Affable Padilla on top of his game
Starter can put Dodgers in NLCS with solid Game 3 effort
ST. LOUIS -- When the Dodgers picked up Vicente Padilla in late August on the rebound from the Rangers, the often-voiced theme was that the right-hander would be on his best behavior for the remainder of the season.The suggestion was that the enigmatic Padilla had no choice. Being released by Texas scarred his reputation; teams in pennant races don't usually let go veteran members of their starting rotations -- and the Rangers were breathing down the necks of the Angels at the time Padilla got his walking papers on Aug. 18.
So when people predicted good things from the 32-year-old, they were referring to his conduct, not his pitching -- which has been better than good.Actually, he has been borderline great: Padilla went 4-0 down the stretch and put up a very solid 3.20 ERA; furthermore, the Dodgers won six of his seven starts. So it is very realistic to say that if it weren't for Padilla, the Dodgers might not be in this NL Division Series. Padilla helped get them here and, on Saturday, he can get them into the NL Championship Series. "I'm very glad to be in this position, and to be given this opportunity," Padilla said late Friday afternoon, on the soggy workout day preceding Game 3 of the series. "I'm very happy about where I am, and where we are as a team." Where the Dodgers are is in a 2-0 lead in a five-game series. They also are in a city in which they have never won a postseason game, an 0-5 record in the 1985 NLCS and the 2004 NLDS that becomes 0-6 if including the 1946 playoffs after the teams finished the season tied for the pennant. That's quite a legacy, and Padilla, confident and brashly forceful, is just the man to snub his nose at it. Padilla's had success in this town -- though, remarkably for all the seasons he spent with the Phillies, he has started here only once, shutting out the Cardinals for eight innings on four hits back in 2002. Padilla's had success against this team, with a 2-1 record and 3.68 ERA in seven games, three of them starts.
And he has definitely had success against this lineup, having collectively held the current Cards to one home run (by Troy Glaus, whom he may not get to see) and four RBIs. Albert Pujols' four hits in nine at-bats include only one for extra bases (a double), and Matt Holliday is a quiet 1-for-6.Those numbers suggest Padilla is capable of dominating the Cardinals. But Dodgers manager Joe Torre merely wants him to compete -- as did his first two starters, Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw, neither of whom actually earned the win in the two opening games. "We need Padilla to come out here and keep us in the game," Torre said, "and if something good happens for us, then we'll have a good result." Of all the acquisitions general manager Ned Colletti made over the past 15 months to complete these NL West champs, Padilla was the real stroke of gutsy genius. It doesn't take much daring to pick up a Manny Ramirez, or a Casey Blake or a versatile stretch bulldog like Ronnie Belliard. But Padilla, at the time an outcast? Baseball fates work strangely at times. Three days before Padilla was released, Hiroki Kuroda had stopped a line drive in Phoenix with his head. The Dodgers needed a replacement arm, and took a flier that has benefited both parties. "The Dodgers are really united as a team," Padilla said, trying to explain how his light went on. "I was welcomed like a family, and I'm very glad at how they're treating me. It's a great organization." Padilla had reportedly alienated his other teams with a tendency to lose his cool and drill batters. Twice with both the Phillies and the Rangers, he plunked 15-plus batters in a season. In 108 innings this season with Texas, he hit eight batters. Whatever the validity of that reputation, he has not hit a single batter in his 39 1/3 innings with the Dodgers. "Having pitched against us, you knew he at times could be pretty electric with his stuff," Torre said. "You could see how he competes. He's a little bit of an intimidator. And he's not intimidated."