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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Dodgers love field trip

The Cubs give, and the Dodgers seize opportunity

October 03, 2008|Bill Plaschke

CHICAGO -- We interrupt the whiny bleatings of sorrowful soused bleacher bums today to inject a bit of sober truth.

The bumbling Chicago Cubs didn't hand over Thursday's division series game.

The Dodgers took it.

The pinball-fielding, pinata-swinging Cubs didn't give away this 10-3 score.

The Dodgers grabbed it.

One hundred years from now, when folks in these same Wrigley Field seats are pining for their first world championship in two centuries, they will put down their Old Style mugs and Harry Caray masks and look back at the 2008 postseason as a Cubs disaster.

As usual after a few cold ones, they will be looking in the wrong place.

This wasn't a Cubs tragedy, it was a Dodgers triumph.

"Yeah, they made mistakes, but against good pitching in this situation, you don't always take advantage of those mistakes," said Andre Ethier. "Tonight we were given an opportunity to make something happen. And we made it happen."

Yes, the Cubs made two horrific errors that could have ended the Dodgers' five-run second inning before it started.

But in that same inning, the Dodgers pulled off a precise hit-and-run play, a preposterous bunt for a base hit, a perfect two-strike single and a pounding bases-loaded double.

Yes, the Cubs were so bad, every infielder eventually watched the ball bounce off his hands, while catcher Geovany Soto couldn't even properly throw the ball back to pitcher Carlos Zambrano -- twice.

But meanwhile, Chad Billingsley was painting nearly seven brilliant innings while Manny Ramirez was putting up three more great at-bats.

Yes, as the best-of-five series heads back to Los Angeles with the Dodgers holding a seemingly insurmountable two games to none lead, the Cubs have clearly collapsed.

But upon this wreckage, the Dodgers have grown, larger each night, an uncertain team from a lousy division now looking like a potential National League champion.

"We came in here hoping to win just one game," said Rafael Furcal with an amazed smile. "Now, we win two? That is big."

It is big enough that they have won more playoff games in two nights than in the previous 20 years combined.

It is stunning enough that nobody thought to turn on the clubhouse stereo with the trademark thumping victory music until 15 minutes after the game.

Outside, the cluttered Wrigley Field concourses reeked with rumpled and scowling fans trudging toward next spring.

"You don't get many chances in this game," said Russell Martin. "We did everything with this chance."

Flashback to the second inning, when the game began and ended.

The inning started with Ethier falling behind 0-and-2, fouling off a pitch, watching two balls, then looping a single into right field.

A year ago, he's down 0-and-2, he's finished.

"I kept telling myself, 'Get a tough at-bat, get a tough at-bat,' " Ethier said.

James Loney stepped up and, with Ethier running, he hit a perfect ground ball into the hole vacated by moving shortstop Ryan Theriot.

A year ago, Loney misses that pitch.

"What a great play," said third base coach Larry Bowa. "Joe [Torre] wanted to get something started, get them on their heels; it was the right place at the right time."

Theriot was able to stop the ball suddenly and knock it down with his hand, but it was too late, runners were already on first and third.

One out later, Blake DeWitt hit a sharp inning-ending double play grounder to Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa.

This was the first Cubs nightmare, with DeRosa booting the grounder, allowing a run to score.

Casey Blake then loaded the bases when his grounder was muffed by first baseman Derrek Lee.

"It wasn't good baseball," said Cubs Manager Lou Piniella. "It wasn't fun to watch, I can tell you that."

Bases loaded, two out, two errors, one run in, the fans were booing.

Who knew Rafael Furcal would be bunting?

Down one strike, Furcal pushed a stunning bunt toward DeRosa, beating the throw to drive in the inning's second run.

A month ago, Furcal was barely even running.

"I see the infield back, I know they were not expecting the bunt, I decided to go for it," Furcal said. "Around here, we all go for it."

While Manny Ramirez has been the Dodgers' most important late-season acquisition, Furcal could be their most surprising addition.

He rebounding from a season's worth of injuries to start just two late regular-season games, but it was enough to persuade Torre to put him back in the starting lineup.

Said Furcal: "This is a very special time for me. I owe everything to Joe Torre for his confidence."

Almost as big, of course, was Ramirez's second homer in two playoff games, this one bouncing off a roof above the center field fence.

"That's who he is," said Matt Kemp, shaking his head.

No, that's who they are, the Dodgers showing in these playoffs that they have become as smart and explosive as their best player.

Yes, the Cubs are clearly not ready for October.

That doesn't change the fact that the Dodgers clearly are.

--

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

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