With Joe Torre’s fingers on pulse, Dodgers are all heart


from st. louis

Joe Torre, soaked with champagne and satisfaction, walked hand-in-hand with his wife from interview room to Dodgers clubhouse, so many experiences already in the baseball bank.

What’s one more? Well, everything. This is why he gave it another run after a disappointing finish in New York, why he travels from city to city, 162 games in 180 days at age 69, still amazed at what young people can do when given the opportunity and a little direction.

“Different contributions,” he says, and he says it over and over as he shakes off the champagne chill, the reward for sweeping the Cardinals in the NL division series.


He’s still talking about Casey Blake’s amazing at-bat in Game 2, Manny Ramirez coming up huge with two out not once but twice in Game 3, “this amazing kid here” in Andre Ethier, and Vicente Padilla living up to the faith Torre has put in him.

Padilla, maybe as far away as anyone can get from Clemens, Mussina and Pettitte, comes to the Dodgers a certified loser, and goes 4-0 down the regular-season stretch and adds seven shutout innings Saturday against the Cardinals.

“I thank God that Joe Torre gave me this opportunity,” says Padilla, dumped by a playoff-contending Texas team in need of pitching at the time. “This has been the best thing to happen to me all my life.”

The Dodgers are the only team that began these playoffs without a true No. 1 pitcher, their once-upon-a-time ace, Chad Billingsley, yet to throw a pitch, and they are now the first team to move on to the next round.

Four more wins and Torre might get a fantasy return visit to Yankee Stadium, or maybe a short trip down the I-5 to Anaheim where he once worked as a broadcaster.

“Whatever happens next,” he says, “I can tell you this about these guys, they fear nothing.”


What’s to fear? The left fielder for the other team will drop the ball if there’s any chance whatsoever the Dodgers might lose.

“We got a break,” Torre says, the short series swinging on Matt Holliday’s error, “and the guys got excited about it and really stepped up.”

More than that, they never let up on the Cardinals, who had the white-towel-waving home fans behind them and the realization Chris Carpenter would be ready to pitch Game 4, and Adam Wainwright in Game 5.

Who knew the Dodgers had a killer instinct after watching them the final two weeks of the season?

Who cares what happens down the stretch in the years to come, everything a new ballgame once the playoffs start -- as we know now?

Who thought Ramirez would ever get another hit?

Ramirez drives in the first run in the first inning with a first-pitch, line-drive double, Ethier hits a booming two-run homer toward the Arch in the third and Ramirez follows with yet another smash double.


Ramirez goes three for five, Rafael Furcal has two more hits and the bullpen quells any Cardinals uprising. Different contributions, as Torre says.

Torre, already the manager with the most wins in post-season history, now has 83 and the home-field edge going into the league championship series against either Colorado or Philadelphia.

“I came to the realization in August there was no predicting how these guys might do,” Torre says, “but when they show up to play, they are really something.”

His final three years with the Yankees, Torre could never get them past the first round of the playoffs.

But here he is two years on the job with the Dodgers, who had their own playoff horror stories, and his wunderkinds have swept the Cubs and now the Cardinals.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go,” says Larry Bowa, the Dodgers’ designated killjoy.

Maybe so, the road still going to take a rough turn through either Philadelphia or Denver, but one more Angels victory and we’re that much closer to the Dodgers ending the Angels’ season.


THE KINGS played here Saturday, just down the road from the Dodgers. Yeah, I didn’t care either.

THE CARDINALS scored one run against the Dodgers. It will be interesting to see now whether the Rams can score more against the Vikings.

BEFORE THE game, the Cardinals’ Mark DeRosa was saying, “There’s no tomorrow.” Won’t he be in for a shock today when he wakes up.

IT BECAME apparent recently the Dentist was missing, the Dodgers’ image maker hired to replace the Tipper Gore Lady, who had been hired to replace Derrick Hall in an effort to make the McCourts look good. And you think your job is tough.

Dr. Charles Steinberg was not at the two playoff games in L.A., and for those holding hands over ears, it was pretty apparent someone else was calling the shots in regard to the music being played in Dodger Stadium.

Insiders say Steinberg lost ground when the McCourts fell for Dennis Mannion, hired as COO.


An anonymous e-mailer said that Steinberg irritated one of Mannion’s hires, CFO Michael Young, when he invited the USC marching band to Dodger Stadium to perform and then billed the team for lunches given to the band members.

The Dodgers refused to make Young available even though some folks might be left with the suggestion the Dodgers are cheap.

The Dodgers would only say, “Dr. Charles Steinberg is not available. However, the Dodgers have granted Charles permission to entertain offers from other Major League Baseball clubs and he is currently doing so.”

Looks like they’re going to need a new image maker.

PLASCHKE, ALREADY the AP’s national sports columnist of the year four times, missed Saturday’s Dodgers game to return to his alma mater, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, to be honored yet again.

Obviously, I’ll never have a reason to miss a game.