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Victorino means victories for Phillies

October 15, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino came bounding up the tunnel from the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, a couple of dozen journalists trailing closely behind.

"Hey, Moses," a teammate playfully called out.

But while Victorino was simply leading the reporters to the end of the dugout, on the field his postseason performance might be leading the Phillies to the Promised Land.

A solid if unspectacular player heading into the playoffs, Victorino has shone when the spotlight was hottest and now has Philadelphia a win away from the World Series heading into Game 5 of the National League Championship Series tonight.

And he has done it in every way imaginable.

With his bat, the switch-hitting Victorino has homered from both sides of the plate, belting a game-winning grand slam off Milwaukee's CC Sabathia in the division series and hitting a game-tying two-run homer off the Dodgers' Cory Wade in Game 4 of the NLCS Monday en route to a franchise-record 11 postseason runs batted in.

With his feet, Victorino forced Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal into a hurried throw on a routine grounder in Game 1. The resulting error led to a three-run Phillies rally and a 3-2 win.

And with his glove, Victorino robbed the Dodgers' Casey Blake of at least two RBIs with a spectacular leaping catch at the center-field wall in Game 2 of the NLCS, preserving an 8-5 victory.

"He's been arguably the best asset for our postseason right now," backup outfielder Geoff Jenkins said. "There's always that one guy in the postseason that you don't think is going to have big [games]. And so maybe Shane's that guy.

"He's awesome."

Which is the why the Dodgers -- and every other team in baseball -- have to be kicking themselves.

Because while the Dodgers had first shot at Victorino, taking the four-sport high school star in the sixth round of the 1999 draft, he was twice up for grabs in the Rule V draft -- baseball's version of a clearance sale -- for $50,000.

After the San Diego Padres took him and then returned him to the Dodgers, the Phillies eventually took a chance on him and in 2005, his first season with the franchise, he batted .310 with career highs for homers (18) and RBIs (70) at triple-A Scranton to win the International League's MVP award.

Some members of the Philadelphia front office credit the turnaround to the team doctor who diagnosed Victorino with attention deficit disorder and prescribed medicine to help him deal with the condition. Others, however, cite more traditional reasons.

"He matured as a player," said assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who played a part in the decisions both to sign Victorino, then to trade away All-Star Bobby Abreu a year later to create playing time for him.

And Victorino, 27, seized that opportunity, leading the Phillies in sacrifice bunts (eight) and outfield assists (11) while going the whole season without committing an error.

"He brought a little more energy to the team," General Manager Pat Gillick agreed. "Victorino's one of those guys who's got passion, he's got intensity and a guy that, when you see him, he likes to play."

His triple-A manager, Gene Lamont, called Victorino the best center fielder he had seen since Andy Van Slyke, a five-time Gold Glove winner. So last winter the Phillies created another hole for Victorino -- this one in center field -- by letting the popular Aaron Rowand leave as a free agent.

And again Victorino seized the opportunity, batting a career-high .293, scoring 102 runs and stealing 36 bases.

"He's come a long ways. But he's got tremendous talent," said Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia's soft-drawling manager. "What do you want me to say about him? He's been outstanding."

Especially in the postseason. With former NL MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins hitting only .217 with three RBIs combined in eight games, Victorino has picked up the slack, leading the team in hits (eight), total bases (19), steals (three) and RBIs (11).

And he has accomplished much of that while playing with a heavy heart. Victorino learned after Philadelphia's last home game that his grandmother Irene, one of his biggest fans, had died in Hawaii. Now Victorino wonders if she's playing a role in his spectacular postseason.

"My family, they keep saying how your grandma is looking down on you," he said. "I'm sure she is looking down on me. She might be the one that's lifting me up in certain situations.

"I'm sure she's very happy. But I still miss her."

Originally Victorino thought he would have to leave the team this week for the funeral, but now plans are to wait until after the World Series -- if there is one, Victorino hastens to add, not wanting to jinx things now.

"It's a blur," he says of the last two weeks. "I just want to keep going. [But] what happened two days ago doesn't matter in the next game. It's not about looking back. You've got to turn the page.

"You've got to keep your foot on the gas pedal. Because it's still far from over. Things can change in the matter of a game. We need to finish as quick as we can."


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