LOS ANGELES » Shane Victorino answered all the questions and thanked everyone clustered around his locker. Then he quickly headed back out to the steamy diamond at Dodger Stadium.
"Time to run the bases," said the veteran major league star from St. Anthony High on Maui. "Last thing I want to do right now. But don’t tell that to my 5-year-old."
Kali’a Makenna Victorino was among the hundreds of kids who got to come down from the stands Sunday and run around the bases after the Dodgers’ 5-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The only difference was that her dad, the Dodgers left fielder, had just done the same in the actual game, scoring on Adrian Gonzalez’s double for a slide-off victory.
Everyone at Chavez Ravine agreed this was a huge win for the revitalized and augmented Dodgers, who are trying to keep contact with the Giants in the National League West.
They’re all big wins in September when you’re in contention. Victorino — a veteran of pennant races, playoffs and World Series as a Philadelphia Phillies star — knows that better than most.
"A crucial game, I think, for us. To come back in the ninth against a team we’ve struggled against, absolutely," Victorino said. "I use the word ‘urgency,’ not ‘panic.’ "
Chemistry has been a big topic lately for the Dodgers, as recent additions Victorino and Gonzalez had been struggling of late. Being key factors in a win like this gives them more clubhouse credibility and can serve as a unifier for the stretch run.
PENNANT RACES have a way of making everybody think like a role player.
"I’m just looking for any way I can contribute," said Brandon League, an American League All-Star closer for the Seattle Mariners last year, now a utility reliever for the Dodgers. "Doesn’t matter if that means throwing a scoreless inning in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said last week League and Ronald Belisario would share the closer role for now, since Kenley Jansen is out with an irregular heartbeat.
"Brandon’s going to be pitching later in games for us," Mattingly said.
League, who played high school ball at Saint Louis School, responded with a scoreless ninth for a save in Los Angeles’ 2-1 win over Arizona on Saturday. It was the 55th of his career.
"Brandon’s definitely a guy we have confidence in to step into that role," said Victorino, whose locker is next to League’s. "Situational, closer, whatever. Brandon’s been there."
Unlike Victorino, League has never been in playoff contention this late in the season in a nine-year MLB career.
"This is what you play for," said League, who also pitched in the Mariners’ combined no-hitter this year before being dealt to the Dodgers. "Every out is a big out. We’re fortunate we have this opportunity. The bullpen as a whole is stepping up."
He said he just considers himself one of 25 players who all have to contribute for the Dodgers to make the playoffs.
"That’s how it is with every team," he said. "And every team has big-name stars. On this team it’s around half of the guys."
League wasn’t really counting himself in that group, although he could, considering his recent performance of near-perfection. In his last seven games, he has allowed no runs and just two hits and has struck out 11.
As for Victorino, Sunday’s performance is exactly what Mattingly is expecting from the two-time All-Star.
"He’s got all that postseason experience. He can run and hit, he’s a switch-hitter and he’s a great fielder," the manager said. "He’s definitely going to help us down the stretch."
Sunday he did it by stroking a single up the middle to close the Dodgers’ deficit to one run in the seventh. Then he worked Arizona closer J.J. Putz for a walk before scoring on Gonzalez’s double to right that won it.
"Luckily I was able to slide on the outer half," said Victorino, his white home uniform stained with a 3-foot-long streak of dirt. "You win these games by playing all 27 outs. Ultimately every out, every pitch counts for us."
If Victorino and League keep it up, Hawaii could have two big reasons to watch Major League Baseball well into October.
Reach Dave Reardon at email@example.com or 529-4783.