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Friday, October 16, 2009
Updated: October 22, 5:35 PM ET
L.A. brings momentum for trip to Philly

By Eric Neel
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Jim Thome sat on a training table in the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse late Friday afternoon and took a long, deep breath, equal parts joy and relief.

"That was huge," he said, just moments after the Dodgers (thanks in part to Thome's pinch-hit single in the eighth inning) had stolen Game 2 of the National League Championship Series from the Phillies with a 2-1 win and evened the series at one game apiece. "They're all big this time of year, but with the atmosphere and the way the crowd in Philadelphia gets into it, [this game] was very, very big."

For seven incredible turn-back-the-clock innings, Pedro Martinez (87 pitches, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts) made it look like the Phillies would come home for Game 3 in command of the series. But when the Philadelphia bullpen faltered (giving up three hits and two walks) and Chase Utley airmailed a possible double-play ball toward the Philadelphia bullpen in the pivotal eighth inning of Game 2, the whole complexion of Game 3 -- and of the series -- changed.

Jim Thome
Jim Thome came up with a big pinch-hit single as L.A. mounted a comeback and stole Game 2 against the Phillies.

"It's the biggest difference in the world," said Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake, wiping sweat and eyeblack from his cheeks near his locker Friday. "We're starting over."

If momentum is a real thing, if confidence counts, the Dodgers come into Game 3 loaded for bear, pumped up by yet another late-game comeback, the 11th game they have won this season when trailing after the seventh inning.

"We feel good," Thome said. "Any time you can build confidence like this you want to just ride it as far as you can, soak it all in to everything you do."

"This is a special team," said Dodgers left fielder Matt Kemp, shaking his head in near disbelief as he dressed for the team flight out of Los Angeles on Friday. "[Down 2-0] is not good. Especially going into Philly. Now we definitely get some momentum back. It shifts our way."

But of course you know the old line about momentum and tomorrow's pitcher. The Phillies turn now to lefty Cliff Lee, a man who could most definitely shift the advantage back Philadelphia's way.

Lee has been a freight train since coming over in a trade-deadline deal with the Indians in late July (7-4, 3.39 ERA, 3 CG, 10 BB and 74 K's in 79.2 innings), and has been even better in his two postseason starts so far (1-0, 1.05 ERA, 1 CG, 3 BB, 10 K's in 16.1 innings).

He throws a whole bunch of first-pitch strikes (he ranked fifth in MLB in 2009), and he'll be tough on the Dodgers' many right-handed hitters, including Kemp, Blake, Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin and Ronnie Belliard (NL righties have hit just .249 against Lee since he joined Philadelphia's rotation).

The prospect of facing him, down 2-0, would have been daunting for Los Angeles.

"You don't want to go into Philadelphia … and have too high a mountain to climb," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Friday during his postgame news conference.

And for the Phillies' part, when they mix Lee, their always-dangerous lineup and an amped home crowd in Citizens Bank Park, they know they have no reason to panic, no matter how frustrating the loss was in Game 2.

"We play day-to-day," manager Charlie Manuel said after Friday's defeat. "I know this was a tough loss, and it's a big loss in a way, but we've bounced back before and we'll bounce back again."

On Sunday they'll square off against Los Angeles right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who will be making his first start since a Sept. 28 loss in Pittsburgh (he's been out since with a neck injury).

While Lee's road to Game 3 has been smooth and straight and gleaming, Kuroda's has been long, winding and full of potholes. He missed two months early in the season because of an oblique strain and was out three weeks late in the summer after taking a scary line drive off the temple in Arizona.

Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee will try to push the momentum back to the Phillies' side in Game 3 on Sunday.

The Dodgers' coaching staff marvels at Kuroda's perseverance through it all.

"He's gone through a lot in these two years. The thing I find remarkable is when he got hit in Arizona, I don't think any of us knew how long it would take for him to get back into that competitive mode," Torre said Friday. "But it was a lot quicker than I ever would have anticipated, and that takes a lot of courage, just a lot of mental toughness to be able to do that."

"Through all he's been through there's that veteran presence about him," said Los Angeles pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "He always seems able to make adjustments and make pitches to keep himself in a ballgame."

Lee has never faced the Dodgers. Ramirez is 6-for-14 against him lifetime, and Rafael Furcal has two hits in three at-bats, but the rest of the Dodgers' starters have little experience with him.

Kuroda pitched well in his one start this season against the Phillies, permitting only two hits over six innings in a no-decision June 6 (the Dodgers won 3-2).

"He's pitched good against us," Manuel said. "He's been aggressive with his fastball on both sides of the plate, but mostly he changes speeds against us and he's given us problems."

Will Kuroda be able to continue the trend? Will he be able to keep momentum on the Dodgers' side? Will he be enough to stop the Cliff Lee Express?

In Los Angeles on Friday, as there has been all season, there was hope, and a shot of confidence, too.

"Hiroki's got a nice assortment of weapons. We feel good about him," Honeycutt said. "Maybe we carry this over. Maybe you get on a roll and he sets a tone and then all of a sudden the game just looks a lot better."

Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.