What happened in Vegas ... bonds NLCS trio

What happened in Vegas ... bonds NLCS trio

SAN FRANCISCO -- Right now, they're unforgiving opponents. Beyond this National League Championship Series, they'll always be friends.

Giants outfielder Cody Ross and Phillies outfielders Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth feel inextricably linked. Their kinship dates to 2004, when they were teammates with the Dodgers' Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate.

"They're two of the closest friends I have in the game," said Ross, who has played with five different organizations.

"We're still good friends since that day," Victorino said. "We talk all the time. We always wish each other the best of luck."

It's the sort of bond that involvement in professional athletics tends to forge. Players know that the business of baseball could separate them at any time, in which case they'll almost never see each other -- which is indeed what happened. The Phillies selected Victorino in the Rule 5 Draft after the 2004 season, Ross was traded in 2006 and Werth signed with Philadelphia as a free agent before the 2007 season.

So they cherish what they have. They do so even now, with the Giants and Phillies confronting each other in the NLCS. Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon here at AT&T Park.

"We get together and talk about how funny this game is," Ross said. "To go against them head-to-head in the NLCS is pretty special. I never root against anybody, unless I'm playing against them. So it's nice to see those guys have success and do as well as they've done. But maybe they can hold off during this series."

Werth, 31, was the trio's senior member, and not just chronologically. He already had Major League experience when the trio converged in '04. So Ross and Victorino, both now 29, tried to emulate Werth when he reported to Las Vegas on a rehabilitation assignment to heal an injured oblique.

"I looked up to him because of the work ethic he had," Ross said. "Even though he was hurt, he was constantly working his butt off."

Werth wasn't too busy to notice the skills Ross and Victorino possessed.

"They were guys who definitely stuck out," Werth said. "One thing about Shane was his arm. His arm was very accurate. And Cody was a good player as well. I remember a game in Nashville where Prince Fielder was playing first base and Rickie Weeks was playing second. Cody hit a home run over the scoreboard."

Both Werth and Ross maintain admiration for Victorino's perseverance. Victorino spent seven seasons in the Minor Leagues and twice endured selection in the Rule 5 Draft before sticking in the Majors for good.

"He was just starting to switch-hit," Werth recalled. "He was going through a frustrating time."

"He was the same as he is now -- a fiery, hard-working pain in the opposing team's side," Ross said. "I remember he got sent down to Double-A and I was thinking, man, that's not good. For him to be able to move on and be where he is now, that goes to show what kind of player he is and the [quality] of not giving up."

Now they're all in better places -- particularly, remarked Victorino, since San Francisco claimed Ross on waivers from the Florida Marlins in late August.

"I was very happy when I saw that," Victorino said. "I thought it was a good fit for him."

The move initially stunned Ross, but it has given him the chance to participate in his first postseason. He has seized the opportunity by hitting three home runs in the series' first two games, one shy of the Giants' NLCS record of four set by Jeffrey Leonard in 1987.

From the loftiness of this postseason perch, they still can view humbler times in their mind's eye.

"It was one of those moments that we'll definitely think back on and cherish," Victorino said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.