Dodgers show resilience in Game 2

Publish date:

LOS ANGELES -- An hour after his win and one of the postseason's most intriguing storylines had slipped away, Pedro Martinez was standing at his locker in the back corner of the Phillies clubhouse, looking just as calm as he did during seven brilliant shutout innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. He was still dealing, only now they were tales from his brilliant afternoon, rather than fastballs and filthy off-speed pitches, that he was offering. He rambled on so long that when he was reminded that the team bus would be leaving shortly, Pedro all but ignored it. He seemed interested in staying as long as he wanted.

It was the second time that afternoon that Martinez had been told to leave when he looked perfectly comfortable and capable of staying even longer. The first had come in the bottom of the seventh inning, when manager Charlie Manuel elected to pinch-hit for him with one out, one on and the Phillies holding a 1-0 lead. Martinez had allowed just two hits and no walks and thrown only 87 pitches in his first outing since September 30, but Manuel later said Martinez "was gone. I think he was spent. He did a tremendous job, and he took it actually maybe farther than I anticipated when the game started. To me, Pedro was done."

The Dodgers were delighted to see Pedro and his dancing array of curveballs and change-ups exit. Manager Joe Torre admitted later that there was a sense of relief when Martinez came out, saying, "I marvel. He did a masterful job today."

Taking Martinez out of the game was a questionable decision that, like the rest of the afternoon for the Phillies, soon blew up in their faces. With Pedro out of the game, the Phillies lead was shortly gone as well, and so was the stranglehold they had on the NLCS. Said shortstop Jimmy Rollins afterward, "This one got away from us." The Dodgers still had to take advantage of the Phillies' many mistakes, but there's no denying that this game was lost by Philadelphia as much as it was won by Los Angeles. The Phillies were six outs away from taking a 2-0 lead back to Philadelphia. Instead, they didn't even need to get those final three outs because they lost 2-1 after an eighth inning that included five pitchers (none of them closer Brad Lidge), two fortuitous base hits, two walks, one error on a sure double-play ball, and two series-changing runs. "You know what I call that?" Manuel said afterward. "I call that baseball. I call that just the way the game goes. The team that capitalizes or gets a big hit or a guy makes a big pitch, that's the team that wins the game, and that's why in close games you've always got a chance at the end."

It's something the Dodgers have specialized in this postseason. For the second straight series, they rallied for a Game 2 win thanks as much to their opponent's miscues as to their own penchant for punishing foes for those mistakes. "We're just not the type of team to give up," said first baseman James Loney. "We make you play for 27 outs."

If Matt Holliday's dropped fly ball in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the NLDS was shocking, the Phillies meltdown was even more so, for it involved not one but at least three consecutive unexpected plays. It started with a line drive off the glove of normally sure-handed third baseman Pedro Feliz, who had moved over to guard the line. That play was followed by a Bermuda Triangle bunt that was meant to be a sacrifice and turned into a base hit. Then came Chase Utley's second throwing error on the back end of a double play in two games. This one allowed the tying run to score and breathed new life into the Dodgers chances at victory in both the game and the series. "He can correct that," said Manuel. "Chase is better than that."

Four batters later, the bases were loaded, the fourth Phillies pitcher of the inning (J.A. Happ) was in the game, and Andre Ethier was at the plate. After they had finished sweeping the Cardinals in the NLDS, Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly had talked at length about his struggles in trying to get Ethier to not let one hitless at-bat affect his approach later in the game. He had also preached patience to Ethier, who said later, "Donnie's voice was in my head the whole time, and I guess it came in handy there." That time came in the bottom of the eighth, after he had gone 0-for-3. Ethier managed to remain calm, the memory of his big-league best six walk-off hits this season and 19 game-winning RBIs (tied for third) fresh in his mind. "I was saying, why not me here?" Ethier said. "Everybody wants to be the guy in that situation. The game simplifies itself so much in that situation. You either get a hit or you don't."

Or you walk, which is what Ethier did, laying off a pair of tough pitches from Happ to force in the go-ahead run. "You want to get the job done swinging," he said. "That's natural. All year, Joe's wanted me to swing the bat."

That's because this season Ethier developed into one of the game's most feared players, topping 30 home runs (he finished with 31) and 100 RBIs (106) for the first time. Now in his fourth big league season, he also increased his walks for the fourth straight year. He joked afterward that he's more patient at the plate than "other areas of my life." It's an approach he learned in two places. The first, he says, came from the 18-mile commute he used to have to make each way from his home in suburban Phoenix to high school every day. The second came from his years in the Oakland A's farm system, where he was a second-round pick in 2003. "From Day 1 there they teach you plate-zone discipline," he said.

Ethier got some more valuable advice before his at-bat from Jim Thome, who had singled as a pinch-hitter earlier in the inning. The 39-year-old Thome, one of the "grown-ups", as Torre calls them," imparted some sage wisdom to Ethier, telling him not to chase Happ's off-speed pitches, which he said were designed only to set up his fastball. Ethier laid off both the 2-2 and 3-2 pitches down in the zone.

It was the second stirring comeback of the postseason, on the heels of a regular season in which they made such victories almost routine. "My guys don't know fear, that's all I can tell you," Torre said later.

A 2-0 series deficit and the prospect of beating the defending world champions twice in three games just to get the series back to L.A. would have been daunting. It's unclear yet just how much momentum from this latest miracle will carry over given that they still have to face Cliff Lee in Game 3. But after yet another stirring escape from the brink of defeat, it's at least clear that the ultra-resilient Dodgers have nothing to be afraid of.