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BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers come home for a joy ride

Postseason energy from fans and offense turn the lights on in Chavez Ravine as Dodgers dance away with Game 3 win.

October 07, 2013|Bill Plaschke

It's called a Ravine, but on this night it was an ocean, thousands of flapping blue towels washing over the visiting Southerners in giant roaring waves of Dodger.

Hanley Ramirez blasting, Carl Crawford tumbling, Chris Capuano dealing, Yasiel Puiging, the old house alive and roaring, run after run after run.

"Sends chills up your body," said A.J. Ellis.

"Freaking constant pressure all night," said J.P. Howell.

Postseason baseball returned to Dodger Stadium for the first time in four years Sunday, and the ensuing mixture of quaint tradition and relentless play resulted in four hours of joyful swagger that could be defined in a single declaration

Welcome home.

Welcome home, October hardball, as the Dodgers crushed the Atlanta Braves, 13-6, in Game 3 of the National League division series.

Welcome home, championship hope, as the Dodgers moved to within one win of returning to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2009, and five wins of their first World Series in 25 years.

Welcome home, cheers that echoed with the memories of decades.

"This is kind of atmosphere Dodger Stadium should have," said Ellis. "Tonight is the kind of night that we need to put the product out on the field that our fans desperately deserve."

It was that Dodger Stadium of old mixed with the Dodgers' passions of new.

Tom Lasorda stood behind home plate and shouted, "It's time to play Dodger baseball," and then Ramirez again defined Dodger baseball. Will anybody ever get him out again? The ball soared into the night as if his bat were a slingshot, a single, a double, a triple, a franchise-record tying six extra-base hits in one postseason series, a force not seen around here since that last Ramirez guy.

He is overcoming the reputation of not playing hurt, of not being a team player. He is now given the ultimate compliment in this town, chants of "M-V-P" accompanying his strolls to the plate, the Dodgers' Kobe.

"I knew that it was going to be crazy tonight and you've got to thank the fans for bringing that energy from the beginning," Ramirez said.

After Lasorda, Fernando Valenzuela elegantly walked to the mound and threw out the first pitch, then Crawford became the powerfully tricky one. One moment, he was hitting a three-run home run, the next moment he was laying down a bunt that led to an error that led to a four-run inning. He finished it all up with a flop into the left-field stands, leaving his cleats and risking injury to catch a fly ball in the middle of a route.

"I thought I was good, the next thing you know, I feel my feet flip," he said.

It seems like this city is feeling the same way about these Dodgers, dizzily embracing their return home after a controversy-filled loss in Game 2, partying enough that the video scoreboard showed an unsuspecting couple seriously smooching two innings after the Kiss Cam.

"Every batter, you could feel the energy building and building," said Ellis.

In the end, as the Dodgers were scoring the most postseason runs in Los Angeles history, the crowd was joining the pummeling with a taunting, blue-toweled tomahawk chop and chant. To those who say they were being disrespectful to the Braves, since when has Atlanta's chop and chant been respectful to anyone?

"I must say, seeing our fans do that after hearing it for two days in Atlanta, that was awesome," said Howell.

The Dodgers were so good Sunday, they made everyone forget about the night's only troubling sign, that of starter Hyun-Jin Ryu trying to cover first base and trying to throw to the right base and trying to pitch a strike.

Ryu was awful and unfocused — four runs in three innings — and the Dodgers will need to make certain he is healthy before sending him back out there this October. But, hey, also welcome home Chris Capuano, who replaced Ryu and threw three scoreless innings for the win.

In all, it was a powerful mixture of tradition and team, one the Dodgers will attempt to continue Monday night in attempting to finish off the Braves in Game 4.

They want to avoid a return to Atlanta for an ultimate Game 5, but not so much that they are willing to pitch Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest to finish it now.

While that might prove to be a questionable move, remember, Kershaw has never pitched on short rest and the postseason roadside is littered with desperate teams that moved players out of their comfort zones.

So Dodgers fans will put down the fake tomahawks for a moment and hold their breath as the Dodgers take their chances with Ricky Nolasco. The struggling pitcher, who gave up 17 runs in his last three starts of the regular season, still has one major asset, that being the Dodgers' lineup.

"Our hitting is freedom," said Howell. "It helps all of us pitchers to know that if we can relax just keep it close, those guys can put up crooked numbers anytime."

Sunday night felt like the first taste of freedom from the end of the McCourt era and all the disappointment that followed the Dodgers' last autumn dance.

When the game ended, fans on adjoining escalators were exchanging hand slaps as they headed into the first great October baseball night in this town in a long time.

"This is postseason baseball!" shouted one.

Indeed it is. Welcome home.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter:@billplaschke

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