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T.J. SIMERS

Casey Blake's power of negative thinking keeps Dodgers in the hunt

Third baseman, who had a key walk against the Cardinals, starts winning rally against the Phillies.

October 17, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

OK, OK, so Andre Ethier has really cemented his reputation now as the Dodgers' walk-off specialist.

But his gritty, lefty-against-lefty, self-disciplined approach -- resulting in a walk at a time when everyone was expecting something so much more heroic -- is now becoming the Dodgers' trademark for success.

And while Ethier might be the ultimate closer when it comes to tough at-bats, as rallies go, the biggest instigator so far this postseason is Casey Blake.

Blake's a duck killer too, but I'm so happy to report today on the opening of the hunting season back in the middle of one-stoplight country that Blake's weapon of choice will continue to be a bat.

Six sweet little birdies, the daily limit -- four mallards and two hens -- will live another day and maybe a whole lot longer because the killer, camouflaged recently as just another easy out in the Dodgers' lineup, seems more interested in keeping his team alive.

"Hold on there, I think my chances of bagging all six on opening day would've been slim," Blake says, someone noting -- probably just as slim as his chances of being the one to get the hit that would ignite the rally to carry the Dodgers to victory Friday.

But yes, it was Blake in Game 2 against St. Louis, the Dodgers getting a break with a Matt Holliday error, but still not winning, or so it seemed with Blake at the plate and looking like, well, a dead duck.

Almost everyone had to figure he was going to strike out. "So did I," says Blake.

But he worked the Cardinals for a walk, his manager and teammates later calling it the biggest at-bat in the game and just maybe the turning point in the series -- the Dodgers rallying to win Game 2 and all the momentum swinging in their favor.

Fast forward to Game 2 against the Phillies, the automatic out due up for the Dodgers, Blake 0 for 7 against Philadelphia and the Dodgers down 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth.

"To be honest, my confidence wasn't terribly high," Blake says. "There weren't a lot of good things to really visualize as I walked to the plate."

Now as he makes his way to the plate, he says, he notices Kobe Bryant standing in the owner's box. He also can't miss Mayor Villaraigosa, who is waving a white towel over his head.

Blake's from Iowa, of course, so this big-city stuff is all new to him, the tall buildings, more people than corn, but yes, he says, he was paying attention long enough to note who wasn't pitching anymore.

"I think everyone was excited Pedro [Martinez] was out of there," he says. "I sure would have hated to face the guy in his prime."

Martinez struck him out in the fifth, but now walking to home plate -- probably kicking himself for not getting Kobe's autograph which would really impress the folks back home sitting around the pot stove -- he says he got to thinking and arguing with himself.

"A lot of guys actually see good things happening to them before they go up there," Blake says. "It wasn't happening for me, and I was telling myself, 'Why not?' One good swing and I can tie it, so why wasn't I visualizing that?"

A moment later he singles to left off the glove of the Phillies' third baseman, the rally on, the Phillies also making a significant error and now Blake's boat blind sits empty that much longer.

If Cleveland doesn't agree to pay his salary and let him go last year to the Dodgers at the trading deadline, "I'm probably hunting today. Steel shot. A 12-gauge shotgun. We try not to shoot the hens."

But the Dodgers got him, and then kept him this past off-season, signing him to a new deal. Plenty of money now to upgrade shotguns.

"I could've signed with Minnesota; it was closer to home," he says, but he found a home here and an admirer in Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, who gave him credit for bringing professionalism into the clubhouse.

Torre says Blake seldom "gets the accolades, but he just keeps grinding."

Blake will have none of that, pointing to the players who followed him in Game 2 against St. Louis and then again in Game 2 against Philadelphia. "They had to get it done," he says, while calling Ethier's game-deciding at-bat "incredible."

Ethier was facing a left-handed pitcher, the shadows covering most of the ground between home and the mound, two out and the score tied.

His resume already loaded with six game-winning hits, Ethier had to be thinking, "I can be the hero once again."

And he admits, he was, "but ball four also works. But there were also a lot of demons dancing around out there. I was fighting it -- not trying to be too aggressive, yet not wanting to be too tentative."

He says he never saw one pitch, the ball just hitting his bat. He says he almost swung at a bad pitch on ball three, ball four not as tempting. But because of his discipline and Blake's ability to hang tough, the Dodgers and ducks can now fly away somewhat relieved.

THERE WAS tremendous concern before the game, Ann Meyers Drysdale taking the mound for the ceremonial first pitch and Torre going into a catcher's crouch behind home plate.

Fortunately Torre was able to stand up after catching a strike from Meyers.

ON THURSDAY Mayor Villaraigosa sat next to Frank McCourt in the third row -- who better to tell the Parking Lot Attendant about the single life and TV reporters in L.A.?

On Friday the Mayor arrived just in time to join Jamie McCourt in the first row, putting his arm around her while they sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

You have to give the Mayor credit; he gets around.

IT WAS 93 degrees at game time in Dodger Stadium, 43 degrees back in Philadelphia, and probably a pretty good chill in the owner's box as well.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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