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Phillies-Dodgers: Pregame chatter

October 13, 2008 |  5:32 pm

The Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, right, and manager Charlie Manuel share a moment before the first inning in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.

4 p.m., Monday in Chavez Ravine, an hour or so before nearly-do-or-die-for-the-Dodgers Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, the sun setting on a hazy day and a large shadow marching slowly across half the field.

Separately, the two teams have spent the last few hours either stretching, taking batting practice or just generally milling about and chatting amongst themselves in the outfield. (There’s also been a generous amount of chomping on chewing tobacco and absent-minded spitting, that great old baseball pastime … not to get too gross.)

There’s a sort of lazy, peaceful, all-too-relaxed feeling down on the field right now, as there always is before regular season games, but it’s a sharper and stranger contrast with what will soon unfold, what with so much on the line and these two teams having proven last night that they don’t exactly get along. Everything is free and easy now, but as you and I both know, soon it will all be different.

Who has looked good in batting practice? Well, to be honest, just about everyone, as they always do slicing away at 60 mph pitches from a sweaty, 50-something bullpen coach. The swings are smooth and easy and every last player looks either like George Brett or Reggie Jackson or some hybrid of the two.

Jimmy Rollins is at bat now, hitting ball after ball after ball to right field. Rollins, the Phillies grasshopper-quick shortstop and last year’s NL MVP, has been a quiet in this series up to now. Watching him at bat brings a thought: how long can the Dodgers keep Rollins, and slugger Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley from becoming the beasts that they’ve been most of this season?

If these guys wake up at the plate, even one of them, this series could be over Wednesday night. They are that good. Game changers. Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe’s prime task tonight will be to make sure this trio does nothing more than swing and miss and at sliders and sinkers all night long.

Spent a little time in the right-field bleachers (where the die-hards hang) before heading up to the press haunts. The mood out there is one of giddiness and jagged nerves. The fans I spoke to all recognize the importance of this game, that the Dodgers simply can’t lose and go down 3 games to 1 to a team like the Phillies. If this were the Cubs, yeah, maybe, but we know these guys aren’t cut from the same cloth as the lovable louts from Wrigleyville.

Last night we met Ron Cervenka, a fixture out in right field in his Dodgers 53 jersey with the words “Fan Since 53” stitched in blue on the back. Cervenka’s prediction before last night’s game was eerily accurate. To win, he said, the Dodgers must hold down the Phillies in their half of the first, then come out banging right off the bat, go up be a good margin and then hold on.

Uh, that’s exactly what happened.

I asked Cervenka to proffer a prediction for Game 4.

“It’s gonna have to be the same in the next few games,” he said.  “Hold ‘em down in the first and then just get on and get in their head right away that’s the recipe for success. It’s a head game now because these teams are really evenly matched.” Cervenka said he expected good things from Lowe. His star of the night: James Loney, who Cervenka said was due for a big night.

Will Mr. Fan Since 53 come out looking like a Dodgers soothsayer again? We’re soon to see.

-- Kurt Streeter

Photo: The Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, right, and manager Charlie Manuel share a moment before the first inning in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. Credit: David J. Phillip / Associated Press