The Cubs were
overmatched, especially with the Dodgers' righthanded-heavy pitching staff
shackling Chicago's righthanded-heavy lineup. L.A. advance scouts Vance
Lovelace and Toney Howell, who had watched the Cubs for nearly three weeks,
delivered the game plan before the series began: The Dodgers' pitchers would
pound enough fastballs on the fists of the Chicago hitters—the Cubs generally
did not like the ball inside—to open up the outside part of the plate for
sliders. Says Maddux, "Sliders and sliders. That was the key."
Chicago had no
lefthanded hitting of consequence to stem Los Angeles's righthanded power
pitching. The Dodgers threw 1,419 pitches over 10 games this year against the
Cubs; every one of those pitches was thrown by a righthander. In the NL
Division Series, starters Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda, in
that order, each beat Chicago while pitching through the sixth inning,
guaranteeing the 100th consecutive season without a world championship for the
Cubs. Since the fan Steve Bartman touched a would-be foul-ball out with Chicago
five outs from reaching the 2003 World Series, the Cubs have lost eight
straight postseason games while being outscored 53--18.
While not quite
so accursed, the Dodgers had devolved into their own postseason irrelevance.
"It's like a piece of silver that's been sitting on a shelf," McCourt
says of his team's cachet. "Once you touch it again you know it's silver,
and once you rub it a little the shine comes back. Eventually, you need to win.
That's why this is a giant step forward for the organization."
36, leaves as a free agent or gets his preferred four-year contract from Los
Angeles, he has enhanced his own value too. Scouts have clocked him at 4.4
seconds running to first base, a speed not seen from him in years. In the first
inning of the Division Series clincher, he sped home from first base on a
double by Loney, easily beating a clean relay by the Cubs. Then, of course,
there is his hitting.
best righthanded hitter I've ever seen," Mattingly says. "I said that
to Randy Johnson once, and he said, 'What about Edgar [Martinez]?' Edgar was
great, but this guy has more pop. It's not even close. What he's been doing
this year is something he's been doing for years."
possible the Saturday-night party at Dodger Stadium that was 20 years in the
making. "Man, right now this is the place to be," he said on the field
just as the celebration began. "We're going to the second round. I did it
before. I'll do it again. When you're relaxed and you're in a place you really
like, this is what happens."
befitting the best kid on the block, then broke into a wide, happy grin. It was
never more obvious than at that moment the Dodgers and Ramirez were a perfect
fit. The franchise and the savant each had their shine back.