Commentary

Dodgers must improve crowd control in Philly

Updated: October 10, 2008, 3:33 PM ET
By Jeff Bradley | ESPN The Magazine

PHILADELPHIA -- Sports fans in Philadelphia are known to be rude, crude and not very polite. They are also known to be loud. In Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park, they were so loud, Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe admitted they got to him.

No, the raucous Phillies fans didn't cause Lowe to melt down the way fellow Dodgers right-hander Burt Hooton melted down at Veterans Stadium some 31 years ago, when Hooton literally couldn't throw a strike and had to be pulled in the second inning of Game 3 of the NLCS. It was more a case of the Phillies fans firing Lowe up and getting him away from the game plan that he had worked to perfection through five innings.

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As soon as Los Angeles shortstop Rafael Furcal threw wildly to first base on Shane Victorino's ground ball, the ballpark started to rock. "Any time I'm pitching in front of a crowd like that and they start to get into it, I need to be careful," Lowe admitted afterward in the Dodgers clubhouse. "I should've stepped off the mound. I knew [Chase Utley] was going to swing at the first pitch. That's when it's usually best to throw a noncompetitive pitch. My instincts were right. That's a mental mistake I should not make."

Utley made no mistake, driving Lowe's first-pitch fastball into the seats in right field, erasing a 2-0 lead that, until then, was looking safe in Lowe's right hand. Two batters later, Pat Burrell also went deep, giving the Phils the 3-2 lead that would stand up.

"I should've known better," Lowe said, shaking his head.

Heading into Friday's Game 2, the Dodgers know they'll have to do a better job of holding their emotions in check. "It's the first game we're going after somebody after we lose," said L.A. manager Joe Torre, referencing his team's three-game sweep of the Cubs in the NLDS. "This ball club has come to play every day," Torre said. "It's been very rewarding to see how comfortable I am with their personality. I think I'll get a sense [Friday] if anything's different, but my sense is I won't. I think they have confidence. But this time of year, you're playing the best teams. You face the best players and the best pitchers and things, for the most part, are going to be close."

The Phillies believe if the games are indeed close, crowd noise can make a difference.

Said Ryan Howard, "It was electric and with every out they made after we took the lead, you could feel the crowd's energy. This is not an easy place for a road team to play."

On Friday, the Dodgers will start 24-year-old right-hander Chad Billingsley, who is aware not only of the decibel level at Citizens Bank Park, but its cozy configurations. "It's pretty much knowing that you have to keep the ball down in the zone," Billingsley said. "Try not to make too many mistakes over the middle. It's going to be loud. I can guarantee that. But you just get in a zone. I'm just going to focus on what I'm doing." Billingsley will try to carry the same confidence he displayed in winning Game 2 for L.A. at Wrigley Field during the NLDS. "I just approached that start like any other, tried not to do too much."

The Phillies will give the ball to Brett Myers, a pitcher who's been up and down -- literally, he was sent to Triple-A in July -- in 2008. In his first playoff start, against the Brewers in Game 2 of the NLDS at Citizens Bank Park, Myers took the mound a little too charged up. He gave up a double to Ryan Braun, walked in a run, and was probably one pitch away from a first-inning hook when he induced a ground-ball double play to escape the jam. Myers then settled in, threw seven strong innings, and outpitched Milwaukee's CC Sabathia. "I was fighting a lot of emotion," Myers said. "Sometimes it's hard to control. I want the crowd to be as loud as they possibly can be. That's what we thrive on. I just have to use it to my advantage."

A big advantage will swing to the team that can win Game 2. For the Phillies it would guarantee, at the very least, that they would be coming back to play in front of their home crowd should the series reach Game 6. For the Dodgers, a Game 2 victory would give them a chance to sweep Games 3-5 at Dodger Stadium and wrap up the series.

"A seven-game season," Torre called it. "This is not a time of year you worry about hurting people's feelings. I think we're all on board understanding what's at stake."

The stakes were clearly on display in the eighth inning of Game 1, when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel visited relief pitcher Ryan Madson and catcher Carlos Ruiz, with one out and no one on base and Manny Ramirez at the plate, "just to be sure we knew how to pitch him," said Manuel. "I definitely didn't want to say anything negative, but at the same time I wanted to reinforce how we wanted to pitch to him. He's the guy in their lineup that really … since they got him, they became a team with a lot of energy."

And after seeing how Ramirez responded to the intensity in his first at-bat, with a ringing double off the top of the center-field wall, Manuel and the Phillies were not betting that the noise of the Philadelphia faithful would get to Ramirez. Not even a little bit. So even though the Phillies pitched to him in all four of his plate appearances, the manager made no promises for the future. When asked if his plan was to continue going after Ramirez, Manuel said without hesitation, "Not really."

Like the fans behind his team, Manuel knows there's no need to be polite.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine