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In a 3-1 hole, Los Angeles turns to unlikely savior Padilla in Game 5

PHILADELPHIA -- Wherever Joe Torre went when his team arrived at Citizen's Bank Park on Saturday, he saw it. When he went to the weight room, it was on the treadmill. When he went to his office, it was cued up on the television on his desk. If Torre had successfully blocked out his Yankees' 2004 American League Championship Series collapse to the Red Sox, Dodgers first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, a first baseman on that Boston team, made sure he was reminded of it when the team got to Philadelphia. At the time, it was meant as playful payback for Torre recently watching Aaron Boone's home run that beat the Red Sox in 2003, but now it serves as a potent, if somewhat unpleasant, reminder that compared to Torre's situation in '04, the Dodgers are in a relatively comfortable 3-games-to-1 hole to the Phillies in this season's NLCS.

Both Torre and Mientkiewicz were able to laugh about the incident on Tuesday. Torre said "turnabout is fair play" and Mientkiewicz joked that he merely wanted to remind Torre that he had decided to pitch to David Ortiz in Game 5 that year, rather than face Mientkiewicz with the game on the line. "The fact that he did is probably pretty telling that we're both in different uniforms now," Mientkiewicz joked.

The Dodgers don't have much else they can laugh about at the moment. After coming within one out of a win on Monday night only to see it vaporize in the cool Philadelphia air with Jimmy Rollins' double against Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers are suddenly very much in danger of losing a series many thought they would win, and that they themselves thought they should win. On paper, they are an even match in many ways for the Phillies, but as Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson said Wednesday, "Paper's easier. I wish we could play against paper all day long."

To send the series back to southern California, the Dodgers must do three things:

1. Get much more production throughout a lineup that is batting just .233/.286/.318, especially leadoff man Rafael Furcal (.125 average, .167 on-base percentage) and Manny Ramirez, who has hit .250 and whose only extra-base hit came in Game 1.

2. Find a way to get their once-vaunted bullpen -- which has played leading roles in two of their losses in this series -- back to its previously overpowering self.

3. Hope that Vicente Padilla can summon his unlikely October magic one more time.

They also must hope that the latest head-shaking example of Manny Being Manny will have no residual effect on their close-knit clubhouse. That Manny Ramirez lives in his own world should come as a shock to absolutely no one. And so the news that Ramirez was in the shower while Rollins was being showered with affection from the fans and bear hugs from his teammates following his game-winning double in Game 4 should be equally unsurprising. This, after all, is the same Ramirez who two years and two days ago said about the chances of coming back from an identical 3-games-to-1 deficit in the League Championship Series, "It doesn't happen, so who cares? There's always next year. It's not like it's the end of the world."

Even by Ramirez's normally selfish standards, not watching a critical game, much less not being with your teammates in the dugout while it's happening, is highly disappointing. One Dodger went wide-eyed upon hearing the news on Tuesday, but Ramirez is only taking quite literally the request he made of Torre when he came to Los Angeles in July of 2008 and said all he wanted to do was play baseball and go home. Ramirez is exactly the kind of unique personality that Torre has made his reputation on -- managing these types so effectively that their transgressions don't consume the rest of the team, and he attempted to do so again on Tuesday. "When we get a lead late in the game, and I've taken him out, whether it be for defense or we have a big lead, when we go up to shake hands after the game, he's in his street clothes," Torre said. "So it's really nothing different than he's done before. I don't think it's disrespect or anything."

If taking a postgame shower before the game is, well, post, means Manny is ready to head home early, then he is very much alone on this team. The rest of the Dodgers are trying desperately to stick around a little while longer in this postseason. To do so, they will need a third consecutive strong playoff start from Vicente Padilla. Just two months ago, Padilla was a Rangers' reject. But with a pair of brilliant postseason starts it is he, and not Game 1 NLCS starter Clayton Kershaw, who will be charged with ensuring that when the Dodgers board their plane on Wednesday night, they will be heading home with more baseball still to play.

Padilla's journey to this moment has been as unusual as any player's still left in the postseason. He had been underwhelming with the Rangers and was cut loose in August, as much for his mediocre pitching as for perceptions that he was bad in the clubhouse. In both respects, he has been much improved since coming to Los Angeles. Scout Ron Rizzi recommended Padilla to general manager Ned Colletti, but Colletti had to clear it with Torre first, and then get assurances from Padilla that he would bring an effective right arm (and no excess baggage) with him to L.A. "I told him, you will be the one to write the next chapter -- not me, not Joe Torre, not anybody else," Colletti said.

Thus far, Padilla has written a compelling story, holding the Cardinals and Phillies to just 8 hits and two walks in 14 1/3 innings pitched in his first two postseason starts. More importantly, he has emerged as their one reliable starter at a time when every other pitcher Torre has handed the ball to this postseason -- Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf -- has struggled mightily in at least one outing. As a result, Padilla has gone from a pitcher who was almost not given a start in the Division Series at all to blanking the Cardinals for seven innings in Game 3 of that series, which earned him a promotion to Game 2 starter in the NLCS, and now, the nod over Kershaw -- their Game 1 starter -- with the Dodgers' season on the line.

Torre sat down with both pitchers when the team got to Philadelphia to discuss his thinking with them, but decided that Padilla's experience and recent performance were enough to give him the advantage over the 21-year-old Kershaw. "The sampling we've had of Vinny has been very positive and he's been a good teammate for everybody," Torre said.

Padilla, who said he was "very honored" to get the call in Game 5, has confounded hitters with a fastball that reached the mid-90s and a curveball that can at times fail to crack 60 mph. More importantly, says Hudson, is his willingness to challenge hitters: "He's one of those guys who ain't going to try and get you to chase a curveball in the dirt or anything. He'll just say, here's a fastball -- hit it. You better bring your bat to the plate when you face him."

Padilla's road to Game 5 has been unlikely, and far more winding than the straight, if bumpy, path taken by his opponent, Cole Hamels. A year ago, he limited batters to a .244 average and .292 on-base percentage. This season, he's yielded a .273 average and .315 OBP. In his Game 1 NLCS start in Los Angeles, Hamels was in command until a Chase Utley throwing error prolonged an inning long enough for Ramirez to launch a two-run homer, his only one of the postseason, that pulled the Dodgers within one run.

That has been a recurring problem this season for Hamels, who has often been undone by one bad pitch or one poor play behind him. "He's had kind of a freak year," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He'll be sailing along, three, four, five innings he'll be pitching real good [and] he'll walk somebody, or somebody boots a ball and all of a sudden he gives up four or five runs. That's the difference I've seen in his year."

"Every time I've made a mistake, it's really hurt me," Hamels said. "I really have to minimize the mistakes. Last year, it was a little bit easier. This year has been a lot tougher. Things haven't really gone the way that I wanted."

And yet, given his postseason track record as MVP of last year's NLCS and World Series and the man who ended the Dodgers season in Game 5 a year ago, Hamels is well-positioned to do the exact same thing this season. "Every time I look at him, I know that he's capable to just going out there and throwing a shutout," said Manuel.

This much is certain: If Hamels does that on Wednesday, all of the Dodgers will be hitting the showers for good.

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