LOS ANGELES – The smell of champagne was eye-stinging and the music blasted to speaker-busting levels.
Grown men acted like little boys.
The Phillies had just topped the Dodgers 5-1 in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series to win the National League pennant for the first time in 15 years so the atmosphere was understandably out of control in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
In the corner of the training room, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was on his cell phone addressing another party in Panama.
It turns out that the people in Central America are celebrating the team’s World Series appearance just like the people are in Philadelphia. Both should thank Cole Hamels and his soft-spoken battery-mate Ruiz for the party favor.
“We were able to get on the right page all year and when it comes to postseason, you definitely need to have that and see eye-to-eye,” Hamels said. “You really have to have confidence in your catcher and know what you have to do to the hitters. Carlos is good at that.”
Hamels didn’t disappoint. The left-hander was solid, as usual, allowing only one run on five hits in seven innings for his second victory in the NLCS. Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Closer Brad Lidge shut the Dodgers down in the ninth to send his club to World Series for the first time since 1993.
Ruiz eventually joined the clubhouse party and was showered with beer and champagne. Praise for the catcher also came pouring in.
“He is a catcher with a lot of potential and will only get better in the future,” said Phillies reliever JC Romero said. “Once he gets a better feeling of what to do on offense, he is going to be really good. Defensively, he might be one of the best I have
ever played with.”
Hamels won two games was named the NLCS Most Valuable player but like Romero, credited his light-hitting catcher for helping make it possible. Make no mistake, Ruiz is hardly an offensive threat (he hit .219 during the regular season) but he sure can play defense.
That’s the reason why he has played in every postseason game for the Phillies this year. It doesn’t hurt that the Phillies pitchers posted a 3.89 ERA during the NLCS. Ruiz went 0-for-4 Wednesday but he did finish the series with a .313 batting average.
“I stuck with him because he’s a good catcher,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He can hit better than what he hit this year but at the same time he does a good job and is a tremendous catcher. Once we started winning, it was easier for me to keep playing him.”
Defense is important to Manuel. It’s the reason Dominican Pedro Feliz saw significant action during the NLCS and why he will get plenty of playing time in the World Series. Feliz only hit .154 but his play at third base during the postseason was crucial to the team’s success.
“These are going to be the most important games in baseball,” Feliz said. “I am so proud of what we were able to do. I know we are prepared for whoever we face. It doesn’t matter who we play from the American League.”
It doesn’t matter to Ruiz, either. What does matter is getting a good cell phone signal so he can speak to his loved ones back home if the Phillies win the World Series.
“Everybody is at my mom’s house right now celebrating,” Ruiz said. “I am so happy. I’m sure all of Panama is really happy right now. I just hope we can win a World Series trophy for all of us.”