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BILL PLASCHKE

Old, tired pitching does them in

October 14, 2008|Bill Plaschke

It lived on the deep green grass, Ethier diving, Manny swinging, unfiltered hope sliding giddily across the ravine.

It died in the hedges.

It lived under the brightest of lights, amid the loudest of voices, towels waving, fans chanting, the old lady bouncing.

It died in the corner.

After six innings Monday, the Dodgers lived on the brink of tying the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

They died in the bullpen.

You want to give Manny Ramirez five more years and $100 million?

Then you better be able to explain why Frank McCourt should not use that same money to improve the sort of pitching depth that probably just cost them their season.

On a night when Ramirez was perfect, the Dodgers lost to the imperfections of a pitching staff that relied on the old, the tired and the predictable.

"Hard to swallow," said Jonathan Broxton.

"Didn't see that one coming," said Derek Lowe.

Yet it was visible from miles away, this blown 5-3, eighth-inning lead that became a 7-5 Phillies' victory, giving them a three-games-to-one series lead.

The Phillies can clinch a trip to the World Series on Wednesday night here with their ace, Cole Hamels, pitching against the Dodgers' suddenly shaky Chad Billingsley.

Today, both teams will hold Dodger Stadium workouts.

Oops, scratch that.

Immediately after Monday's loss, the Dodgers canceled their session, Manager Joe Torre ordering the clubhouse doors locked and telling the players to stay home.

Thus saying more than any final score could.

"I think Joe wanted us to get away from the game," said Casey Blake. "It's better than us being in here thinking about baseball."

Yet the Dodgers better think about this game all winter. It will be remembered as part of their ugly past, but it can also become part of a better future.

Today everyone will be talking about how the game ended in the eighth inning with a two-run homer by Shane Victorino -- did it have to be him? -- followed by a two-run shot by Matt Stairs.

But the game was lost several times before that, beginning in the sixth inning with the Dodgers having just taken a 3-2 lead.

Lowe, working on three days' rest for only the fifth time in his long career, was preemptively pulled by Torre even after throwing just 74 pitches and completing the first 1-2-3 inning of his night.

"Yeah, I was surprised," Lowe said. "I had just finished the inning I had been looking for, I was ready to go."

Torre, who was too patient with Lowe in Game 1 and was burned by it, said he was trying to stop trouble before it started.

"He had to work hard every inning," said Torre. "We were probably only going to get one more inning out of him anyway."

I don't blame Torre. Given the history and circumstances, he made the right move.

If you want to blame someone, blame the organization for having to start Lowe on short rest in the first place. The Dodgers have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, yet don't have a fourth pitcher for a playoff rotation?

The Phillies, starting Joe Blanton, didn't have this problem. The Dodgers shouldn't have this problem. This is the night when the absence of Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny finally came back to haunt them. They need an ace starting pitcher more than they need a Manny Ramirez.

Lowe's departure then highlighted another Dodgers issue -- veteran bullpen depth.

"This time of year, I always say, it comes down to the bullpen," said Lowe.

First up, rookie Clayton Kershaw, making only his third relief appearance of the season. In a one-run NLCS game? A kid who has never pitched in a real game past September?

Kershaw walked the struggling Ryan Howard, gave up a single and bunt and was gone.

Only to be replaced by another guy who wasn't ready for this role, Chan Ho Park.

One wild pitch later, the game was tied.

Instead of feeling steady, the Dodgers were already shaky.

"There's a whirlwind of emotions going on out there," said Blake.

Blake's leadoff homer in the bottom of the sixth led to a two-run inning that gave the Dodgers another lead.

But in the eighth, even after an out by Joe Beimel and a sizzling three outs by lefty Hong-Chih Kuo, the game was given to Cory Wade.

Great kid, great story, dead tired arm. Wade had thrown 33 pitches Sunday night and clearly wasn't ready for the eighth inning Monday.

After Howard led off the inning with a single against Kuo, in came Wade, and one out later Victorino lined a curveball into the right-field bullpen to tie the score.

"There was no excuse for . . . I mean, he's been a great pitcher for us," Torre said of Wade. "He was ready to go."

Not quite, and this is what happens when you have to overwork a setup guy who began the season at double-A Jacksonville.

All of which led to the appearance by Broxton, who is slowly showing the Dodgers that perhaps he is not next year's closer, and with Takashi Saito injured, who will be?

With Carlos Ruiz on first after a single against Wade, Broxton threw a strike to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, then three consecutive balls, then he missed the corner of the plate.

"Six inches off, right over the middle," Broxton said. "And he hit it."

So he did, the ball sailing halfway up the right-field pavilion, giving the Phillies a two-run lead that was insurmountable against closer Brad Lidge, sending many of the fans home early.

Too bad, those fans missed another great Ramirez moment in the eighth, a double against Lidge and . . . you do remember Ramirez, don't you?

--

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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