10/16/08 4:29 AM ET
NLCS a coming-out party for Victorino
Center fielder shows America his value to pennant-winning club
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
"I'm holding it in," Victorino said of his emotions. "It's about enjoying tonight. It's about savoring the moment."
The moments, in their plural form, came throughout this NL Championship Series for Victorino, who may have had more impact than any other player. Cole Hamels won the NLCS MVP award for his two victories, but Victorino certainly surprised more people, turned more heads and made more enemies.
He played a major role in sending the Phillies here in the first place, launching a grand slam off CC Sabathia on Oct. 2 to seal the win in Game 2 of the NL Division Series. Then the city's most popular Hawaiian led his teammates to two consecutive wins in Philadelphia, driving in four runs and making a game-saving catch in the second game.
Moments after Game 2 on Friday, Victorino's father revealed to him that his grandmother, Irene, had passed away earlier in the day. Relaying the news to others through reddened eyes, Victorino insisted that Irene was helping him succeed -- and that his manager Charlie Manuel's mother, who passed away that same morning, was doing the same.
Then Victorino made his most infamous impact of the postseason in Game 3, sparking a benches-clearing incident along with Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. The two had first tangled moments earlier, when Kuroda threw a pitch over Victorino's head. They had jawed at one another, quickly and unwittingly enlisting their teammates in the scuffle. And the ensuing emotions never quite diffused.
Dodger Stadium fans booed Victorino later that day, then again the next day. They booed when he hit a critical game-tying homer in Game 4, setting the stage for a comeback that perhaps broke the Dodgers for good. They booed their newest villain because he had upset the balance of things, and they booed him because of the damage he had done.
"Who would have ever thought that I would get booed as much as I do in a place like this?" Victorino recalled asking bench coach Jimy Williams in the middle of Game 5. And there was a more than a hint of satisfaction in that question -- a man reveling in his relevance.
Victorino's contributions continued in that game, with two difficult catches on the warning track to help close things out. He drove in six runs in the series and watched his name shine in those bright Hollywood lights. If not for Hamels, who pitched -- and won -- two brilliant games, Victorino likely would have been named the series MVP. And it would have been fitting. Though his statistics were not staggering, their combined effects were.
Victorino was a popular choice for the award, and he knew it. Shortly after Wednesday's champagne celebration spilled onto the Dodger Stadium field, a group of nearby Phillies fans began serenading him with chants of "M-V-P!"
"It's something that I would have definitely loved to have," Victorino said. "But Cole was well-deserving. It's about winning. And hearing the chants of MVP, I would never think about ever getting that recognition. We all deserve it as a team."
His teammates call him quick, energetic and scrappy, using the same terms over and over until they nearly lose their meaning. Brett Myers called him "feisty," and perhaps that has always been true. But the Phillies perhaps learned something else about Victorino in this series -- something that they couldn't have been certain of before.
"He has shown the ability to be a big-game player," Myers said.
Victorino has shown all sorts of ability, indeed, hitting in the second spot of the lineup and the sixth. He has shown a fair bit of heart, regardless of the definition. And he has shown a debt of gratitude, running over to Manuel after Wednesday's final out and embracing him.
It had been a difficult but rewarding week. And so it was equally difficult after the game for Victorino, soaked in champagne and flanked by family, to define such a moment. He appreciated it, perhaps deeper than others, and he contributed to it, perhaps more completely than others. But in the moments following the Phillies' Game 5 victory, Victorino could not entirely determine where this night ranked.
"It's up there, I'll tell you that," he said, grabbing his baby girl and then passing her off once more. "But we're not there yet. We'll see what happens on the other end, and I'll have a bigger smile then."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.