Torre said. "We need to get things back on our side. And I don't want to say it's more comfortable coming home, but it should give us a little more confidence, let's put it that way."

The coming 24 hours will tell, if they were anything like the first 24.

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