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Bill Shaikin / ON BASEBALL

Dodgers can't get right, er left, matchup needed

October 14, 2008|Bill Shaikin

It seemed so harmless at the time.

Sixth inning, two out, one walk.

It could be the walk that haunts the Dodgers all winter. The walk forced the Dodgers to use Joe Beimel in the sixth inning. When they could have used him the most, in the eighth inning, he was long gone.

So was the ball that Matt Stairs hit, the one for the game-winning home run against someone who was not Beimel, the one that pushed the Dodgers to the brink of elimination.

Sixth inning, two out, two on. Chan Ho Park threw four balls, the first a wild pitch to force home a run, the last to force the Dodgers to burn Beimel.

For want of that out, the season might have been lost.

The Dodgers juggled their roster for the National League Championship Series, adding a third left-handed reliever to combat the Philadelphia Phillies' strength in left-handed hitting. They got beaten by a left-handed hitter -- a pinch-hitter, batting against a right-handed pitcher.

Rewind to the sixth inning. The Dodgers led, 3-2, after Derek Lowe had pushed himself through five innings, with deliberation and exhaustion.

The Dodgers started the sixth inning with Clayton Kershaw, one of those left-handers. The rookie faced three batters and retired one, throwing six consecutive balls at one point.

"I don't think it had anything to do with nerves," Kershaw said. "My curve ball just wasn't getting over. That makes it tough, when you're only throwing one pitch out there."

He walked Ryan Howard, the Phillies' major left-handed threat. Pat Burrell singled, Shane Victorino sacrificed, and Kershaw was done.

"Not a great night," he said. "Any time you go out there, a 1-2-3 inning would probably be the best situation. Just one of those things you can't explain."

The Dodgers summoned Park, so brilliant for so long this summer. Pedro Feliz popped up for the second out.

That brought up Carlos Ruiz, the catcher and No. 8 hitter, who batted .219 this season and carried a .174 postseason average into Monday's game. Surely Park would get him, and get the Dodgers out of this mess.

Ball one, a wild pitch, a breaking ball that bounces away from catcher Russell Martin. Tie score.

"That was the last thing I wanted, to have the ball get away from me," Martin said. "I can't even remember the last time that happened."

Park, who did not make himself available for comment after the game, then walked Ruiz. That forced Manager Joe Torre to use Beimel, who got that elusive third out of the inning.

One batter. One pitch. Beimel was done for the evening.

So was Kershaw. And so was the Dodgers' last left-handed reliever, Kuo, by the time Stairs grabbed a bat.

Eighth inning, two out, tie score.

The Phillies got Stairs to hit against right-handers. His career average is .272 against right-handers, .239 against left-handers, but the Dodgers had no left-handers in the bullpen, either to neutralize Stairs or to force the Phillies to reconsider using him.

If Park had done his job in the sixth inning, Beimel might have had a chance to do his against Stairs.

"I didn't really think too much about that," Beimel said. "I came into the game when I was needed."

That left the Dodgers to use closer Jonathan Broxton, who gave up the home run to Stairs. And that left Torre to reflect upon the sixth inning, and the eighth.

The Dodgers lost with their best reliever.

Torre can live with that. He could have used Beimel in the eighth, but he said he had not planned on using him.

"We needed him earlier," Torre said. "The guys we used in the seventh, eighth and ninth were the guys we always use there."

Kuo pitched brilliantly in the seventh, but Torre pulled him after one batter in the eighth.

"When he warmed up, the ball wasn't coming out the same," Torre said.

Then came Cory Wade, whom Torre noted had held left-handers to a .211 average. Wade faced four batters, got two outs.

And then came Stairs, and then came Broxton, and then came the game-winning home run. Martin scoffed at the idea that Beimel might best have been used to counter Stairs.

"I don't know if we're really going to save a lefty for Stairs," Martin said. "You've got some more dangerous guys down that lineup to face."

What if? No way, Torre said.

"You think about what you have left," Torre said. "We didn't have him. I don't sit here and say, 'I wish we had him.' "

We do. The Dodgers ought to at least have had the option, the chance to make the Phillies think twice. Instead, it was a walk in the Park.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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