Saturday, January 30, 2010

Strife with owners spell trouble for Dodgers

2009 record: 95-67
2009 finish: First place, National League West
2009 final payroll: $100.4 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $95 million


Eliminated by the Phillies in Game 5 on a Wednesday, the Dodgers saw their owner fire his wife on Friday and her file for a divorce on Monday. Two days later, the World Series started without any of them.

The offseason has pretty much run in that direction since, beginning with questions about who owned the club – Frank McCourt or Frank and Jamie McCourt (to be answered with a May trial) – through questions as to why the team would neither sign Randy Wolf(notes) nor offer him arbitration, and then to questions about whether either McCourt could afford the team and the divorce considering what the offseason was suggesting.

So far, it doesn’t look great.

The biggest-ticket item is Vicente Padilla(notes), who not only behaved himself over two months with the Dodgers last season but won five games – including the division series clincher over the Cardinals, earning himself another season and $5 million.

The rest has been maintenance: General manager Ned Colletti traded Juan Pierre(notes) for some payroll relief, then signed infielders Jamey Carroll(notes) and Ronnie Belliard(notes), catcher Brad Ausmus(notes) and Padilla. He might have enough for a veteran fourth outfielder such as Garret Anderson(notes). The club also dealt with its nine arbitration eligibles, three – Andre Ethier(notes) ($15.25 million), Jonathan Broxton(notes) ($11 million) and Matt Kemp(notes) ($10.95 million) – pulling two-year contracts.


The Dodgers will tell you this is the offseason they would have conducted whether Frank had changed the locks on Jamie’s office or not.

That would suggest a lot of faith in the status quo … minus Wolf, Pierre, Orlando Hudson(notes) and regular hits of female fertility potions.

There are two areas which hold the potential to end the Dodgers’ streak of division titles (and NLCS appearances) at two.

The starting rotation is Chad Billingsley(notes), Clayton Kershaw(notes), Hiroki Kuroda(notes), Padilla and the winner of a spring-training tryout (James McDonald(notes), Eric Stults(notes), Russ Ortiz(notes), Charlie Haeger(notes), etc.). Does that sound like Tim Lincecum(notes), Matt Cain(notes), Barry Zito(notes), Jonathan Sanchez(notes) and Madison Bumgarner(notes)? Or Roy Halladay(notes), Cole Hamels(notes), Joe Blanton(notes), J.A. Happ(notes) and Kyle Kendrick(notes) (or Pedro Martinez(notes))?

And the left fielder remains Manny Ramirez(notes), who came back from his suspension to bat .255 in his final 68 games and .218 in September/October. Joe Torre will talk a lot this spring about balance at the plate because Manny overswung for most of the summer. It’s anyone’s guess as to why. He’ll be 38 in May but is in another walk year, and is a year removed from 37 home runs and 121 RBIs in 2008.

The Dodgers need good things to happen in a handful of areas (owners’ box, Rafael Furcal(notes), starting pitching, etc.), but a healthy, happy, productive Manny would mean they don’t all have to work out.

Serena's dozen: Williams wins Aussie for 12th Slam title

The 2010 Australian Open was won last September the moment a lineswoman called a foot fault on Serena Williams in the semifinals of the U.S. Open.

The resulting tirade and national furor over it weighed heavily on the 11-time Grand Slam champ, though she'd never admit to it. She proved as much with her play in Melbourne over the past two weeks. Other than one set against Victoria Azarenka and 19 points against Justine Henin, Serena Williams was in another stratosphere during the year's first Grand Slam.

She proved that, without a doubt, she's the best player in the world ... when she wants to be. Make no mistake about it: When Serena Williams wants to win - and I mean wants it - the only person who can stop her is Serena herself.

That almost happened Saturday. During the latter stages of the second set and beginning portions of the third, Williams watched her opponent, Justine Henin, win 18 of 19 points. What had been two chances to go up a break at 4-2 in the second quickly turned into a Henin rout and the first third set in a women's Grand Slam final since Wimbledon 2006.

It was anticlimactic. After trading breaks early in the set, Serena stormed to a 3-2 lead en route to a 6-2 final-set victory.

Henin had changed up her strategy a bit for the match - she was more offensive than usual, trying to force Serena into mistakes - and it worked for that short stretch in the second set. In the end, though, Serena's serve and two-handed backhand were too much for the Belgian in her Grand Slam comeback.

Serena will always have the stain from Flushing Meadow on her career. Saturday in Melbourne, however, she took the first steps to making it fade. I think that was the point.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dodgers rally, beat Phils and tie NLCS at 1-all

LOS ANGELES (AP)—A grounder off a fielder’s glove. A bunt that slipped by two players. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ latest postseason rally began in the weirdest, wackiest way.

Another throwing error by Chase Utley(notes), a pinch-hit single and two walks also were part of the Dodgers’ crazy eighth inning that produced a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, tying the NL championship series at one game each.
Los Angeles Dodgers, including Rafael Furcal(notes) (15), celebrate after they beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1in Game 2 of the National League Championship baseball series Friday, Oct. 16, 2009, in Los Angeles.

The Dodgers took the lead after Phillies pulled Pedro Martinez(notes), who allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings. Andre Ethier(notes) drew a bases-loaded, two-out walk from rookie J.A. Happ(notes), capping the Dodgers’ third comeback win of this postseason.

“We’ve been doing it all year, it seems like. We’re relentless. We never give up,” catcher Russell Martin(notes) said. “We go out there and compete, play through 27 outs, and whatever happens, happens. But we never keep our heads down.”

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday in Philadelphia.

“We only need three more games to do something special,” said Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez(notes), who went 0 for 4 with a strikeout.

Vicente Padilla(notes) pitched brilliantly for 7 1-3 innings and the Los Angeles bullpen did the rest. Hong-Chih Kuo(notes) threw three pitches, getting two outs and the win. Jonathan Broxton(notes) worked a perfect ninth for the save.

Philadelphia wound up using five relievers in the eighth, but not Brad Lidge(notes), who didn’t get into the game.

“I don’t think it will have any lasting effect on us,” Martinez said. “We didn’t execute. We made errors. If we hit like we normally do, I don’t think the game’s going to end up 2-1.”

For the second time in this year’s playoffs, a visiting team let a late lead slip away at Dodger Stadium. Last week, St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday’s(notes) two-out error on an easy fly ball in the ninth doomed the Cardinals, who got swept by the Dodgers.

They perfected their late-inning magic during the regular season by winning 12 games in walk-offs, third best in the majors.

Martinez and Padilla dueled through seven innings in a matchup of castoffs.

Padilla allowed one run and four hits, struck out six and walked one. He exited to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 56,000, tipping his cap as he walked off.

“It’s my first time playing in front of a big crowd like this in a game that’s more important than I’ve ever pitched in my life, and I was very emotional,” Padilla said through a translator.

An injury-plagued Martinez was let go by the Mets last season, while Padilla got dumped by Texas in August. He signed with the Dodgers two days later, excelled in their drive to a second consecutive NL West title and pitched well against St. Louis in the first round.

“I was very happy with the way I pitched,” Padilla said. “Although we were losing, I knew that the guys were going to come back, and I think I’m more happy now because the team won.”

Ethier led the Dodgers with a career-high 31 homers in the regular season, but he resisted his instincts with the bases loaded and a full count.

“Of course, you want to get the job done by swinging, but at the same time, don’t be too aggressive and don’t get yourself out,” he said. “Donnie (hitting coach Mattingly) has been preaching to me a lot that once the playoffs start, be patient, get your pitch to hit and see it. Donnie’s voice was in my head the whole time, and I guess it came in handy there.”

The Dodgers were down 1-0 when Casey Blake(notes) opened the eighth with a single off the outstretched glove of third baseman Pedro Feliz(notes). Ronnie Belliard’s(notes) bunt single got past Chan Ho Park(notes) and first baseman Ryan Howard(notes).

“The bunt was a huge play, the fact that it got by Chan Ho and it got over in no-man’s-land where Howard couldn’t get to it,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “It seemed like we couldn’t get out of the inning.”

Martin followed with a grounder to Feliz, who made a good throw to Utley. But once again, the four-time All-Star threw away the relay after making just four throwing errors in the regular season. This time, it allowed pinch-runner Juan Pierre(notes) to score the tying run from the second.

“I had plenty of time to turn it. I just didn’t make the throw,” Utley said. “A lot of things could have gone differently, not just that play. Chan Ho made a good pitch to get a ground ball, which was what we needed, but we couldn’t turn it.”

After Thome singled off Scott Eyre(notes), Rafael Furcal(notes) drew a walk from Ryan Madson(notes) that loaded the bases. Matt Kemp(notes) struck out before Happ relieved and walked Ethier.

“He laid off it looked like some tough pitches away, and at 3-and-2 it’s tough when your mentality is swing, swing, swing to take a pitch, and it was huge,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.

Former Dodgers pitcher Park took the loss, giving up two runs and two hits in one-third of an inning.

Howard’s homer in the fourth off Padilla accounted for the only run until the eighth.

The game began in 93-degree heat 16 hours after the Phillies won the series opener 8-6. The teams combined for 14 runs on 22 hits and 10 walks in that game, but offense was in short supply with Martinez and Padilla pitching.

Martinez struck out three and walked none in seven innings of his first postseason appearance since Game 3 of the 2004 World Series with Boston. The three-time Cy Young winner, who turns 38 later this month, proved ageless in the stadium where he made his major league debut with the Dodgers in September 1992.

Replacing guile with gas, Martinez only gave up singles to Martin and Kemp before turning it over to Park.

Ramirez twice got retired by good friend Martinez on weak popups.

NOTES: The Dodgers improved to 7-2 all-time in NLCS Game 2s; the Phillies dropped to 1-7. … Martinez became the first Latin American-born pitcher to start a postseason game for the Phillies. … Kobe Bryant caused a stir upon arriving in the middle of the fourth inning to join owner Frank McCourt and former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda in their seats behind home plate.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

L.A. to start Kershaw, Phils pick Hamels in Game 1

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Phillies and Dodgers are back in the National League championship series for the second straight year, making them the closest thing the NL has to a couple of dominant teams.

They are the first repeat teams since Houston and St. Louis squared off in 2004 and '05, and only the third repeaters since Atlanta and Pittsburgh met in 1991 and '92.

"I heard Joe Torre say the beauty of it is always going back and seeing how many times you can win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Wednesday of his Los Angeles counterpart.

"Believe me, we came back here to win. I have more determination probably than I had last year, and I mean that from the fact that that's how much I want it, and I think I know how much our players want it."

A year ago, the Phillies took a 2-0 lead at home and went on to beat the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS before defeating Tampa Bay to win the World Series.

Now, they're trying to become the first repeat World Series winners since Torre's Yankees did so from 1998-2000.

"When you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there," Torre said. "You've got a bull's-eye on your back. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up."

The Phillies have won the NLCS in each of their last four appearances, beating the Dodgers last year and in 1980, and winning it in 1993 and 1983.

This year, the Dodgers own home-field advantage against the team they beat four times in seven games during the regular season.

"Because we're the ones that took it away from them, they definitely want to prove something," Phillies Game 1 starter Cole Hamels said. "If I'm able to go out and execute strikes and really get ahead of them, I can definitely make this a better game for my pitching."

Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers on Thursday in a matchup of left-handers.

At 21 years and 209 days, Kershaw will be the third-youngest Game 1 starter in postseason history and the eighth-youngest starter overall, according to STATS LLC. The youngest Game 1 pitcher was Fernando Valenzuela, who was 20 years and 339 days when he started for the Dodgers in the 1981 division series.

"I've grown up a lot since last year," said Kershaw, who worked out of the bullpen in last year's NLCS. "It's not obviously the same starting Game 1 of a series or anything like that, but just to have the experience to get out there and pitch against them a little bit is definitely going to help me out."


Torre went with Kershaw because he came up big in the Dodgers' division-clinching win against Colorado on Oct. 3. He pitched six scoreless innings in that game, striking out his first five batters and retiring his first 11 in a row.

"He's the most mature 21-year-old kid I've run across," teammate Randy Wolf said. "At the same time, he's stubborn and that's good because I don't want a pushover guy. If he's throwing strikes, he's pretty amazing."

The rest of the Dodgers' rotation will be Vicente Padilla, Hiroki Kuroda and Wolf, who would pitch Game 4 against his old team in Philadelphia.

Kershaw will be backed by a starting lineup of Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Casey Blake, James Loney, Ronnie Belliard and Russell Martin.

Ramirez wasn't a factor in the first two games of the division series against St. Louis, going 1 for 8, but he broke out with three hits and two RBIs in Game 3 to close out the sweep.

"I'm comfortable all the time, my confidence level is up all the time," he said. "I'm just excited and can't wait to see what happens. The rest of the guys grew up a lot. They're more ready this time."

Manuel wouldn't disclose his rotation beyond Hamels or his lineup.

Kershaw was 0-2 against the Phillies in the regular season, but he plans an aggressive approach Thursday.

"That's what I try to do every time," he said. "I'm not trying to sit up there and walk people or try and pitch around someone else. You can't go out there with that mindset. They've got a great lineup. But the pitcher's job is just to go right after them with your best stuff."

The Dodgers worked out Wednesday in light rain and 89 percent humidity. The rain had ended by the time the Phillies took the field. Thursday's forecast calls for a high of 78 degrees.

