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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Freeway Series could be October preview

August games at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium had a playoff feel

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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

LOS ANGELES -- Advantage: Dodgers, for now. But come back and see us in October, please.

This is where we stand in the afterglow of a sizzling Freeway Series seized by the Dodgers with a sweep of the final three games after the Angels had ruled Monday night's opener at Dodger Stadium behind the brilliance of young Garrett Richards.

With four of the sport's best teams in full flight, each entertaining a realistic vision of a World Series championship, California has emerged as the epicenter of Major League Baseball. In the southern part of a state divided by deep loyalties and passions, the prospect of a first Freeway Series in October has a fan base known for its laid-back nature acting like those fanatics back East.

While four hot August nights will be largely forgotten in October, when the really big show is on, this was a series worthy of the grand stage in terms of competitive juices flowing and quality of play. Certainly, the crackling energy in the crowds -- 194,447 customers in the four nights -- underscored how much it meant, creating a playoff-like atmosphere.

"This is what we all play for -- loud crowds, big games, everyone having fun," Angels superstar Mike Trout said. "Those guys over there are good, but so are we. We have great chemistry here and really believe we can do some great things."

They move on to new challenges now, the Angels engaging the revamped Red Sox at home, the Dodgers in Milwaukee to confront the National League Central-leading Brewers. The grind continues, but there was something special about this Interleague showdown.

The Halos came into the Freeway Series with the second-best record in the Majors, trailing only Oakland in a riveting American League West race. The Dodgers were atop the NL West with the league's best record, their eternal rivals in San Francisco on their heels.

After the first 10 1/2 innings of the series at Dodger Stadium, scores of Dodgers loyalists must have been fearing the worst -- that the muscle-bound Angels featuring Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton would overpower the Blue Crew.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw lined up for the two games, and if that doesn't evoke confidence, nothing will.

With a game plan of attacking early in counts, the Halos jumped on Greinke out of the chute with four first-inning runs, aided by a Hanley Ramirez error, in Richards' five-hit, 5-0 gem.

"It's a playoff-type game," Mattingly said, "and that's a playoff-type team. If you make mistakes, you pay, simple as that."

Tuesday night found Kershaw, who's been on a historic roll, matched against fellow lefty Hector Santiago. The Angels came out smoking again.

After putting two runs on the board in the second inning with four consecutive hits, the Halos watched Kershaw climb off the ropes. The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner retired Erick Aybar to leave two runners in scoring position, and the whole tone of the series was about to change. One swing can do that.

Santiago left a breaking ball in Juan Uribe's wheelhouse with two on in the second. The Dodgers' largely unsung emotional leader always swings as if his life depends on it. When he lifted the ball out of the yard, life was restored to the Dodgers and their raucous faithful.

Kershaw gathered himself and cleared seven innings with a lead. But his win disappeared when Pujols -- clearly loving the feeling of being back in a big-game atmosphere -- launched one in the eighth against Brian Wilson to bring the Angels even at 4.

It was that man Uribe jump-starting the winning rally in the bottom of the ninth with a single, racing to third on A.J. Ellis' single and scoring on a bouncer by Andre Ethier. Kevin Jepsen, who has been so good for so long in a suddenly formidable Halos bullpen, was pinned with the loss.

Kenley Jansen, back in lockdown form, claimed the win as Dodger Stadium erupted the way it had last October, when Uribe's home run lifted the club to its NL Division Series triumph in Game 4 against the Braves.

"Juan is one of those guys who's always in a good mood, one of my favorite teammates I've ever had," Carl Crawford said. ""He keeps us laughing, but at the same time, he'll tell a person the truth. He's good for the younger guys. They know it's genuine, what he tells them. There's a really good feeling on this club, and he's a big reason for that."

Dodgers fans rained down boos on Trout, a rarity for the kid who has captivated the sport with his brilliant play and friendly, outgoing manner. He took it in the spirit of Reggie Jackson, who once said, "They don't boo nobodies."

"It wasn't so bad," Trout said. "It shows they care, right? Nothing wrong with that."

Moving on to Anaheim, the Wednesday story was Dan Haren, the former Angels starter mired in a five-start funk. Finding his rhythm and prime-time stuff, Haren dispelled notions that he was at the end of the road with 5 1/3 perfect innings in a 2-1 victory. Matt Shoemaker, one of the stories of the Halos' season, was the hard-luck losing pitcher.

"I think that's probably the understatement of the year," Haren said when asked if this outing was heaven-sent. "I just wanted to do good for my team. I didn't want to be just a weak link."

When a dominant Hyun-Jin Ryu muzzled the Angels in Thursday night's 7-0 decision against C.J. Wilson, the Halos' struggling third starter, the Dodgers owned bragging rights -- for now.

It's a long way to late October, but it's never too early to dream if you're a fan. And these are two teams that have the right stuff to create a Freeway Series for the world to see.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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