Victorino with LA, but watching Phils make late run
Focused on helping Dodgers, he doesn't rule out return to Philadelphia next year
PHOENIX -- The Phillies are suddenly rampaging toward a possible National League Wild Card berth, and Shane Victorino is watching with keen interest from 3,000 miles away.The once and future Phillie is playing for a Dodgers team that is locked in what's become at least a six-team battle for the NL's new No. 2 Wild Card spot with 19 games left. Talk about drama -- the possible tiebreaking combinations are mind-boggling as the regular season heads into its final weeks. If you're wondering, Victorino hasn't left his nearly nine Philadelphia seasons behind. "We've always been known as a second-half team," Victorino said before checking himself. "I should say, 'They' always have been known to be. It's not we anymore. I'm no longer part of that team. I'm here." His Dodgers lost to the D-backs, 3-2, on Wednesday night at Chase Field and head into a critical four-game series against the Cardinals beginning Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, trailing St. Louis by a game for that coveted second berth. The Dodgers are leaking fluid down the stretch, having scored just 13 runs while losing six of their last seven. Victorino was a full-fledged member of the Phillies that defeated the Rays in the 2008 World Series and lost to the Yankees in the Fall Classic a year later. To get there, the Phillies defeated the Dodgers both times in the NL Championship Series. On July 31, with the Phillies 13 games out in the NL East, they unloaded Victorino to the Dodgers for two Minor Leaguers, another to be named later, a bag of balls and a few bats. He's a free agent after the World Series and at nearly 32, there was a question whether the Phillies wanted to re-sign him. But Victorino still harbors hope he can go home again. At the same time, he'd be more than happy to remain with the Dodgers. They're the organization that drafted him. He's with them for the third time. It's much closer to his Maui home than Philly. Now all he has to do is pick up his .257 batting average so those teams will show any interest. Despite the trade, Victorino said he believes the path back to the Phillies is still unencumbered. "At the Trade Deadline, they just wanted to give me an opportunity to come here to win," he said. "They never said anything that the door was closed, so we'll see what happens in regards to free agency and all that. But I'm not really focused on that. In the present time, I'm focused on this team and getting this team to the playoffs. But I'd entertain the possibility of going back. I'm not shutting the door on that." About returning to the Dodgers, Victorino added: "It's all up in the air, but I'd love to stay here. Why wouldn't I want to stay here? It's definitely somewhere I want to be. There's a lot of reasons: It's a good team. It's a good bunch of guys. Not only that, but it's great being on a winning team and being in contention to get the playoffs. Other than that, being on the West Coast is nice, being closer to home. All those things definitely play a part." The Dodgers, under their new $2.1 billion management, are trying to build the same winning ethos that the Phillies have had for years. To do so, the Dodgers recently added Victorino, Joe Blanton, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, Randy Choate and Brandon League via trades with the hope that it will put them over the top this season. The downside is this: add Carl Crawford, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the Dodgers are already committed to a payroll of just about $190 million next year and they haven't even embarked on the offseason. With a probability that their five-year run at the postseason was at an end, the Phillies avoided an extreme makeover, even though they traded Blanton and Victorino to the Dodgers and short-timer Hunter Pence to the Giants. They dangled Cliff Lee out there, but because of what remains on his huge $120 million contract and a limited no-trade clause he remains in the City of Brotherly Love. Good thing. Lee's 4-1 with a 2.80 ERA in nine starts inclusive of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. That includes Wednesday's 3-1 home win over the Marlins, which pulled the Phillies within three games of the Cardinals for the right to play the Braves on Oct. 5 in the NL's "win and in" playoff game. The winner goes on to face the league's top seed in an NL Division Series. It's not hard to understand why the Phillies were an unseemly 46-57 at the Deadline. Chase Utley was out until June 23 with a knee injury. Ryan Howard was out until July 6 with a foot injury. Roy Halladay was sidelined from May 27 to July 17 with a shoulder injury. And Lee didn't win a game until July 4. "Having those guys injured and all the things that happened there is why we were in the position we were in at the Trade Deadline and made all those trades," Victorino said. Conversely, Halladay is 6-2 in his last 10 starts. Since their return, Howard has 10 homers and 40 RBIs and Utley 10 homers and 30 RBIs. And the Phillies re-upped prospective free-agent to be Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144 million deal. Hamels, with his 14-6 record and 3.03 ERA in 27 starts, has been the anchor of the starting staff. It's no surprised then that the Phillies are 26-14 since the Deadline and at 72-71 have a real chance of making it back to the postseason. "No, none at all," Victorino said. "I said all along, 'If there's one team that can possibly do it, it's them.' Being there, knowing the pitching staff, the players they have, the veteran leadership, the experience that those guys have, it doesn't shock me at all." The shock is that suddenly Victorino finds his old team breathing down the collective necks of his new team. And that he's being pulled in opposing directions.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.