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The kid needed help from the old man but didn't get it

October 16, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

Just imagine how exciting it's going to be when the Dodgers play the Yankees or Angels . . . in another couple of years when Clayton Kershaw is absolutely unhittable and there is no getting Matt Kemp out.

By then George Sherrill won't be around to ruin what had the feel of a magical night in Dodger Stadium, maybe a dominant Kershaw even pitching into the eighth inning while former manager Joe Torre rests on his couch at home in Hawaii.

Manny Ramirez will be a DH somewhere in the American League, the Dodgers probably not having to pray for a Ronnie Belliard home run to tie the score, and while there's no telling right now who will be the Dodgers' owner, here's hoping it's someone committed to putting 24 others around Kershaw capable of hoisting him onto the postseason stage year after year.

Maybe the Dodgers are only good enough right now to give everyone a few thrills, Game 1 of the National League Championship Series tension-packed, but the mistakes and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt too much to overcome.

Honeycutt goes to the mound to talk to Kershaw about throwing strikes and the Phillies respond by beating him up. He goes to the mound to chat with Sherrill and next pitch Raul Ibanez hits a three-run homer.

A muzzle, please, for Honeycutt.

Kershaw, meanwhile, begins the game at age 21 and 211 days, Torre with the most experience of any manager in the game, and it's hard to say who has the worse night.

When Kershaw needs to be saved from himself with a nudge from someone more experienced, Torre is uncharacteristically slow to react. Torre often quotes former manager Don Zimmer when discussing postseason pitching -- Zimmer probably not up on what it takes to text or tweet Torre with a reminder.

The idea is not to stick with a starting pitcher as long as you might in the regular season, and here's Kershaw, wilting before everyone's eyes in the fifth inning, a left-hander warming in the bullpen and the Phillies already scoring three runs.

He stays out there against Ryan Howard, and two years from now maybe it's not a fair contest -- lefty hitter versus Sandy Koufax Jr., but this time Howard drills the ball to right and the Phillies get two more runs and win by two.

"I lost the strike zone," Kershaw says while looking into a mob of reporters and cameras. "You do that and they make you pay for the mistakes."

For someone who has a pair of daughters -- each almost 10 years older -- it's a marvel to watch the kid handle such a disappointing moment with such maturity and confidence. Here's hoping Chad Billingsley hung around his locker long enough to witness.

He's dressed only in a towel, a female reporter standing right there. He nods to someone who is familiar, tugs on a T-shirt and pants, but quickly turns knowing reporters are on deadline -- every answer measured and respectful.

He doesn't flinch when someone asks if he's let Torre down because Torre had faith in him to make him the Game 1 starter.

"We didn't win the game," he says. "I didn't get the job done."

He says he will hurt at night, and in the past after taking a painful loss, he has said he carries it with him into the next game while he sits on the bench watching. But his next stage of superstar development awaits, a Game 5 start in Philadelphia -- no time right now for baby steps.

"Physically I felt fine," Kershaw says in dismissing the criticism directed toward Torre. "They had lefties coming up and it's my job to get them out."

Torre defends his decision, of course, and it's a fair question: Whom would you rather have pitching to Howard, Scott Elbert or Kershaw?

You lose the game, though, and you lose the argument.

Torre wasn't the only one who broke form. To win, the Dodgers need to get five or six innings out of their starters and then the best out of Hong-Chih Kuo in the seventh, Sherrill in the eighth and Jonathan Broxton in the ninth.

Sherrill, brilliant since being bailed out of Baltimore, pitched like someone you'd expect with Baltimore on their resume. Called on to pitch in the eighth, the Phillies ahead, 5-4, he walked the first two batters. There goes the home-field advantage.

Then Honeycutt makes an appearance, and from now on maybe it'd be better if Larry Bowa is sent to the mound.

Would you want to disappoint him?

THERE WAS almost no reaction from the crowd when former Dodger Pedro Martinez was introduced before the game. Martinez, who starts today, has pitched in 38 games in Dodger Stadium over the years while compiling a 7-7 record.

Martinez versus Vicente Padilla, yeah, we all saw that coming a few months ago.

AS FOR the McCourts, I would guess the nickname the Screaming Meanie probably hits a little too close to home, but I can hardly go with the one I used previously, Frank's Old Lady.

With all that has been written about them on Page 2, there's never been the suggestion here they are bad people. They might be great parents and dear friends to those who know them.

As for running the Dodgers, they were learning on the job, too often appearing clueless. But right now they are people with troubles, and no one likes to see such a thing. Their timing, though, remains horrendous.

Here are two people who wouldn't acknowledge for weeks and weeks they were going to be the owners of the Dodgers, ignoring the criticism but suddenly going magpie with their personal problems just hours before the Dodgers were going to make their pitch for a World Series invite.

For two people who spent an inordinate amount of money going through image makers the last five years, when they needed someone the most to whisper in their ears to just shush up for a few more weeks, their last hire was already out looking for work.

WHEN THIS McCourt business is finally resolved, I just want to know, who gets custody of Lasorda?

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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