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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS | DIVISION SERIES

Dodgers Facing a Tight Squeeze

L.A. turns to Lima with an 0-2 deficit from which no NL team has escaped in the current format.

October 09, 2004|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

On the brink of playoff elimination and another hard winter, the Dodgers hope for some quality "Lima Time" tonight in Game 3 of the National League division series at Dodger Stadium.

Trailing the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-0, in the best-of-five series, they turn to flamboyant starter Jose Lima to help them prolong a season highlighted by a franchise-record 53 comeback victories, including 26 in the team's final at-bat.

Of course, the Dodgers aren't facing the Colorado Rockies anymore.

The formidable Cardinals led the major leagues with 105 victories in the regular season and overwhelmed the Dodgers in two games at Busch Stadium, having produced most of their runs with timely two-out hits that demoralized the NL West champion in blowout losses.

Lima takes the mound determined to help the Dodgers stave off elimination, win their first postseason game since 1988 and avoid a third consecutive playoff sweep. Oh, and since the inception of the current division-series format, no NL team has won a series after dropping the first two games.

Other than that, a pressure-free outing for Lima.

"There is no tomorrow," Lima said. "I've got to go out there and try to give my heart to this team. We cannot fall asleep.

"If I get in trouble they have to get somebody ready in the bullpen, because if we lose it's see you in spring training. If I have to throw 140 pitches, I'll throw 140."

St. Louis starter Matt Morris needed only 111 pitches (81 strikes) in tossing a two-hitter Sept. 3 in a 3-0 victory over the Dodgers at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals swept the Dodgers in that series but lost two of three in Los Angeles, so the party is still on hold.

"I go out there with the mentality that this could be the last game that I pitch this year," Morris said. "There is a little leeway, but I'm looking to do the right thing."

Said Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa: "Lima has been very tough in this ballpark, and the Dodgers are going to have a big crowd on their side, but we're going to play like it's the seventh game of the World Series."

The Dodgers acknowledged things don't look good as the clock ticks loudly on their magical run. Then again, the Dodgers have had a flair for the dramatic.

"We were talking the other day about how many times we've been written off and how many times we've surprised everyone but ourselves, but this would obviously be the biggest comeback," catcher David Ross said. "The 53 comeback victories and everything we did in our final at-bat would be nothing.

"If we can get back into this against these guys, with the lineup they have, you would really have to call us the 'Comeback Kids.' We know it's going to be tough and we're going to have to play a lot better than we have, but at least we've got the right guy on the mound."

Especially at Chavez Ravine.

Lima dazzled in 19 games (including 14 starts) at Dodger Stadium: 9-1 with a 3.08 earned-run average. Overall, the right-hander was 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA while resuscitating his career in his first season with the Dodgers.

With Dodger Stadium all dressed up tonight, Lima hopes to put on a good show.

"When I'm here, I'm more relaxed because I see a lot of blue in the stands," he said. "There's a lot of cheering and it motivates me more.

"But when you're facing a team like that you've just got to make sure you don't get passionate with those little things.... You've got to focus all the time against those guys, bro. If you don't, you see what they can do to you."

The Cardinals are batting .467 with two out in this series. They have scored 13 of their 16 runs and produced six of their nine extra-base hits after two batters were retired.

"You just don't win 105 baseball games during the course of the regular season by sitting around in a fireside chat and say, 'Hey, we're going to win 105 this year,' " Manager Jim Tracy said. "They play for three outs.

"You get two outs, you've only got two-thirds of the job done. Obviously, we have been victimized by that in the first two games of the series."

Conversely, the Dodgers haven't seized opportunities against the Cardinals. None of the seven batters who walked in Game 2 scored.

Tracy cited the Cardinals' advantage in playoff experience as a possible factor in the clutch-hit disparity.

"It simply boils down to the fact that they have done, in run-producing situations with two out, what we haven't done," Tracy said. "We just haven't been able to apply the knockout punch."

However, the Dodgers aren't finished yet.

"This is Hollywood. We like Hollywood endings, and that's how we play," closer Eric Gagne said. "We've just got to have another one."

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