The Dodgers came out fighting in Game 3, showing the kind of moxie with the bats and with the brushbacks that they couldn't muster in Game 2. Hiroki Kuroda stepped up and made a fairly clear statement that the Dodgers were not to be pushed around, especially on their own field, after Russell Martin took the first of two plunks for the team early on in the game. Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino took exception to being buzzed by Kuroda (as would I have), but other than the head shot itself everyone knows that intimidation is the name of this part of the game, one that the Phillies kickstarted in Game 2 and one which the Dodgers, to their credit, finally responded, albeit a game late. Final: 7-2 Dodgers, sparked by a five-run first inning, including a bases-clearing triple by Blake De Witt.
Joe Torre believed the momentum had swung back toward the Dodgers after that win, and deep into Game 4, with the Dodgers leading 5-3, it seemed as though Torre was right and the series would end up tied. After all, the Dodgers survived Chan Ho Park wild-pitching in the tying run to make it a 3-3 game and managed an extra two runs (one off of a solo home run by Casey Blake) to take into the seventh. But then, after a lights-out inning of relief from Hong Chi Kuo, the reliver's return in the seventh looked shaky immediately, as he served up a runner on first right out of the gate. Enter Cory Wade, the Dodgers' stalwart middle reliever, who is about as reliable as anyone on the staff. Wade promptly gave up a two-run tying home run to Victorino, who belted it into the right field bullpen. Then, after a two-out single by Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Broxton was called in and tried to groove a 3-1 fastball past seasoned pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, who launched it for another two. In what seemed like the flash of a one-two punch to the temples, the Dodgers' 5-3 lead inverted to a 7-5 deficit, one that the Phillies, despite a eighth-inning threat begun by a two-out Manny Ramirez double off of Brad Lidge, would hold until the final out.
All is not lost. Obviously the Dodgers are going to have to roll the boulder uphill the rest of the way. But it can be done. Jon Lester proved earlier today in the Rays' happy 9-1 rout of the Red Sox that even the most confident ace can get pantsed on the national stage, so there's no reason to think that the Dodgers can't similarly bend Cole Hamels over in Game 5. And there's certainly no reason to fold up the tents altogether, no matter how insistent Joe Buck might be that this thing is as good as over. The Dodgers cannot clinch on their home field, but we knew that at the end of Game 2. So what? The Phillies, however, can clinch on the hallowed grass of Dodger Stadium on Wednesday if the Dodgers don't come out with the same fighting spirit that they displayed in spades on Sunday night and held up for seven innings tonight. (It wouldn't hurt my feelings if they kept the game ball as far away from Chan Ho Park as possible too.) I don't relish the idea of being there in person to see Philadelphia win the pennant. When I'm in the park in person on Wednesday night I'd much rather see the Dodgers close out the home stand of the NLCS with a decisive win like the one they served up Sunday. So even if it does turn out to be the last game played at Dodger Stadium this season the boys in blue will have taken us out on a high note. But it won't be the last game. The Dodgers have a hell of a battle ahead of them, but I truly believe they are still in this, especially if Charlie Manuel decides it's a good idea to bring Jamie Moyer back out for Game 7. The best is yet to come, Dodger fans.