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Manny, Dodgers fight back in NLCS

LOS ANGELES -- The recommended book on Phillies 45-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer is to exhibit patience aplenty at the plate. Perhaps the thinking is this: the longer you wait, the older he gets.

Well, the Dodgers aren't necessarily a by-the-book team, and besides, they're anxious to get back into this NLCS. So five pitches into Game 3, Manny Ramirez and his men converted three straight hard-hit singles into a quick run en route to a big five-run inning and ultimately a rout.

That guts and guile that carried the soft-tossing Moyer through a successful regular season don't seem to be enough now against the better teams in October. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier and the Manny of the Hour himself, Mr. Ramirez, lined hits on consecutive pitches, setting the stage for L.A.'s coming out party, a 7-2 victory (Recap | Box Score) that pulled them within 2-1 in the NLCS.

The usual B and C list celebrities (and a few A-listers) sprinkled the well-groomed, Botox-enhanced crowd, which was announced as the largest in the history of beautiful Dodger Stadium. But perhaps the Dodgers were inspired to ramp up their competitiveness and their game by one fan in particular, nearby Cypress, Calif. product and Dodger fan Tiger Woods, who sat in owner Frank McCourt's box (and had to endure McCourt uncomfortably wrapping his arm around him at one point).

Anyway, for whatever reason, these Dodgers belied their hipster Hollywood persona and showed some serious fight. And that included one high-and-tight pitch from Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda that set off feisty Phillies' Shane Victorino, and eventually got everyone hot under the collar, including Manny himself, who had to be held back by white-haired Dodgers coach Bob Schafer and others after the benches emptied.

"I was mad at myself because we didn't take care of it in Philly,'' Ramirez explained, referring to two pitches that sailed over his head in Game 2.

Well, this time the Dodgers got downright nasty. And even better, they also showed they are not nearly a one Manny team.

Folks forget Furcal, who just got here himself. And like Manny the Magnificent, the free-agent-to-be Furcal is playing for a contract. The Dodgers were close to giving Furcal a long-term deal early this season before he went out with a back injury, a tricky thing. But now he's on his way back to earning that deal with his October play.

Furcal's solo home run in the second was practically the knockout blow for Moyer, who hopes to play five more years but is having trouble lasting five innings these days (he went 1 1/3 Sunday night). Moyer said, "I made some good pitches, and they hit them.'' Furcal's heroics have gone somewhat unnoticed, thanks to the franchise-saving savant himself, who continues to hit and chuckle and goof his way through a superhuman postseason.

Which is sure to result in a super-sized free-agent pay day for Ramirez, despite his detractors, his midsummer Boston behavior or even the fall of our nation's economy (and by the way, the overspending of one former baseball owner didn't help that cause). There are rumors in L.A. that Manny might seek to be paid on par per-year with Alex Rodriguez, whose year-old 10-year-deal is for $27.5 million guaranteed (taking him to $30.5 million with homers he's sure to hit).

But back to the series (sorry, it's easy to get distracted, what with Ramirez constantly bringing up the subject of his impending haul -- can't say I blame him), and it could be quite a series -- though until further notice, you'll have to think the Phillies still have the edge based on the history here. Through 11 games now, the home team is 11-0. So if that continues, Philadelphia wins in seven.

Whatever happens, the heat was turned up a notch in Game 3, when Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda threw a pitch over notoriously feisty Phillies' Shane Victorino's head in the third inning, causing Victorino to throw a fit and home-plate umpire Mike Everitt to issue warnings. The benches emptied moments later, after Victorino began jawing at Kuroda, who would throw a very solid game, nevermind his head-hunting moment.

Victorino promised his interviewers later that he'd "walk away'' should anyone dare ask about the brushback and the dustup, and lo and behold, after a half-dozen dull questions, someone did ask the only question anyone cared Victorino to answer. To which Victorino said, "I'm done,'' and walked away. So his head wasn't much cooler three hours later.

While he didn't say it, Victorino, a Rule 5 pickup from the Dodgers, obviously didn't appreciate the idea of being targeted as payback for two pitches up and in to Ramirez by Phillies pitcher Brett Myers in Game 2. Manny, of course, got back by cranking one over the wall after he was nearly hit. Victorino has some ability, but he can't homer on cue like Ramirez. Victorino failed to get revenge but instead became the target for boos from the usually calm L.A. crowd.

The Phillies had no answer. "They did what they needed top do,'' Phillies' Ryan Howard said. So don't count out merry Manny and his guys. Whether Ramirez can carry a team that is probably slightly outmanned to the World Series remains to be seen. But he obviously has turned this entire franchise around. The stands here in Mannywood are filled with "Ramirez'' jerseys, and the concessionaires sell fake dreadlocks (and yes, people buy them).

And now, after an inspired Dodgers victory, a series that was looking dreadfully one-sided, could go from dreadlocks to deadlocked with another L.A. story here Monday night.

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