10/16/08 1:55 AM ET
Phillies' Victorino haunts Dodgers
Center fielder stars in NLCS win over Los Angeles
There was Victorino running in from center field to join in a celebration with his teammates near the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium after Philadelphia had defeated Los Angeles, 5-1, on Wednesday night to win the National League Championship Series.
It was a five-game series in which Victorino and the Phillies seemed to do the right things and to say the right things at all times.
It had to leave the Dodgers with a feeling of lost opportunity on a number of fronts, particularly as related to Victorino.
The Phillies' center fielder had been drafted by the Dodgers in 1999, but the team lost him twice in the Rule 5 Draft when it did not protect him on its 40-man roster.
Victorino was selected by the Padres prior to the 2003 season, but then they returned him to the Dodgers. The Dodgers exposed Victorino in the Rule 5 Draft before the 2005 season, and again he was selected -- this time by the Phillies.
The Phillies didn't see Victorino as a fit on their 25-man roster as Spring Training ended (a requirement as part of the Rule 5 draft) and offered him back to the Dodgers. The Dodgers basically replied, "No thanks," we don't really need him.
Victorino then accepted an assignment to the Phillies' Triple-A team, and the rest, as they say, is history. He has become the spark that ignites Philadelphia, and he seems to frustrate the opposing team.
"He's a pest," said teammate Chase Utley.
Victorino seemed to be in every big moment of this NLCS. He made a spectacular catch in Game 2, was in the center of a scuffle in Game 3, hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning in Game 4 and then flagged down every fly ball that came his way on Wednesday night, including two in the final inning.
It was not only what Victorino did, but how he handled himself that was so impressive for a 27-year-old outfielder relatively new to baseball's brightest spotlight of postseason play.
When asked by the media on a number of occasions how he felt about being left exposed by the Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft, Victorino simply said it was history and just part of the game. No hard feelings, said the young man from Maui.
When a Los Angeles pitcher threw a ball above his head in Game 3 after the Phillies had buzzed several Dodgers in the first two games, Victorino turned to sign language as he pointed to his rib area and said, "OK," and then pointed to his head and said, "Not here."
It was clear Victorino understood the game. It is a game he first learned on the fields of Maui, and it was there I first heard of the speedy outfielder.
His name was first mentioned to me by late Dodgers scout Ichiro (Iron) Maehara, who had watched Victorino play in youth ball. Maehara had told me to keep an eye on the young man because the veteran scout believed the player was destined for stardom.
Maehara also stressed that Victorino was the product of a great family and had outstanding character.
The character of Victorino also came through on Wednesday night. With a microphone attached to his uniform, the television audience was able to tune in to a most unusual moment. When Victorino reached second base after Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal had made his third error of the fifth inning, Victorino looked over at the opposing player and said, "Keep your head up buddy, come on."
When he was interviewed after the game, Victorino refused to talk about his accomplishments in the postseason, despite compiling 11 RBIs while playing great in center field.
"It's about everybody stepping up," said Victorino as he praised his teammates.
Victorino and the Phillies not only were victors, but they were gracious.
When Philadelphia general manager Pat Gillick was interviewed after the game, he made a point to praise the contributions of former team GM Ed Wade.
Philadelphia is not only the National League champion, it truly may be the City of Brotherly Love these days.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice-president and general manager. Fred's book (Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue) was published by Sports Publishing LLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.