Commentary

Tension gives Dodgers, NLCS some life

Originally Published: October 12, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- There are moments in the life of any good postseason series when everything changes.

Maybe some day, we'll look back on the 2008 National League Championship Series and ask: What was That Moment?

And when, or if, we do, we'll be remembering this:

A 94-mph Hiroki Kuroda cannonball whizzing behind the noggin of Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino in the third inning of Game 3.

Before that pitch, this was just baseball. After that pitch, we didn't just have a series anymore. We had …

A SERIES.

A benches-emptying, fingers-wagging, neck-veins-bulging, coaches-jawing, Manny Manny-izing, crowd-shrieking, live must-see drama kind of series.

So this is from all of us must-see October drama fans to Hiroki Kuroda: Thanks for livening up the week.

When the day began, the Phillies were in total charge of this series, up two-games-to-zip. Now -- one game, and one 7-2 wipeout of the Phillies by the Dodgers later -- this is a whole different deal.

In the history of best-of-seven series, 35 teams have come back to win after being down 2-1. But just one (of 31) has roared back to win after tumbling into that 3-0 canyon. You can ask Joe Torre to tell you the story of that one sometime.

But not now. Now, we have more important matters to attend to. Like calling in some United Nations peacekeeping forces. Or Don King. Or both.

No haymakers were thrown after Kuroda launched that fly-by in Victorino's air space Sunday. But after Victorino then grounded out to first base and started yapping at Kuroda again, at least we got the thrill of having about 80 people in uniform charge onto the field for a lively discussion.

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Manny Ramirez, in fact, proved to be a particularly engaging conversationalist. Heck, he was so engaging, it took a swarm of Dodgers to hold him in one place just so he could keep his gesticulations inside the 323 area code.

In the end, as major sporting donnybrooks go, it barely out-fracased your average Kimbo Slice fiasco. But as Phillies reliever J.C. Romero so astutely assessed it: "It's part of the game. The ratings are up. Everybody is happy."

Well, not everybody. The Phillies weren't too happy to see their hard-earned LCS momentum disappear faster than you could say, "Biggest First Inning in Dodgers Postseason History" (i.e., five in the first off Philadelphia starter Jamie Moyer).

But the Dodgers appeared to brighten their mood considerably. After their pacifistic loss in Game 2, they were challenged by their manager to show more fight. So they made a statement in this game, in more ways than one.

"I think we needed this for ourselves, to go out and get some confidence that we're not going to be pushed around," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. "We're going to play the game the right way. Sometimes you've got to make a stand. And we got that done [in Game 3]."

But this was one stand they didn't just make on the old scoreboard.

[+] EnlargeDodgers & Phillies
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireAfter some pitches up and in, the Dodgers and Phillies took the field to have an animated heart-to-heart.
From the second Brett Myers offered to trim Manny's dreadlocks with a straight-from-the-salon four-seam fastball in Game 2, it was only a matter of time before some sort of fun-filled imbroglio busted out in this series.

Dodgers players have been muttering about it for two days. One affectionately referred to Myers, between games, as a "wacko." And only a couple of hours before Sunday's game, right up there on the interview-room podium, Derek Lowe, L.A.'s Game 4 starter, suggested that it might be time to address this situation "Nuke LaLoosh style."

Well, no nukes ever did get dropped. But Kuroda clearly fired a warning shot over the brow of Victorino. And if this was a message, Victorino obviously got it.

He turned directly toward Kuroda and started pointing at his head, then his ribs, then his head again, as the largest crowd in Dodger Stadium history (56,800) began buzzing ecstatically. Afterward, however, Victorino had no interest in rehashing any of this. At one point, when a reporter pressed him on it one time too many, he retorted: "I'm done," and walked away.

But Martin, being the closest earwitness, reported: "He said, 'If you're going to hit me, hit me in the ribs. Don't hit me in the head.' But we weren't trying to hit anyone."

