Impostors ruining this feel-good story
PHILADELPHIA -- Like casualties of a brilliantly soured romance, the Dodgers trudged into the horizon Friday night surrounded by baleful foghorn tones and old fireworks smoke.
We don’t even know them anymore.
Who is this team that, one week after boldly sweeping the Chicago Cubs, is timidly collecting at the same dustpan after losing the first two games of the National League Championship Series to the Philadelphia Phillies?
The final score here in Friday’s Game 2 Phillies’ victory was 8-5, but it wasn’t that close, because the Dodgers just weren’t that good.
Who is this manager who allowed his starting pitcher to wilt for a second consecutive game? What happened to the great Joe Torre?
Who is this outfielder who has one bloop hit in seven at-bats, zero hits in five chances with men on base and one big center-field boot? Where is the likable Matt Kemp?
What about the leadoff hitter who has one hit in nine at-bats, a game-changing wild throw, and all sorts of uncomfortable grimaces? Who took the beloved Rafael Furcal?
The Dodgers didn’t just leave Citizens Bank Park field Friday, they were thrown out by a Phillies team that pushed them to the door just before snatching their swagger.
Gone is the clubhouse music. Gone are the hopeful smiles. Gone is the idea that Manny Ramirez can carry them.
He hit a three-run homer Friday, he’s batting .375 in the series, and the Dodgers still haven’t won a game.
Meanwhile, his Phillies counterpart Ryan Howard doesn’t have a hit in eight at-bats, looks as lost as the entire cast of “Rocky V,” and yet his team still hasn’t lost.
Historically, the Dodgers are barely breathing, as only one of nine teams in seven-game NLCS history have recovered from a two-games-to-none deficit to win the series.
Realistically, yeah, well, same thing.
“I think we’re better,” Kemp said. “I know we’re better.”
That statement currently qualifies as his second error.
The Dodgers are coming home as changed men, and even if you recognize them, you will certainly not understand them.
“We’re in a tough spot right now,” Casey Blake said. “We’re going to have to come out fighting.”
On Friday they came out tentatively sparring, taking a 1-0 lead in the second inning against mercurial Phillies starter Brett Myers on a couple of hits followed by a Blake DeWitt groundout.
It seemed like an hour before they were able to bat again.
With two out in the bottom of the second, six consecutive Phillies reached base, leading to four runs, two of which scored after Kemp booted a ball that landed in front of him.
Where was the pitcher who was 13-3 since the middle of June, including a brilliant win against the Cubs? What happened to Chad Billingsley?
“It just wasn’t there,” he said.
You know who else wasn’t there? A reliever. Throughout the second inning, amazingly, there was nobody even warming up.
The bullpen crowd finally started moving around in the third inning, but even when the first two Phillies collected hits against Billingsley, he stayed in the game.
He stayed through an intentional walk to load the bases. He stayed through pitcher Myers’ second hit and second and third RBIs of the game.
Just like Derek Lowe on Thursday, Billingsley was allowed to stay too long.
“To me, Billingsley has been too much to this club to take him out in a situation where he’s performed so well,” Torre said.
Torre’s quiet loyalty to his players is the reason the Dodgers have survived this turbulent season.
But, twice now, love has hurt.
Nine of 10 Phillies reached base against Billingsley before he was mercifully pulled from the game.
Even then, trailing by six runs, the Dodgers had a chance after Ramirez’s fourth-inning bomb. He pointed to the sky. He screamed in the direction of Myers. He roused the dugout.
Yet for the rest of the game, the Dodgers had all of two hits, only one of which reached the outfield.
Most of the kids seemed worn down from the loud and hostile environment. Most of the veterans just seemed worn down, period.
“We’ve got to battle from the first inning to the end,” reminded Ramirez.
As late afternoon turned to evening, one shiny blue piece emerged, rookie named James McDonald, making his first postseason appearance after a handful of late-season innings.
The 6-foot-5 kid was huge from the moment he took the mound, striking out his first batter, Pat Burrell, with the bases loaded to end the third inning. He ended up giving up only two hits in 3 1/3 innings, and maybe the older guys should heed his strategy.
“I was nervous, but then I started thinking about how it’s still just a baseball game,” he said. “I’m not in some foreign country, I’m still just in a baseball game.”
The Dodgers need a fifth starter next season? This is their guy.
The Dodgers need a hero beginning Game 3 on Sunday at Dodger Stadium? Who knows?
They thought they had one in the seventh inning when, with runners on first and second, Blake’s long fly ball was snagged in a leaping catch by Shane Victorino against the center-field wall.
Said Blake: “A bummer, man.”
Chanted the crowd: “Beat L.A.!”
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.