Sources: Dodgers owner, wife heading for divorce

Baseball's leading power couple is headed for a divorce.

Frank McCourt, the Los Angeles Dodgers' owner, and his wife, Jamie, the team's CEO, are in the middle of divorce proceedings, according to multiple major-league sources.

"Frank McCourt and Jamie McCourt confirm that they are separated," the McCourts said in a statement when asked for comment by

"This is a personal matter and they request that their privacy be respected. They will be making no public statements."

The divorce will not be amicable, one source said.

MLB Playoff Central
AL Championship Series
 Angels vs. Yankees
Series tied 0-0 
Game 1: Fri. at Yankees, 7:57 ET
Klapisch: Do Angels scare Yanks?
VIDEO: Rosenthal previews the ALCS
Morosi: How Angels might pull it off
Perry: Yanks, Halos set for classic
NL Championship Series
 Phillies vs. Dodgers
Series tied 0-0 
Game 1: Thurs. at Dodgers, 8:07 ET
Morosi: Torre still brings the passion
VIDEO: Rosenthal previews the NLCS
Perry: Who'll win NLCS rematch?

"They've already 'lawyered' up," the source said. "They're trashing each other terribly. It's going to be World War III."

At stake: The future of the Dodgers, a team valued at $722 million by Forbes magazine. Forbes calculates the value of a team based on its current stadium deal without deduction for debt.

The McCourts, married since 1979, are living in separate houses, sources say. They attended the Dodgers' recent postseason games, but did not sit together.

Jamie McCourt, the highest-ranking woman in Major League Baseball, became the team's CEO on March 17. Prior to that, she had been club president since Aug. 12, 2005.

Earlier this year, a divorce between San Diego Padres owner John Moores and his wife, Becky, helped prompt the sale of that club.

Together, the Moores had owned 90 percent of the Padres.

The Dodgers' team Web site states that the McCourts purchased controlling interest in the club on Jan. 29, 2004.

Community property laws in California would give Jamie McCourt a 50 percent share of the McCourt's share of the Dodgers and any of her husband's other assets.

Any uncertainty in the team's future ownership could be resolved if one McCourt buys out the other. Jamie McCourt would be better positioned to make such a move, sources say.

Frank McCourt reportedly financed more than half the purchase price when he bought the Dodgers from FOX Entertainment Inc. — owner of — for a reported $430 million.

It is not known whether a pre- or post-nuptial agreement exists between Frank and Jamie McCourt that would allow for an orderly ownership transition.

The Dodgers, under the McCourts' ownership, reached the postseason four times in six years.

The McCourts also have invested $140 million in upgrades to Dodger Stadium since 2007, and last spring opened Camelback Ranch, a state-of-the-art spring training facility for the team in Glendale, Ariz.

Kobe Bryant's Epic Journey To The Fourth Ring [Career Mix]

A mix I made about Kobe Bryant's journey to his fourth title. He went through several ups and downs such as wanting to get traded, losing in the finals, others claiming him to be the next Michael Jordan (Now a Hall of Famer as of September 11, 2009) and scoring 81 points which I included in this mix. His career has been filled with adversity, failure and several achievements. He is one of the best, if not the best, players in the game today along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Throughout his career, his greatness is personified. Others doubted of him winning a title without Shaq, now they are silenced.

NLCS Schedule 2009 - TV Coverage of Dodgers vs. Phillies

It's pennant time! Having won their respective divisons -- the Dodgers over the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game sweep, the Phillies over the Colorado Rockies by three games to one -- the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies will now meet in a best-of-seven series to determine baseball's National League Championship Series title.

The Dodgers, with the better regular-season record (95-67), will have home field advantage over the Phillies (93-69). It's the second straight NLCS meeting between the two teams, and the fifth overall; the Phillies won last year's matchup by four games to one.

All NLCS games will be televised by TBS. See below for the full NLCS schedule and TV coverage info.

GAME 1 - Thursday, October 15
Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers - 8:07PM ET (TBS)

GAME 2 - Friday, October 16
Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers - 4:37PM (TBS)

GAME 3 - Sunday, October 18
Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies - 8:07PM (TBS)

GAME 4 - Monday, October 19
Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies - TBD (TBS)

GAME 5 - Wednesday, October 21 (if necessary)
Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies - TBD (TBS)

GAME 6 - Friday, October 23 (if necessary)
Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers - TBD (TBS)

GAME 7 - Saturday, October 24 (if necessary)
Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers - TBD (TBS)

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