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Power surge stuns L.A.

Lowe stays around to see it all unravel

October 10, 2008|Bill Plaschke

PHILADELPHIA -- His right wrist had been jammed, his body had been tackled, his signs had been changed, his shortstop had uncorked a Hail Mary and his sinker had gone flatter than a church pew.

Oh, and Derek Lowe had just given up a game-tying two-run home run to Chase Utley.

With most of Philadelphia screaming loud enough to be heard in New Jersey, with flapping white towels turning the Citizens Bank Park seats into a snowstorm, a Dodgers boss jogged to the mound.

But it wasn't Manager Joe Torre; it was pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.

Despite the signs that the Dodgers' unsinkable October pitcher was sinking into distraction, he was left in the game.

Nine pitches and another home run later, that game was essentially over.

A victory that could have been stolen turned into a loss that felt like a mugging, the Dodgers falling to the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2, on Thursday in the opener of the National League Championship Series.

"We lost it," said Matt Kemp, shaking his head in the first quiet Dodgers clubhouse of the postseason. "A tough loss."

Tough, because the Phillies were able to counter two good Dodgers hours with about 10 nightmarish minutes.

Tough, because the Dodgers troubles started in that sixth inning with an error by a shortstop -- Rafael Furcal -- who was playing in only his seventh game since the middle of May.

Dang tough, because a drifting Lowe was allowed to remain in the middle of it all.

"Hindsight is what makes you not sleep at night," Lowe said.

He was talking about home-run pitches in the sixth inning to Utley and, two batters later, Pat Burrell.

But he might have slept fine if the Dodgers pulled him after that first home run, with the score tied 2-2.

With everything working against him, and even Lowe starting to work against himself, why was he allowed to stay just long enough to get himself beat?

The question was asked in the press box at the time, and it was asked after the game.

Said Torre: "He looked like he always does. There was no thought to taking him out."

Said Honeycutt: "You might call it distraction, but I call it emotion."

Chimed in Lowe: "No way I wanted to come out."

His history, with a 5-0 record and 0.85 earned-run average in his last seven starts, says he was fine.

But Thursday's histrionics said he was not.

Yes, he always sweats through his jersey.

And yes, he's always fidgety.

But no, he doesn't always crash to the ground behind first base in the third inning, as he did with the Phillies' Shane Victorino while Lowe was catching a toss from first baseman James Loney.

"Actually, I thanked [Victorino], he sort of grabbed me and held me up," Lowe said.

He also doesn't always jam his right hand while batting in the fourth inning, causing him to flex it several times after returning to the mound.

"I'm just glad Fox gave me three minutes between innings," Lowe said.

He also doesn't always change his signs with catcher Russell Martin on the mound in the middle of an inning, which he did in the fifth after suspecting Carlos Ruiz of picking them up from second base.

"That was the only time it got crazy," Honeycutt said.

Lowe said he noticed Ruiz moving his head back and forth.

"It may have looked panicky, but I've played long enough to know what that means," said Lowe of Ruiz's movements.

At the time, Lowe had given up consecutive singles to weak-hitting Ruiz and non-hitting Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels.

Even though he was still throwing a shutout, his concentration seemed to be slipping. Then, after Furcal opened the sixth by making a throw that tipped off a leaping Loney's glove for an error, a scowling frustration seemed to take over.

Up stepped Utley, who had never homered off Lowe in his 16 career at-bats.

First pitch, flat sinker, gone, the ball disappearing into the right-field seats, and now Lowe was really upset.

"I knew he'd be swinging at the first pitch in that situation, I should have thrown a non-competitive pitch, I just knew it," Lowe said.

With the score tied at 2-2, with Chan Ho Park warming up in the bullpen, Honeycutt came to the mound, but it was only to give Lowe time to catch his breath.

"We were never going to take him out," Honeycutt said. "He was fine. He doesn't get rattled."

The first home run came on Lowe's 81st pitch, so he certainly wasn't out of gas, but he was clearly out of focus.

He threw two balls to Ryan Howard before Howard got himself out on a grounder to first.

He then threw three straight balls to Burrell, a called strike, then another sailing sinker that Burrell pounded into the left-field seats for his first homer against Lowe in 22 career at-bats.

"We're talking about two pitches," Honeycutt said.

Two little pitches, but one big game, and less than 18 hours later they will play again today, with big becoming huge.

"If we lose again here it doesn't mean we will lose the series," Casey Blake said. "But it will certainly put our backs against the wall."

Which is exactly where Derek Lowe stood Thursday, out of sorts, needing relief, standing alone.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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