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Incident still cuts deep for Beimel

October 07, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Joe Beimel was sitting at a table in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse at Chicago on the eve of the Dodgers' first playoff game this year when Ned Colletti took a seat across from him.

"How are you doing today?" the Dodgers general manager said.

"Doing fine," Beimel said.

"See," Colletti said, "we're off to a better start already."

They laughed.

The last time the Dodgers were in the postseason, Beimel was forced to watch from afar as they were swept by the New York Mets in a 2006 National League division series, banished by the team to his Pasadena apartment for cutting his hand in an effort to keep a glass of beer from crashing to the floor of a Manhattan bar.

"I hadn't even come close to sniffing the playoffs until then -- and when I got there, that happened," said Beimel, a situational left-hander who started his career in Pittsburgh.

In what could be his final season with the Dodgers, the 31-year-old Beimel was granted a second chance.

Though he didn't pitch in the Dodgers' first-round sweep of the Chicago Cubs -- not a single pitch was thrown by a Dodgers left-hander in the series -- Beimel figures to play a more prominent role in the NL Championship Series, which starts Thursday in Philadelphia. The Phillies' lineup is stacked with left-handed hitters.

"I'll probably be a little more busy in this series," Beimel said.

He also thought he would be busy two years ago when the Dodgers faced the Mets, who, like the Phillies, had several left-handed hitters.

But two nights before the start of that series, he was out drinking in New York. A glass of beer slipped from his hand, shattered and lacerated his pitching hand.

"I wasn't sober by any means," Beimel said.

Because none of his teammates were with him -- then-manager Grady Little imposed a midnight curfew that Beimel ignored -- Beimel tried to cover up what happened. He returned to his hotel room, called a team trainer and told him that he had cut himself in the bathroom trying to prevent a glass of water from hitting the floor. He tried to pitch, couldn't, and was sent to Los Angeles, the truth still hidden.

Only when taking a call from a Times reporter who had spoken to an eyewitness did Beimel confess.

"It was probably for the best," Beimel said. "I'm not a good liar."

But truth came at a price.

Colletti told Beimel that he wanted him to speak to the team.

"I didn't want it to fester," Colletti said of the team's anger toward Beimel. "There was such vivid disappointment."

So in the hours leading up to Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, Beimel apologized to his teammates.

"It was the most nervous I've ever been," Beimel said. "I was prepared for anybody to say anything. I told everyone they could rip me up one side and down the other if they wanted."

No one said a word.

"It was a quick talk," catcher Russell Martin said. "He apologized sincerely for what he did. You could tell he was a little embarrassed."

And, as Beimel tells it, hurt.

Watching the games on television, Beimel said he felt a sense of guilt overcome him whenever there were situations in which he would have been used -- and there were many of them.

He was glad his then-wife and two children were with him.

"It would've been real bad if I was there alone," he said.

Beimel took the drastic step of embracing complete sobriety over the next 15 months.

His first drink since then was a flute of champagne last New Year's Eve. He drinks from time to time, he said, but in moderation.

"It's not like it used to be," he said.

How did it used to be?

"It depended on the night," Beimel said. "Sometimes after a bad game, I was on a mission. Now, I don't drink to get drunk. I socialize a bit, that's it."

Beimel, who had a 2.02 earned-run average and didn't give up a home run this season, will be a free agent this winter. Though he said his preference is to re-sign with the Dodgers -- Los Angeles is now his year-round home -- he doesn't know where he'll be next season, which is why it was so important to him that the team return to the playoffs this year.

"You never know how many chances you're going to get as a player," Beimel said. "You run across a lot of people in this game who have never been in the postseason."

Martin said he's glad that Beimel has received this chance for redemption.

"He's really making the best of his ability now," Martin said. "He didn't pitch in the first round, but he's probably going to get a few chances here to showcase what he does."

--

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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