PHILADELPHIA -- For eight years, Randy Wolf waited and strived to pitch a playoff game in Philadelphia. It turns out he had to leave the Phillies to do it.
Wolf, now pitching for his hometown Dodgers, will face the team with which he was "born and raised" as a professional in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night. It will be something of a strange experience for the veteran left-hander, but that's not to say he's not excited.
"I have a lot of memories here, a lot of good memories here," Wolf said. "I always enjoyed pitching here. The fans were always really great to me. But I think it's a lot of fun just being in a playoff game, an NLCS game against my former team. The fact that it's a rematch from last year makes it exciting. But the main thing is when the game starts, it's a game, and it all starts over. I've got to pitch my game and all that stuff that's a memory, you've got to block that out."
Loves to face: Ryan Howard is 1-for-9, 4 SO Hates to face: Pedro Feliz, 5-for-17, 3 HR
Loves to face: Matt Kemp is 2-for-11 Hates to face: Manny Ramirez is 14-for-25, 1 HR
Why he'll win: Howard, Utley, Werth combined 3-for-26, 10 SO
Why he'll win: 2-0, 3.18 in 3 playoff starts
Pitcher beware: Torre seems to lack confidence in the veteran left-hander
Pitcher beware: Ramirez has highest avg. of any opp., min. 25 AB
Bottom line: Big return for one-time Phillies lefty
Bottom line: He was big for the Phillies in 2008 playoff run
As if returning to Philadelphia isn't enough of a potential distraction, Wolf has plenty of extra pressure on him. The Dodgers trail, 2-1, in the series. If Wolf and his teammates can't secure a victory on Monday, the Phils can finish off the series on Wednesday without it even returning to Dodger Stadium.
So not only is Wolf pitching for his hometown team in a homecoming game -- he's pitching to bring the series back home for his team. It's a lot to be rolling around in a pitcher's head, but Wolf insists that he can't let any of the circumstances affect his preparation.
"The approach is exactly the same," he said. "You've got to go out there and pitch the best you can. Whether you're up 2-1 or down 1-2, they're just as important. You can't go out there and think, 'One-game cushion, I don't have to pitch as well.' So your approach is the same."
In Wolf's first couple of years in Philadelphia, he pitched on losing teams. But from 2003-06, it was close-but-not-quite. The '05 Phillies finished two games out in the NL East and one game back in the Wild Card race. In '06, they came within three games of a spot. Then Wolf left, and the Phillies surged. He watched his old mates win the NL East in 2007 and win the World Series in 2008.
If pitching against the Phillies is complicated for Wolf, watching them win it all may have been even weirder.
"First of all, I was really happy for them," he said. "I played with those guys, came up with those guys, and to see them at the height of success, winning a World Series, I was extremely happy for those guys. Playing here you kind of understand the heartbeat of this city and what they've gone through for over 20 years, and for them to get that championship was really big for them. So I was happy for them. But I'd be lying if I said there was a part of me that wasn't jealous. I was jealous. I was with that organization for a long time, and I obviously missed that boat. But at the same time very happy for them."
Wolf has made 275 Major League regular-season starts and racked up 101 wins, but Monday brings only his second postseason start. He pitched Game 1 of the NL Division Series against St. Louis and was pulled after 3 2/3 innings. This is a much bigger situation, with his team closing in on its first pennant in 21 years.
Despite the NLDS showing, though, the Dodgers have no hesitation to go with Wolf. He enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2009, and he's shown that pitching in the claustrophobic confines of Citizens Bank Park doesn't faze him. Manager Joe Torre also downplayed any extra distractions for Wolf in a homecoming game.
"He is very animated," Torre said. "He's got a lot of emotion going on. But the experience of having pitched here certainly is something that we feel good about. And, just the year he had. I mean, the year he had was very, very good, very consistent for us, and you're comfortable in the fact that he knows what he's doing."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.