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Bill Shaikin / ON BASEBALL : LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Dodgers should follow lead of predecessors from Lopes' era

October 12, 2008|Bill Shaikin

The Dodgers lost the first two games of the series, on the road. Home might not be sweet, not when winter could be two days away.

Yet the notion of defeat did not occur to them. Two down? Too bad, but whatever.

"We just felt it didn't matter," Davey Lopes said.

This was 1981, in the World Series, the last time the Dodgers lost the first two games of a seven-game series. They swept the next four games from the New York Yankees, and the Dodgers were champions.

This was way back when the Dodgers were the Dodgers, when they raised their own, when they did not import their stars from the Boston Red Sox and their manager from the Yankees and their general manager from the San Francisco Giants.

This was way back when the Red Sox milked Carlton Fisk like the Dodgers now milk Kirk Gibson, when the Dodgers and not the Red Sox commanded the national following, when the Dodgers were Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey.

Lopes will be at Dodger Stadium tonight, as a coach for the Philadelphia Phillies. He ought to get a standing ovation, for the good old days, and for just being here.

In spring training, the Phillies ran their players and coaches through routine physicals. The doctor closed the door and told Lopes there was nothing routine about his examination.

"Not good," Lopes said. "Not when they drop the big C on you."

Cancer. Prostate cancer.

In the next breath, the doctor assured him that he would be fine, that the cancer had been detected early enough to be treated with surgery.

That is easy to say, hard to believe. You hear all the words, but the only one you really hear is cancer.

"The thought of it plays with your mind," Lopes said. "It drains you a little bit.

"How did I deal with it? I got a lot of help from the man upstairs."

And he got a little help from his old teammates, from the rest of that quartet that made sweet music for so long in Los Angeles: Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey.

"Billy and Ronny called to check on me," Lopes said. "Steve said I was in his prayers constantly."

Together again, even in retirement. Always together, in your minds and theirs.

"You can't really say one guy's name without bringing in the other three," Lopes said. "I kind of like that. We're all a piece of each other."

They were the foundation of the second great era in Los Angeles. There was the Koufax-Drysdale Era, from 1959 to 1966, when the Dodgers went to the World Series four times within eight years. They won three times.

And there was the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey Era, from 1974 to 1981, when the Dodgers also went to the World Series four times within eight years. They won once.

"I wish we had accomplished a little more," Lopes said. "I think that's what we all regretted.

"We didn't come away with the big trophy but one time. I felt it was disappointing."

There would be nothing disappointing today about four World Series trips within eight years, not after only one in the last 27. But that expectation of victory, the one that enabled the Dodgers to spit at that 0-2 deficit in 1981, had been ingrained upon them from the day they signed with the Dodgers.

Clubhouse culture was not built in Los Angeles. It was built in Vero Beach, Fla., in the rookie leagues, through the minor leagues.

"Without trying to be cocky, we were good," Lopes said. "That's the way we were bred.

"It was what the Dodgers represented at that particular time. We all came up through the system. We had great players. We had a manager that really loved to win -- and was vocal about it."

They lost the World Series in 1974, to the Oakland Athletics. They lost in 1977 and 1978, both times to the Yankees. They lost the first two games in 1981, again to the Yankees.

It didn't matter. Lopes led off Game 3 with a double, Russell followed with a single, and Garvey hit a three-run home run.

The Yankees rallied to take the lead in Game 3. They led in Game 4, and in Game 5, and in Game 6. It didn't matter.

"We were always told we were the best," Lopes said. "We learned to deal with the pressure about that. There wasn't much pressure to win, because we expected to win.

"That was instilled in us young. Tommy [Lasorda] was an integral part of it, with that Dodger blue [stuff]."

Lopes didn't actually say "stuff." Something closer to "bull." But then he smiled, and winked.

"It works," Lopes said.

So, blessedly, did the cancer treatment. Lopes rejoined the Phillies in May. He has one last follow-up medical appointment, whenever the season ends.

"We're going to delay that as much as possible," he said.

If these Dodgers follow in the steps of their forefathers, Lopes could be free for that doctor's appointment next week.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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