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DODGERS IN THE NLCS FANS IN L.A. ALWAYS SUNNY.

Byline: Kevin Modesti, Staff Writer

The Dodgers open a playoff series against the Philadelphia Phillies tonight with a better-than-even chance to reach the World Series for the first time since Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Tommy Lasorda conjured up a championship way back in 1988.

In other baseball capitals, two decades without a pennant would leave home-team rooters blaming curses, massaging emotional scar tissue and congratulating each other on the depth of their masochism - while shivering in fear of what's going to go wrong now.

In those towns, you're not a real fan unless you're a "long-suffering fan." Philadelphia is like that, even at a time like this when its club is the reigning champion.

But in Los Angeles, more than two decades without a pennant merely leaves us certain we're that much closer to the next championship.

In the 2000s, the television image of October baseball has been the grim expressions of fans in Philly, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco - even nearby Anaheim - hands clasped in prayer for an end to their title droughts.

But as this young Dodgers team comes of age, a sunnier face may be about to emerge.

It's the face of a town that has learned from a half-century of rarely bitter reality, including the Dodgers' five timely World Series titles, that things tend to work out in the end.

If the ethos of Dodgers fans is different from that of their rivals, one reason is L.A. itself.

Optimism naturally abounds in Hollywood, land of happy endings, and in Southern California, where people come to hit it big. In much of the country, the pain of the baseball team's final loss of the season marks the onset of a hard winter. Here, fans know the sun will always come out tomorrow.

Another reason is L.A. sports in general.

Few places have as many ways to find happiness as a sports fan. If the Dodgers lose, there's always the Lakers or USC football or UCLA basketball. Since 1959, when the Dodgers won their first World Series in L.A., the city's longest stretch without a professional or college championship in one of the big-four sports is the six years from 1989 to 1994.

But the main reason is the Dodgers themselves.

Dodgers stories tend to end happily.

This started right after the franchise arrived from Brooklyn. As many questioned the wisdom and propriety of the move, the Dodgers won the World Series over the Chicago White Sox in their second season here.

"In Brooklyn, it was always 'Wait till next year,"' said Mark Langill, the Dodgers' staff historian. "In Los Angeles, you didn't have to wait."

Or you never had to wait for long.

After the bliss of the '60s, when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched the Dodgers to two more World Series wins, the club fell into the first of what passes here for dry spells. After beating the New York Yankees in 1963 and the Minnesota Twins in 1965, the Dodgers didn't win a title for 16 years, and the '70s caused mild heartache in World Series losses to the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees (twice).

That generation of Dodgers got it all back, though, in 1981. Finishing off the Yankees in the Bronx tied a bow on the era of the Steve Garvey-Davey Lopes-Ron Cey-Bill Russell infield.

The Dodgers who followed were frustrated once. That was when the home run by the St. Louis Cardinals' Jack Clark abruptly ended their pennant hopes in 1985.

Then the '80s generation, too, finished on top, upsetting the A's in 1988. From Hershiser's heroics, to Gibson's stunning home run, to Lasorda's run of winning dice rolls, it was all rich enough to keep Dodger Stadium crowds fat on optimism for 21 years - and counting.

"There's something about the Dodgers and their tradition where there's a warm wave that washes over you and you tend to forget the facts - from 1988 to 2004, you didn't win one playoff game," said Steve Edwards, the host of KTTV's "Good Day L.A." and former host of a KABC-AM (790) sport-talk show.

The East looks at L.A. and sees soft, bored, front-running fans, people who get it wrong - booing at odd times - when they try to emulate the notoriously tough fans of, say, Philadelphia.

What they really are is contented fans who refuse to measure their devotion by the volume of their tears.

Dodgers fans should be optimistic going into this rematch of last year's loss to the Phillies in the best-of-seven-game National League Championship Series, seeing that their young stars are a year older and, in most cases, a season better.

But if it doesn't work out this time, expect no despair from the fans here, who operate on the assumption good times are always just around the corner.

kevin.modesti@dailynews.com

818-713-3616

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4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 3) From left, the Dodgers celebrated World Series titles in 1988, when Kirk Gibson's heroics in Game 1 sparked them to victory over Oakland; in 1963, when Sandy Koufax pitched L.A. to a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees; and in 1959, when Larry Sherry and Duke Snider brought the city a title in the team's second year in Los Angeles.

(4) When the Dodgers, with from left, Steve Howe, Steve Yeager and Steve Garvey won the 1981 World Series, the victory ended a 16-year title drought for L.A.'s baseball team. It's been 21 years since the Dodgers won their last World Series title in 1988.

Photos by The Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 15, 2009
Words:931
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