Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dodgers To Play For Little League World Series Championship

Sunday in Williamsport, Dalton Carriker smashed a walk-off home run in the 8th inning to lift Warner Robins, GA to a dramatic 3-2 victory over Tokyo in the Little League World Series. Carriker’s teammates jubilantly celebrated, believing that they had captured the LLWS title. However, one more obstacle remains for the kids from the Peach State. The championship will actually be at stake on Monday, when Warner Robins takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Monday’s showdown resulted from an obscure loophole in the LLWS bylaws. According to this provision, competition for the Little League title shall be open to any ballclub managed by someone named Little. Therefore, the Grady Little-led Dodgers were entitled to a matchup with Sunday’s winner. The 2002 champions from Louisville benefited from the same rule, as manager Stuart Little became the first animated mouse to capture the title.

The controversial decision sparked an immediate public outcry. As one critic pointed out, “Sure, L.A.’s had a youth movement this year, but not a movement to youth baseball!” Serious questions of fair play have arisen, as rather than 11 and 12-year-old players, the Dodger roster ranges from 22-year-old Matt Kemp to 44-year-old new addition David Wells. Warner Robins parents are particularly concerned about Wells, fearing that he’ll take their kids out drinking before the game.

Little League officials responded that Warner Robins will provide the Dodgers with more of a challenge than their previously scheduled Monday opponents, the Washington Nationals. Also, the Dodger franchise has a strong historical connection with Little League. The LLWS began in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson ushered in a new era for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Furthermore, Los Angeles has taken to heart the Little League Pledge: “I trust in God. I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win. But win or lose I will always do my best.” The Dodgers’ version has the slight modifications of “I trust in Lasorda” and “but win or lose I will always hate the Giants.”

Additionally, Warner Robins has reasons for optimism as it enters Monday’s title matchup. Since their 1988 World Series championship, the Dodgers are a woeful 1-12 in playoff games. In their previous postseason showdown with a Georgia ballclub, the Atlanta Braves swept the Dodgers out of the 1996 Division Series. Warner Robins will certainly feel like it has the advantage if L.A. turns to closer Takashi Saito. Carriker proved on Sunday that he can tee off on Japanese relievers.

Despite these issues, the Dodgers do have some items in their favor. They should feel comfortable in Williamsport, having gone 5-2 in Pennsylvania this year. Most significantly for Little, games in the LLWS are shorter than in the ALCS. Therefore, if his starter is leading after six innings, the game is over. Little can’t have a brain-cramp and leave his starter in until the eighth while the opponents tie the game.

Also, the Dodgers’ chances in the Little League World Series will be enhanced by two players who have already been World Series heroes. Taking his regularly scheduled start will be Derek Lowe, the winner in Boston’s Fall Classic clincher in 2004. If late inning heroics are needed, the Dodgers can turn to Luis Gonzalez in hopes of a repeat of his 2001 walk-off single against Mariano Rivera. If it gets desperate, L.A. could even try to reproduce a Kirk Gibson scenario, with a crippled slugger limping to the plate. That situation could arise if Jeff Kent tries to “wash his truck” before his final at-bat.

So the stage is set for Monday, as the Warner Robins kids take their shot against the big leaguers. The Dodgers will try to be the first LLWS champions from California since Long Beach won in 1992 and 1993. They already feel like the spirit of the 1988 postseason is on their side. Broadcasting for ABC, Orel Hershiser will be in the house.