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Dodgers pay again for whiffing on Cliff Lee

The Dodgers bungled an opportunity to acquire the Cy Young winner at the trade deadline. Instead he went to the Phillies, and on Sunday night he came back to haunt L.A. by pitching a Game 3 gem.

October 19, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM PHILADELPHIA — On a blustery night featuring timid Dodgers offerings and furious Phillies hacks amid an angry stadium awash in blue blood, you know what I would have liked to see?

I would have liked to see those Dodgers prospects whom they liked more than Cliff Lee.

Now that would have been ugly.

Who are those guys? Where were those guys?

They needed to stand amid the ruins of Sunday's 11-0 Philadelphia Phillies victory to witness what the organization sacrificed to keep them.

They need to be part of this Dodgers tumble into the ropes in the National League Championship Series, the team falling behind two games to one after the franchise's worst postseason loss in 50 years.

They needed to be here, and we needed to see why.

Why did the Dodgers sacrifice the chance to acquire Lee, the starter stolen instead by the Phillies at the trading deadline, the guy who brilliantly held the Dodgers to three singles in eight innings of puzzled stares?

Why did the Dodgers sacrifice a sensible postseason rotation, forcing Joe Torre to hand the ball to a spooked Hiroki Kuroda, who threw it well for all of about one batter?

Why must this season now rest on the shoulders of Randy Wolf, tonight's Game 4 starter, in whom Torre has so little confidence that in the fourth inning of the division series opener he was yanked with a lead?

Was it worth this? Were these players worth this?

These have been questions asked several times in this space since Ned Colletti's trade-deadline whiff, and Sunday's embarrassment makes it perfectly fair to ask it again.

"It's just one loss," Russell Martin said afterward. "But at this point, every game means the world."

And one trade could have meant this game. Colletti has long said that his offer was better than Philadelphia's offer, but the Indians obviously didn't agree, and baseball folks say the Dodgers continue to overvalue their lower-level prospects.

Here's hoping those protected kids are named, I don't know, Koufax and Piazza?

Here's hoping that one of those protected players wasn't, as rumored, Chad Billingsley, who was finally forced into a game Sunday and responded by giving up two runs in less than four innings.

Whoever it was, what happened to the Dodgers here is a fundamental organizational flaw that has haunted them for a couple of years.

Last October, with no ace pitcher in this same NLCS against the Phillies, they were forced to use Derek Lowe on short rest.

On Sunday, also with a starting pitching shortage, they were forced to use Kuroda on 20 days' rest.

He was awful. He should not have been out there. He clearly hasn't recovered from the bulging disk in his neck that caused him to miss his final regular-season start and kept him off the roster for the division series.

"I have to come through, and I didn't come through," he said.

Not for more than a minute. His first two pitches of the game were balls. He fell behind every hitter in the first inning while giving up four runs on a Ryan Howard triple and a Jayson Werth homer.

He lasted three more hitters in the second inning before he was done, eventually charged with six runs in 1 1/3 innings, never even giving the Dodgers a chance.

"I felt fine," he said, which is pretty much what he has said since taking that horrifying line drive off his head in the middle of August.

He's not fine, and if this series goes to a Game 7, he should be nowhere near the field.

Of course, with the Phillies' horrid bullpen, even a six-run deficit seems manageable.

But against Lee, who has now given up two runs in 24 1/3 postseason innings, it was impossible.

''You can't just give up that six spot against this guy," said Martin. "You never have a chance."

Lee not only fooled the Dodgers such that only one player reached second base, he also struck out 10, including a memorable punch-out of Manny Ramirez.

Memorable, because it came as the Citizens Bank Park crowd chanted, "You took steroids. You took steroids."

Those were the loudest jeers Ramirez has heard since returning from his 50-day suspension in July. It added street insult to this night of great injury.

"What can you do?" said Ramirez, who remains a shell of the man who owned last October. "Everybody's trying."

The Dodgers are indeed trying, but on this night they just didn't have enough weapons. They know it now, they knew it in July, we all knew it.

The Dodgers needed an ace, and Toronto's Roy Halladay and Cleveland's Lee were available, yet Colletti decided to fortify the bullpen with George Sherrill instead.

For all the ways Colletti has respected Dodgers culture by building with pitching and defense, he has failed to adhere to their most important of traditions.

Did you know that a Dodger, Don Newcombe, was the first winner of the Cy Young Award? Did you know that the Dodgers won five of the first 11 Cy Young Awards?

Yet they have not had a starting pitcher win a Cy Young Award in 21 years. That was also, incidentally, the last time they won the World Series.

You think Kirk Gibson was the hero of the 1988 World Series? Think again. It was Orel Hershiser.

Two decades later, bitten again by October regret, the Dodgers wait for another bulldog.


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