10/03/2004 10:36 PM ET
Dodgers ready for anything
Dramatic final week prepared L.A. for playoff pressure
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
|Steve Finley is the only Dodgers regular who has played in the postseason. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
When Dodgers coach Glenn Hoffman makes out the daily schedule of Spring Training drills, there are entries for pickoffs and cutoffs, bunt situations and hit-and-runs.
There's no mention of walk-off grand slams or seven-run ninth innings. You just can't practice that stuff.
Even when it happens, it's hard to believe it.
"Luckiest team I've ever seen," one veteran scout said as the champagne was drying out at Dodger Stadium on Sunday.
All that the Dodgers know is that they don't want it to stop and they'll try not to do anything different once the playoffs open in St. Louis on Tuesday.
"Most guys in the playoffs think they have to try to be better than they've ever been, and that's when you make mistakes," said Wilson Alvarez, who pitched in the postseason for the White Sox in 1993 and San Francisco in 1997. "You just do what you can. You just play the game the way you know how."
The way the Dodgers have played has been in true team fashion. They've got a returning Cy Young winner and an MVP candidate, but it's hardly a team that has climbed on the back of any one player.
"When you look at our team, we're not dominating in any one area, but the bullpen. We've just been good enough in a combination of areas to win a lot of games," said Robin Ventura, about to make his fifth postseason appearance, which makes him the most experienced Dodger.
"The result is, we find a way to win."
But as entertaining as these wild comebacks have been over the past few weeks, Ventura said it's unlikely that script can hold up against a St. Louis team that led the league in victories.
"In the playoffs, pitching is always the biggest deal," he said. "It's pretty simple. And you can't get carried too far by one or two guys. Belly [Adrian Beltre] can't do it by himself. We definitely have to score runs around him."
Steve Finley, who won a World Series with Arizona in 2001, agreed.
"The postseason generally is not high-scoring," he said. "When you get an opportunity, you have to capitalize. You can't fall behind because you rarely see those kinds of comebacks in the playoffs."
Even though the Dodgers are now known far and wide for their comebacks and heart and character. What irony.
"Until this year, the perception of the whole organization and team was the opposite," said Alex Cora. "People were waiting for us to come back to Earth. It was the whole thing that [San Diego general manager] Kevin Towers said in the spring and David Wells said a couple weeks ago, you know, they [the Dodgers] always have the talent but never put it together. You can't blame the comments. They were telling the truth.
"But those kinds of comments seemed to really help us early in the season, when we got off to a good start, which we usually don't do. I'm not saying we needed that. After what happened last year, we all knew we had to turn it around to stay here."
There were 53 comeback wins this year, 26 in their final at-bat, and Cora remembers the first one in the second game of the season, when Beltre hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth against, ironically, San Diego. They beat the Padres in the 11th inning the next day and a trend was unfolding.
Now they take on the Cardinals in St. Louis, where they were swept in a three-game series en route to a 2-4 season series.
"I didn't feel in any of the six games we were overwhelmed offensively," Cora said of the Cardinals, who also led the league in runs scored.
Do the Dodgers -- who have only one position player in the starting lineup with postseason experience (Finley) -- know what to expect against a team that has been to the postseason four of the last five years?
"I think the playoffs will be similar to the past week where everything is crucial and at the end of the game you're exhausted," said Shawn Green, making his first postseason appearance. "But I also think we'll be more relaxed. The past week was more stressful just getting there."
He'll see about that.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.