Matchup brings anticipation

Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Russell Martin got his wish: The Dodgers are facing the Chicago Cubs in the opening round of the playoffs.

“That’s who I wanted to face,” Martin said. “The atmosphere, it’s going to be awesome. Why not?”

The Dodgers know the national spotlight will be on Wrigley Field over the next couple of days, as the baseball world will focus on two clubs steeped in tradition that are mired in championship droughts.

The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series in 20 years.


The Cubs? A hundred.

“We’re going to be prime time,” Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said. “There’s no question that because of their history, there’s a great deal of interest in what they do.”

And that’s fine with the players.

“Perfect,” Manny Ramirez said.


“Chi-town, the atmosphere is always good,” James Loney said. “I enjoy playing there.”

Torre said that while the clubs’ histories make for a nice story line, he doesn’t think it will affect them. At least he doesn’t want that to be the case with the Dodgers, who have won one playoff game in the last two decades.

“That’s a lot of baggage,” Torre said. “I don’t want to carry years of history that they have to make up for. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Saito is sure of himself now

There was a noticeable change in Takashi Saito’s demeanor over the final couple of days of the regular season.

The man who last week sounded as if he was being forced back into a closer’s role that he didn’t want was standing tall with his chest sticking out. If Torre wanted him to close games, he said, he would close games.

Saito laughed when asked about the sudden change.

“Of course, I was insecure,” he said.


Pitching the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants took care of that. Saito retired the side to earn his first save since July 9.

“Whatever fears I had about my elbow are gone,” said Saito, who was out for two months with a sprained elbow ligament. “My mechanics are what I was worried about. I was wondering why it was taking so long for that to come around, but I think I’m where I have to be.”

Though Torre made a concerted effort to get Saito ready to pitch the ninth inning in the playoffs, he hasn’t said whether he would make Saito his closer again or whether he would stick with his replacement, Jonathan Broxton.

I’m fine, OK?

Jeff Kent compared the days leading up to the start of the playoffs to the days leading up to the start of the regular season, when he was recovering from a strained hamstring.

“This is the reason I’m kind of tired,” he said. “You guys wore me out in spring training about, ‘Is he going to be ready?’ ‘Is he going to be ready?’ Everyday you guys came to me and asked me and everything was OK.”

Less than a month removed from surgery on his left knee, Kent said that his experience would allow him to overcome any physical problems.

“I’ve played for a long time,” he said. “I kind of have a good idea of what it takes to play this game. So if there’s one thing that’s abnormal, it really doesn’t affect me.”


Kent said he could start at second base and never doubted that he would be back in time.

Told that Torre wasn’t as certain, he said, “There are a lot of people who think the glass is half empty. In baseball and throughout my whole life, I’ve always felt it was half full. I don’t know what the expectations were. I took it one day at a time and pushed as hard I could.”