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Torre's decisions fuel the second-guessing

T.J. SIMERS

October 14, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

At times like these, it's hard not to sound like a Steinbrenner.

It's as if Joe Torre suddenly never managed in a big game before, the stage too big. Sure -- great guy, wonderful person, and you'd want him living next door.

But the Dodgers have Game 4 won, and several times, until Torre, more gambler than manager, just goes bonkers.

It starts with a conversation behind the batting cage: "What are you doing starting Juan Pierre in place of Matt Kemp at this point of the playoffs?"

He claims he's trying to win, trying to give a pressing Kemp a break, and now Kemp might get it, all right, starting Thursday.

"Let the second-guessing begin," he's told, and he nods. Been there before, he suggests, and now we know why.

He takes a pressure-tested Derek Lowe out of a tense game after only five innings, the Dodgers ahead 3-2, and replaces him with a 20-year-old who calls him Mr. Torre.

And Mr. Torre's fallback plan after the kid puts two men on is Chan Ho-No He Just Wild-Pitched Home the Tying Run.

On blind faith, of course, along with 13 straight appearances in postseason play and four World Series wins, we're supposed to believe Torre knows what he's doing.

OK, he's canceled the team's workout today, and so maybe he already knows the series is over.

Come on, Joe, and because it's such a challenging loss, this conversation takes place in the tunnel between the postgame interview room and the Dodgers' clubhouse.

"What the heck were you thinking when you took Lowe out of the game?"

"I don't second-guess it on my part," Torre says, and maybe not, but we do.

"Doesn't Lowe's experience give you the best chance for success?"

"He was fighting it and fighting it emotionally," Torre says, and that's Lowe, who always looks like an emotional mess when he pitches.

"He was going to go one more inning," Torre says, "but if someone got on, then we were going to take him out anyway. When we got the lead, we decided to make the change."

Meanwhile, standing in front of his locker, Lowe remains befuddled. He says he's still in the game, he goes to the clubhouse to use the men's room, comes out and is told, "that's it."

He still doesn't understand why. "That's the manager's decision, and they make decisions in the best interests of the team," he says. "It wasn't like I was going to throw a hissy-fit; I had already thrown stuff around in the first inning" after giving up two runs.

Lowe went through the next four innings, though, without giving up a run. In his previous 11 starts, he had yet to give up more than two earned runs, and here he was again.

"And I just had my easiest inning yet, which is what I needed," he says. "I felt fine."

Russell Martin is asked if he's consulted on how Lowe is throwing, and he says, "No, that's the manager's decision."

And the manager has no problem with the decision he's made, and even if everyone else does, he says, "We still came out with a two-run lead after all that."

He's right.

The kid puts two men on, Chan Ho-No bounces a pitch past Martin, allowing the tying run to score, but Casey Blake homers to put the Dodgers ahead, 4-3.

Pierre doubles, the gambler hitting 21, Pierre scores to make it 5-3, and Torre has Hong-Chih Kuo in the game in the seventh mowing down the Phillies.

The Dodgers need only six more outs and Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.

Torre sends Kuo out to start the eighth but doesn't like the way he warms up, Kuo a walking muscle ache between starts and apparently now between innings. One more reason why the Dodgers need everything they can get out of Lowe.

Torre goes to Cory Wade, and in a matchup of bullpens, this is not a fair fight, which is why it's so important to go as long as possible with Lowe.

Wade threw two innings the night before, but he's not the same pitcher in Game 4, and the Phillies get to him. Shane Victorino, the man in the wrong spot, wrong time a night earlier, hits a two-run homer against Wade to tie the score.

By now the gambler has gone through six pitchers, calling on Jonathan Broxton to close out the eighth, as well as the ninth, as if a shaky Broxton needs the degree of difficulty increased.

Torre has no more left-handers in his bullpen, so the Phillies go to left-handed hitting Matt Stairs, their journeyman version of Jose Lima. He hits a two-run homer off the right-handed Broxton, and as Torre says later, finally getting it right, "yes, this was a real tough one to lose."

It's not only a tough one to lose, but also a second-guesser's delight, and the second-guessers always get it right.

BROXTON STRIKES out Jayson Werth after giving up the lead, and the Dodgers' music man plays, "Big Bad John."

He was bad, all right.

SANDY KOUFAX sat next to the Screaming Meanie for Game 2. Tiger Woods sat next to her for Game 3 and Barbra Streisand for Game 4. If I'm the Dodgers, I have Manny Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, sitting beside her for Game 5.

JOHN WOODEN, who I believe was a former playmate of Abraham Lincoln's, will have yet another birthday today.

Happy birthday, and many many more.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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