Dodgers still inhaling sweet smell of success
LOS ANGELES (AP) ” Joe Torre picked up the Dodgers cap on his desk and took a sniff, inhaling the stale scent of champagne.
“That’s a wonderful smell,” he said, smiling and leaning back in his chair.
That sweet smell of success still permeated the Dodgers’ clubhouse on Monday, barely two days removed from their first-round sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the NL playoffs.
Remnants of their raucous celebration ” a pile of corks on a desk, empty bottles of bubbly in the back of a player’s locker ” were reminders of the Dodgers’ first postseason series victory in 20 years.
“I partied like a rock star,” said a laughing Manny Ramirez, who had invited fans to join him at his house “if they can find it.”
“Nobody find it,” he said happily.
Ramirez, the pied piper of good times since he left Boston in late July, went 5-for-10 with two home runs, three RBIs and four walks in the division series. He’s now hit safely in 38 of his last 43 postseason games, with a .350 average during that span.
“I came, I did my job. I’m just blessed to be here,” he said.
The Dodgers will need Ramirez’s bat again when they open the best-of-seven NL championship series on Thursday in Philadelphia, with the winner going to the World Series.
“Winning the first two games in Chicago gave us a lot of confidence,” he said. “We’re going to try to go to the second round with the same momentum.”
The NLCS brings together two streaking teams.
Since the Dodgers began an eight-game winning streak on Aug. 30, they’ve gone 22-8, including their three wins against the Cubs. Their .733 winning percentage is the best in baseball during that span, slightly ahead of the Phillies’ 22-9 record and .710 percentage.
“That was when we came together and learned to rely on one another,” said third baseman Casey Blake, who was acquired from Cleveland at the same time Ramirez arrived and injected the Dodgers with his happy-go-lucky attitude.
“We’re just coming together at the right time, the chemistry is good,” outfielder Matt Kemp said. “We were at home this time last year. We got something to prove.”
The teams will meet for the fourth time in the NLCS, but the first since 1983, too long ago for most of the Dodgers’ youngsters to know.
The Dodgers beat the Phillies in 1977 and 1978, winning both best-of-five series in four games. In ’83, the Phillies beat the Dodgers in four games.
Torre said he has his rotation in mind, but won’t announce it until Wednesday, when the pitchers are told. The Dodgers went with a three-man setup against Chicago, and he said it’s likely they’ll do the same against the Phillies.
“There’s a chance we’ll do some rearranging,” he said, adding the order, rather than the players, is what could change.
“Philly is a little more left-handed than the Cubs were. You need at least two left-handers in the bullpen against this club and possibly a left-handed starter.”
If that’s the case, left-handers Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 4.26 in 22 games, 21 starts) and Joe Beimel (5-1, 2.02) could work out of the bullpen.
Torre said left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo (5-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 80 innings) is a possibility. Kuo wasn’t available in the first round because of a circulation problem.
Torre watched Kuo throw off the mound Sunday and said he looked good. Kuo will throw again Tuesday or Wednesday, when the Dodgers work out in Philadelphia.
Newly arrived in Los Angeles this season, Torre was frequently asked about the Dodgers’ first-round playoff futility. They hadn’t won an opening round since their last World Series title in 1988.
“It was nice to be able to do it,” he said. “It meant a lot to me personally. I had gotten spoiled (in New York). We got to go to playoffs every year.
“This ballclub had to sort of prove to themselves they belonged.”