Dodgers seek new postseason hero

Dodgers seek new postseason hero

The Dodgers reached the playoffs for the 16th time since they came to Los Angeles in 1958, an accomplishment fitting the yearlong celebration of the arrival of baseball to the West Coast.

Now they're trying to relive a little bit of 1988.

Kirk Gibson's moment is frozen in time, but in the real world, time marches on. The techs who splice together the DiamondVision highlight videos at Dodger Stadium need fresh clips.

And the Dodgers could use a new postseason hero.

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Heading into their National League Division Series matchup against the Cubs, starting with Game 1 Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. PT, it's been 20 years since the Dodgers got past the first round of a postseason. They've won only one playoff game (Lima Time) since beating Oakland in the 1988 World Series. It's a franchise albatross that often makes its way into the words of team chairman Frank McCourt, who said he's committed to put it to rest.

The Dodgers now have a manager with four World Series championships, or as many as they've won in the past 49 years. He should know why teams and players that win during the regular season can't get it done in October.

It's all about the pressure. Joe Torre is asked why Alex Rodriguez, his third baseman with the Yankees and one of the most talented players of his era, hasn't come close to duplicating his regular-season performance in the postseason. He has seven homers and 17 RBIs in 147 postseason at-bats while his teams are 3-7 in October series without reaching a World Series.

"He puts a great deal of pressure on himself to be that guy all the time," Torre said. "He wants to succeed all the time and puts extra pressure on himself. It doesn't have anything to do with nerves. It's a matter of just making more of it than necessary. You think you're not supposed to fail and you wind up going out there not to fail, instead of doing what you know how to do."

Then there are players like Manny Ramirez.

As amazing as he's been as the Dodgers' difference-maker these past two months, he's proven to be an even greater clutch player in October. He has 24 homers and 64 RBIs in 353 postseason at-bats while his teams are 12-7 in October series, reaching the World Series four times, winning twice.

"The reason," said Torre, "is those players keep the game at a pace they can handle. Derek Jeter is the same way. Lou Brock was the same way."

Nomar Garciaparra, too. In 28 postseason games, he's hit seven homers with 23 RBIs. Jeff Kent has nine homers and 23 RBIs in 43 postseason games. Juan Pierre has scored 12 runs in 17 postseason games.

Since 1988, the Dodgers have reached the playoffs four times -- in 1995, 1996, 2004 and 2006 -- but are 1-12 in those games, avoiding a fourth sweep only with Jose Lima's stunning five-hit shutout of St. Louis in 2004.

Ramirez is one of only four players on the Dodgers' youthful roster who have dealt well enough with the pressure to own World Series championship rings. The others are Derek Lowe, Greg Maddux and Juan Pierre.

"Sometimes, it comes down to the hot team at the right time," said Pierre, a starter with the 2003 champion Florida Marlins. "And almost always, it comes down to pitching. When we won, it was the pitching."

Historically, the best Dodgers teams had more or more dominant starters, from the Koufax-Drysdale championship teams of 1963 and 1965 to Fernandomania in 1981 and Orel Hershiser in 1988. Derek Lowe was that type of pitcher for the Red Sox in 2004.

When pitching isn't the determining factor, said Pierre, a series can be determined by momentum.

"You see a team like Colorado last year and they were going full-steam and they clinched so fast they had to wait around and by the time the World Series started, the layoff cooled them off," he said. "This game is hard to turn it off and on."

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