Early MVP favorite: Luck

Some key plays in the Phillies' Game 1 win over the Dodgers showed what a huge role chance plays in a short series.

Published October 10, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

Is it any wonder ballplayers are notoriously superstitious? The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series Thursday night in Philly, and several key plays were all about dumb luck.

They weren't the two plays that decided the game, a tying two-run home run by Chase Utley in the bottom of the fifth inning and then the eventual game-winning homer two batters later by Pat Burrell, both off of Derek Lowe. But things might have been different had some or all of them gone the other way, and the reason they didn't was chance.

The Dodgers scored first off of Phillies starter Cole Hamels on back-to-back doubles by Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez. The latter was a prodigious shot that hit high on the tallest fence in the ballpark, which stands at the deepest part of the outfield, in left-center. It was hit as far as a ball can be hit in Citizens Bank Park without being a home run. A few feet to the right and it would have missed the tall wall and gone out.

The craftiest pitcher in history wouldn't claim that he could somehow control the aim of a 410-foot blast by an opposing batter to the extent that it hits a few feet to the left, not to the right, of a yellow line painted on a wall that far from home plate. Luck kept it a 1-0 game at that moment.

The luck flowed the other way when Matt Kemp led off the Dodgers' fourth inning with a pop-fly double down the right field line. It bounced into the stands, looking almost identical to the double Jason Bay of the Boston Red Sox hit in the ninth inning of the deciding game of Boston's series win over the Los Angeles Angels, except that the right fielder didn't get near it.

Kemp arrived at second base literally shaking his head at his good fortune, to get beaten so badly by the pitcher but have his pop fly land, as the baseball cliché goes, where they ain't. Two batters later he scored the Dodgers' second run on a sacrifice fly by Blake DeWitt.

Luck took another bite out of the Phillies in the bottom of the seventh inning. Jimmy Rollins grounded into an inning-ending double-play, but only because first-base umpire Jerry Meals blew the call. Rollins appeared to tell Meals the play "wasn't even close." It was, but he was clearly safe. With Shane Victorino and Utley coming up, who knows what might have happened next.

As long as nothing untoward is going on, an umpire blowing a call is a luck play, in this case good for the Dodgers, bad for the Phillies. He could just as easily have gotten the call right, as he does some huge percentage of the time, or blown a call with a Dodger running.

Luck may already have begun playing its role in Game 2, scheduled to start at 4:35 p.m. EDT Friday. It would be logical for Game 1 of the A.L. Championship Series to play early Friday, since the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays have been off for several days and the Phillies and Dodgers played a Thursday night game. But as long as the NLCS game is not a potential elimination game, baseball wants the Red Sox in prime time.

The turnaround isn't severe for the Phillies and Dodgers, but it's short. It might affect one team more than the other. The late-afternoon start also means the game will be played in treacherous sun and then twilight. That could help one team more than the other too. All because of, to the Phillies and Dodgers, the luck of the Red Sox making the playoffs in the other league.

There's an old saying that it's hard to detect good luck because it looks so much like something that's been earned. Luck has yet to win an MVP award but it probably deserves a few. It's always the player to watch in a short series.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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