Sam Donnellon: Victorino is no Hollywood hero

Posted: October 14, 2008

LOS ANGELES - He runs his pregame sprints, they boo.

He trots out to his spot in centerfield, they boo some more.

He walks to the plate, they really, really boo.

Shane Victorino is Manny East. Or maybe he is Manny West. He is the player Dodgers fans love to hate, lust to boo, in a way Philly fans know too well.

They were booing him from the start of this series, long before Sunday night's fracas. They were booing him before last night's dramatic eighth-inning home run, too, a home run that reclaimed control of this series for the Phillies.

"You like being a villain?" he was asked after his blast ignited a four-run inning that pushed the Phillies to a 7-5 Game 4 victory over the Dodgers.

"Why wouldn't I?" he said. "It means you're doing well . . . I just try to go out there and be myself. Have fun. That's what it's all about."

Matt Stairs followed Victorino's two-run blast with a two-run bomb off Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton. But Victorino pulled it out of the Dodgers' back pocket like a deft thief. Or a vengeful one. He was in the middle of that bench-emptying craziness Sunday night, jawing at Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda after he sailed a pitch over Victorino's head.

The clip has been played countless times. Victorino pointed to his head, then to his ribs, back to his head again. The message, in sign language that the foreign-born pitcher clearly understood, was that pitching inside was OK by the Phillies centerfielder. He was even OK with getting one in the ribs.

But the head? Well, even Joe Torre admitted yesterday that it was a no-no.

"The head is not a place you throw at," the Dodgers' manager said. "It's not something that I think any of us try to preach to anybody."

"It freezes you sometimes," agreed Charlie Manuel. "You don't know where to move."

Anyway, "The Cryin' Hawaiian" T-shirts sprang overnight, much to his glee. You get the sense that Victorino loves any attention, loves even to be booed by fans of the team that rejected him not once, but twice. In 2005, the Phillies claimed him through the Rule 5 draft. When they couldn't place him on their 25-man roster, he had to be returned to his original team, the Dodgers.

He said, "Not really," when asked about that last night, insisting that his motivation came from dreams that far preceded that.

"My dad told me as a kid to hustle," he said. "So being a high-energy guy has a lot to do with going out there and playing the game, basically, at 100 miles an hour. I try to play the game hard and I like having fun and people know it.

"Everybody's always saying, 'Why are you always smiling?' And yada-yada-yada. I'm having fun. It's fun for me to come out here every day. It's a lifelong dream. A lifelong goal. And now I'm one step closer to my ultimate goal."

The story has been told repeatedly during this series. Except the Dodgers didn't want him back.

"There was never a question about his defense," Mike Arbuckle, the Phillies assistant GM in charge of scouting, was saying recently. "But people weren't sure about his bat."

What dripping irony.

What fun.

His bat?

Guess they're a little surer now.

Now here's an even funnier thing. Until that blast, they were booing him here more for who he was than what he had done. Victorino entered last night's game with a .154 average in this series, and ended a very promising first-inning rally by grounding into a double play.

They booed him then too. There's just something about him, something very Pete Rose. You see what he brings to your team, all that hustle and spunk and big-game bravado and ask how could anyone not appreciate that. But then you remember how you felt about Rose before he got to Philadelphia, how you felt about Lenny Dykstra in a Mets uniform.

That's who he is to these people.

And now it will only get worse.

Because in a postseason of uneven performances by the Phillies holy trinity of past MVPs and a likely future one, Victorino has grabbed the attention of the national media, become a familiar name to those who had barely heard of him before. There was that grand slam against CC Sabathia that seized the Milwaukee series, made irrelevant the 1-for-17 by the middle of the lineup in the first three games.

There was the near-brawl, for which he received a fine yesterday. We've never seen the guy actually fight, but it's not the first time he's been in the middle of this. You play with his kind of heart, with his abandon, it's going to find you.

You play without fear, and the red lights will find you too. They have found him. Shane Victorino has become famous in this postseason, has pushed his folk-hero status past our city limits.

Like Rose, like Dykstra, and, yeah, like Manny, he's now a guy you expect big things from.

"This is what you play for as a kid, what you play for in the minor leagues," he said. "You get the opportunity, you try to make the best of it." *

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