Aggressive bats can key turnaround
Dodgers seek ways to assist Manny in generating offense
LOS ANGELES -- The Phillies actually lead the National League Championship Series 2-0* -- with an asterisk.
They won the first two baseball games. The asterisk is for the first head game.
The Phillies not only outscored the Dodgers in Game 2 Friday night, 8-5, they took an early edge in gamesmanship. Brett Myers fastballs under Russell Martin's chin and behind Manny Ramirez's head drew a vocal response from the Dodgers dugout, but nothing on the field until Ramirez's bat retaliated with a three-run homer.
Game 3 on Sunday night brings the series to Dodger Stadium, where manager Joe Torre will remind his players to "bring the game" to the opponents, not the other way around as it quickly unfolded at Citizens Bank Park.
"I thought we were a little on our heels the first few innings," Torre said. "Then we got a little aggressive and got the game close but never got it over the hump."
Maybe it's the difference between old school and the youth that shoulder the bulk of the Dodgers' playing time, but Myers' aggressiveness set the tone and fired up the crowd, which fired up the Phillies. Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley said he tried to pitch inside "not to retaliate, but to make them uncomfortable," but his command wasn't sharp enough.
Torre said he's starting Nomar Garciaparra on Sunday night because he has a .417 lifetime average against Phillies starter Jamie Moyer. Torre said the decision was not motivated by wanting to add a veteran to a lineup that Friday night had six starters age 26 or younger. The youngest Phillies starter was 27-year-old Shane Victorino, who drove in four runs.
"I thought [Friday] they were pushing it a little bit and maybe they lost some of their patience that they've had, which has been pretty much the signature of what they've been trying to do and what they've been doing very well," Torre said of his young troops.
"But, again, there's something about when you're losing a ballgame, especially in short series, you have to keep reminding yourself that it's still a baseball game and it's still nine innings and you still have time to get this thing righted."
In two games, the Dodgers are batting .221. Ramirez has four of their seven RBIs and seven of their 22 total bases. Blake DeWitt is 0-for-5 with two RBIs, Matt Kemp is hitting .143, although he's had several hard-hit outs, and Casey Blake is 1-for-7, but Victorino ran down his bid for extra bases that could have turned around Game 2.
The most glaring difference from the NL Division Series sweep of the Cubs, however, is Rafael Furcal's .111 average. He's scored only one run after reaching base on a wild pitch third strike. And he committed a throwing error that led to the Game 1 loss. Against the Cubs, Furcal went 4-for-12 with four runs scored and two driven in, as if he had never missed five months with back surgery.
"He gets on base and all of a sudden going around Manny isn't that easy," Torre said. "But I think he's fine. I think, if he has an issue right now, it's probably just a timing thing. This is a Spring Training situation. I think he's fine [physically]."
Maybe Furcal is the victim of scouting. Furcal played only four games and wasn't at full speed in his rushed return at the end of the regular season, and Cubs scouts barely saw him. Phillies scouts, however, witnessed Furcal's play in three impressive games against the Cubs and adjustments apparently have been made.
"They pitch me backwards. A lot of sliders, even when they're behind in the count," Furcal said. "I never see a fastball. They don't want me on base."
Kemp sees the same from Phillies pitchers.
"They get behind in the count 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, they're still throwing offspeed," Kemp said. "A lot of them have good offspeed pitches. But I feel my at-bats this series are better than they were against the Cubs [when he went 2-for-13 with five strikeouts]. I'm going deeper in the count. Right now, good at-bats aren't enough. It's time to get some hits."
Down 0-2, the Dodgers are pretty much in a must-win situation in Game 3, even if they find a gentler way to say it.
"We just got to get hot at the right time and now is the right time in front of our fans," Martin said. "We know we can beat them."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.