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Bill Plaschke

Dodgers Flip the Switch on Angels This Season

May 21, 2006|Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

The kid third baseman settled in for the sort of sixth-inning battle that the Angels always won.

Only, this kid played for the Dodgers.

Willy Aybar fouled off the first pitch. He fouled off the third pitch. He sawed off his bat in fouling off the fourth pitch.

The fifth pitch scraped the top of his shoes.

"A little low," he said with a grin.

Yeah, and a little gone. Aybar golfed the ball into the right-field stands Saturday for a three-run homer, a tie game and the sort of wacky role reversal that would only work in Hollywood.

Last season, the Angels took the Dodgers' name.

This season, the Dodgers have taken the Angels' game.

This isn't a Freeway Series, it's Freaky Friday.

"Watching it happen like this, this is fun," said Brett Tomko, a boyish smile filling his veteran face.

Fun for one side, anyway. The Dodgers won their second consecutive game against the Angels with an eye-popping, 8-4 comeback victory Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

Check out Dodgers fans growing bold enough to chant anti-Angels slogans.

Check out Frank and Jamie McCourt being bold enough to cuddle in front of their seats during the postgame playing of "I Love L.A."

But more than anything, check out the numbers.

Two days, 24 Dodger runs, 35 Dodger hits, two inescapable conclusions.

These Angels look like last year's Dodgers.

These Dodgers look like last year's Angels.

That Angels team that advanced to the American League championship series, just three wins from a World Series, losing to the eventual World Series-champion Chicago White Sox?

It has become, almost overnight, a team of tired veterans and tentative kids.

Its aging stars move around like something out of a grainy black-and-white movie, its hot prospects stagger around like bad Saturday morning cartoons. They are scarier in the shower than on the base paths, and their manager can only sigh.

"To get through the schedule, we have to have depth, and right now, our depth is not enough," Mike Scioscia said.

Sound familiar?

They have become, yeah, the DePodesta Dodgers.

And the Dodgers, who spent days last winter without a manager, a general manager, a future or even a clue?

They have become, almost overnight, brainy and balanced contenders.

The veterans that General Manager Ned Colletti hoarded this winter like canned goods, including Manager Grady Little, have turned the clubhouse into a sort of pennant preparedness kit, a safe and steady place for a handful of rookies who have been relaxed enough to contribute.

They have become, yeah, the Scioscia Angels.

"On winning teams, you always have the guys you can count on every day, the stars, but championships are won with the other guys," said Tomko, who gave up four runs in six innings Saturday but gave the Dodgers a chance to win. "You win with guys who filter in throughout the season and succeed."

For two years the Angels haven't filtered, they have forced.

They have pushed youngsters into the lineup by clearing out such stars as Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina and Jarrod Washburn.

Under such pressure, the kids have faded quicker than old issues of Baseball America, with Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman and Jeff Mathis offering little more than postage stamp-sized versions of their potential.

"The learning curve around here has reared its ugly head," Scioscia said.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have filtered.

None of the three kids making nice contributions started this season in the big leagues.

All three were brought up as injury replacements, their expectations hushed, their pressure low, the veterans hovering around for help.

"When you bring up players to a big stage like this one -- this is not off-Broadway, this is Broadway -- you need to give them a safety net," Colletti said.

So catcher Russell Martin shows up with little fanfare, plays quietly and hard, and guess what? The Dodgers go 11-2 when he's in the lineup.

"Yeah, I'm still pinching myself, this is surreal," said Martin, who beat out a potential double-play grounder for an RBI Saturday.

And outfielder Andre Ethier shows up one day, runs around the outfield for a couple of games, and suddenly he's going five for five.

"Yeah, that's a good way to describe it," he said. "Surreal."

And, finally, there is third baseman Aybar, called up earlier this month after a nice finish here last September.

No pressure, no talk of potential, no problem.

In the first inning Saturday, he dived across the foul line to grab a grounder by Chone Figgins, then threw him out, setting the tone for an afternoon of effort.

"An impressive play," he said through an interpreter.

Then, in the sixth, he hit the game-tying homer that was followed by J.D. Drew's pinch-hit, tiebreaking homer in the seventh.

"Fun to watch," said Drew, another boyish smile filling another veteran face.

The Dodgers won for the 11th time in 14 games.

The Angels lost for the 10th time in 14 games.

Freaky.

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