The Dodgers' task is gargantuan but not impossible. It is uncommon but not unprecedented.
The key, it would seem, is to disregard one of the oldest adages in the history of sport and to not only take their eyes off the prize but to avoid looking at it, the way one avoids looking at the setting sun. Because advancing to the World Series, which is the whole reason they play these National League Championship Series anyway, has to be the last thing on the Dodgers' minds as they take the field for Game 5 with the Philadelphia Phillies tonight at Dodger Stadium.
"We win (this game), that would be the start," Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre said on Tuesday, when he originally had planned to hold a team workout before scrapping it after the Dodgers fell behind three games to one by losing Game 4 on Monday night 7-5.
"Knowing you have to win all the remaining games of the series - if you go at it thinking that, as opposed to winning (Game 5), I think that could be a hindrance for you."
"What we have to do is make sure we just put the blinkers on and win this game and then concern ourselves with the next day and hopefully Game 7."
So the Dodgers, starting at 5:22 p.m., will be playing for the right to advance to Philadelphia. And while that doesn't sound like a big prize to anyone who isn't a history buff or doesn't really like cheesesteak sandwiches, what it would mean for the Dodgers is life. No more of it than they have right
now, because they still would be one loss away from elimination. But no less of it, either, and that is the important thing.
From here on out, from the Dodgers' vantage point, every game in this series is Game 7.
So without so much as addressing the Dodgers' keys for winning the series if they can actually get it back to Citizens Bank Park, here are a few of their keys to getting it safely out of Los Angeles:
They must get a standup pitching performance from Chad Billingsley, whose failure to retaliate for several inside pitches thrown at Dodgers hitters by Phillies starter Brett Myers was the least of his problems in Game 2.
Billingsley had no command and at times seemed to have a deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes.
This time, Billingsley has to block out the hype and be himself - the same pitcher who went 16-10, pitched 200 innings and struck out 201 batters for the Dodgers during the regular season and dominated the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the division series.
They must find some way to generate some offense against Cole Hamels, the Phillies' ace left-hander who more or less shut them down in Game 1 and whose three almost-identical pitching lines in three starts against the Dodgers this season add up to six runs on 16 hits over 21 innings, a 2-0 record and a 2.57 ERA.
This isn't as difficult as it sounds. Hamels is one of the league's best starters, but the Dodgers still looked like they had an idea in Game 1. And if Manny Ramirez's RBI double in the Dodgers' one-run first inning had been a two-run homer - it missed being exactly that by no more than a foot in two different directions - who knows what would have happened in what became a one-run loss for the Dodgers.
Finally, they must play loose and confident, not tight and panicked. The reality that this magical season could be over in a few hours can't be hanging over their heads like some sort of guillotine. This is still baseball, and it is still supposed to be fun. And hey, what is the worst that can happen?
That the offseason begins a few days early? That the Dodgers get only two champagne showers (which is still one more than they have had in any year since 1988) instead of four? That they don't get another all-expenses-paid trip to Philadelphia?