Commentary

Dodgers don't seem all that concerned about 0-2 hole

Originally Published: October 12, 2008
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

LOS ANGELES -- Through the din of a clubhouse teeming with activity, struggling Los Angeles outfielder Matt Kemp on Saturday afternoon cautiously walked to his locker with slumped shoulders and a saddened demeanor.

Over two games in the National League Championship Series, both Dodgers losses against the Philadelphia Phillies, Kemp has managed one hit, two strikeouts and a misplay in the outfield.

"I knew it was going to be a bad day for Kemp," Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier remarked as Kemp stood quietly near his locker.

It was then when reserve infielder Delwyn Young used his pinky and forefinger to make a horn sign in Kemp's direction, then ran over to the clubhouse computer and began to loudly play the University of Texas fight song.

Kemp, a devoted University of Oklahoma fan who had seen his football team lose against Texas on Saturday, assuredly costing the Sooners their No. 1 ranking, started smiling and then said, "The refs made a lot of bad calls in that game."

A group in the corner of the Dodgers' clubhouse began cackling because it was a college football game, not his slump, that had put Kemp in a bad mood.

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With their season teetering on the edge as the NLCS shifts to L.A. for Game 3 on Sunday, the Dodgers have taken the casual attitude of their sage manager and their goofy left fielder. Consider it the Tao of Torre and the Mantra of Manny.

"I just go and play," says Manny Ramirez.

"You sort of sense what you want to say [to the team] depending on what you sense, just from what you feel and the situation," Joe Torre says.

For those worried that the Dodgers have gone into a panic, fear not, though the situation is certainly dire: Since the NLCS went to the best-of-seven format, only one team (the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals) has come back from an 0-2 deficit to advance to the World Series.

Two of the Dodgers' most important hitters (Kemp and Rafael Furcal) are a combined 2-for-16. Los Angeles has neutralized Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard and spark plug Jimmy Rollins (1-for-17 combined) and yet still lost the first two games.

But when reporters entered the clubhouse before Saturday's workout, Ramirez was not fussing with a scouting report, but instead he was fumbling with a new set of red and blue batting gloves.

"Why did they send me red ones?" Ramirez said to no one in particular. "Maybe they think I'm going back to Boston."

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesManny Ramirez's influence on the Dodgers was evident at the team's workout Saturday. Despite L.A. facing an 0-2 hole against the Phillies, the Dodgers followed Ramirez's lead and appeared relaxed.
He laughed. To confuse Ramirez's attitude as indifference would be a mistake. To understand Ramirez's calm, you'd have to go back to 1995 and his first postseason at-bats for the Cleveland Indians. Back then, Ramirez agonized after each at bat.

"I was so nervous," he said.

Ramirez would lay awake at night staring at the ceiling, wishing for the next day. Before each trip to the plate, his stomach would churn in anticipation. After a listless division series against the Boston Red Sox that year (0-for-12), Ramirez decided that it made no sense to be tense. Sure, he's still had some rough patches in the postseason -- he went 3-for-21 in the ALDS and 4-for-26 in the World Series in 1997 and 1-for-18 in the 1999 ALDS -- but his overall body of work in the postseason is quite impressive.

"I think when he came aboard, he showed the players that you can play this game and play it well and still have fun doing it," Torre said.

There is no panic in Torre either. He entered Dodger Stadium with his thin wisps of hair windswept in several directions and wearing a pastel-striped shirt and blue jeans. He turned to several reporters in the elevator and gleefully said hello.

During batting practice, Torre approached several players just to chat. He chuckled with third baseman Casey Blake. He put his arm around catcher Russell Martin.

"I thought [Friday night in Game 2] they were pushing it a little bit and maybe they lost some of their patience they've had, which has pretty much been the signature of what they've been trying to do and what they've been doing well," Torre said of his mostly young team. "But again, there's something about when you're losing a ballgame, especially in a short series, you have to keep reminding yourself that it's still a baseball game and it's still nine innings and you still have time to get this thing righted."

Almost each day Torre speaks to his team, though he said he would likely not address the team as a group until Sunday. He certainly could talk about how his 1996 Yankees came back from a 2-0 deficit against the Atlanta Braves in the World Series or he could painfully recall how his Yankees were up 3-0 against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS only to lose in seven games. At this point, though, it doesn't appear Torre needs to say anything. His team is not panicked.

On Saturday, veteran Mark Sweeney yelled in the clubhouse to Blake, "Doggie wants you to put the song on. He wants to get fired up."

"Doggie" would be "Mad Dog" Greg Maddux. The song is M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," which has become something of an anthem for the Dodgers. All three giggled.

Meanwhile, during batting practice, Ramirez muttered to no one in the dugout, "We're talking about practice," mimicking Allen Iverson's infamous news conference rant.

"We're talking about practice," Ramirez repeated with a smile before disappearing into the clubhouse.

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.