Whatever they WERE trying to do, though, give the Dodgers credit: They had their alibis down cold.

Kuroda spun out the old "it just slipped out of my hand" excuse. Manny could only guess that "maybe the ball slipped." Matt Kemp at least did some minor creative editing, theorizing that "the ball just got away from him."

And if you believe any of that, we've got your own personal star on the Walk of Fame we'd like to sell you.

But after The Pitch, there was even better action to come. Victorino may have gotten his point across once. But he couldn't resist resuming the monologue after his inning-ending groundout, when Kuroda wandered within easy shouting distance.

Next thing they knew, everybody but Henry Winkler was charging toward the infield. And Manny turned on his heretofore-hidden Usain Bolt jets, motored in from left field in record time and got so overheated, he had to be restrained by Martin and coach Bob Schaefer before he … well, we're not sure what, exactly.

Asked if he was trying to get at anyone in particular, Ramirez reached into his Drew Rosenhaus quote book and answered: "Next."

[+] EnlargeDodgers & Phillies
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireShane Victorino was not happy with a high pitch from Hiroki Kuroda, and he was not shy about pointing out as much to Dodgers catcher Russell Martin or Kuroda.
Asked after that if he was yelling at anyone in particular, Manny stayed in rhythm and replied again: "Next."

If Martin knew the answer to those questions, he wasn't saying. But we have to say he displayed better gang-tackling form than the Oklahoma Sooners did this weekend. And he needed to, because Manny was showing off his full array of LaDainian Tomlinson escapability moves, as Martin hung on for dear life.

"He tried a spin move on me at one point," Martin reported. "Then I had a hold of his jersey a little bit. He was fired up. He was definitely fired up. I don't know who he was trying to go after, but at least we kept him in the game."

Gee, we hate to break this to him. But Manny claimed later he actually WANTED to be restrained.

"I don't want to fight nobody," Ramirez said, sweetly. "I'm a lover, not a fighter."

He wasn't the only one making the highlight reels, however. Dodgers coach Larry Bowa, the former Phillie, and Phillies coach Davey Lopes, the former Dodger, had quite the lovefest going themselves.

"Davey just said, 'You guys should have taken care of it [Friday]', and he's right," Bowa said. "He's 100 percent right. … He said, 'Let's play baseball.' And I said, 'Let's play baseball.' And that's right. I respect Davey. Davey was a great player."

"Nothing really happened," Lopes said. "Nobody got hurt. Nobody got thrown out. Somebody might have got their feelings hurt, but nothing really happened."

Ah, but that's where he's wrong. Something DEFINITELY happened on those exotic grass blades at Chavez Ravine on Sunday night.

The Dodgers needed to win this game, for one thing. But that's not all they needed.

They needed to show a little life, a little pulse, a little competitive fire. There were rumblings that they got an earful after Friday's game from both Joe Torre and their coaching staff. And not just about failing to retaliate for Myers' little transgression, either. For going down so meekly after Ramirez had given them a second chance with a three-run homer that trimmed the early six-run deficit in half.

Asked if the manager had suggested it was time to put up more of a fight, Martin replied, diplomatically: "I don't know that he wanted us to show more fight. He keeps talking about playing the game right and being aggressive, and I think we did that [on Sunday]."

They mugged Moyer with that five-run first. When the Phillies got a run back in the top of the second, they answered immediately with a Rafael Furcal homer. They went first to third. They had just one 1-2-3 inning all night. They made big pitches and big plays any time the Phillies threatened. They finally looked like that team that swept the Cubs -- because they looked like a team, period.

"You have teammates," Torre said. "And you're there for your teammates. And you have to support them. And that's what I think a lot of this is all about."

So when they resume these festivities Monday for Game 4, they've provided this series with a whole new dimension -- intrigue.

The WrestleMania portion of this series -- that's probably over. But the riveting October drama has just begun. And that, come to think of it, is the whole idea.

"I think somewhere along the line I'd like to see us go back and play baseball," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com