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BILL PLASCHKE

Broxton's past with Stairs is heartbreakingly presence in Dodgers' loss

The closer appears spooked by the memory of giving up key homer in last year's NL Championship Series, walking him in Monday's Game 4 and setting up eventual game-winner for Philadelphia.

October 20, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM PHILADELPHIA — History will show that the Dodgers lost when Jonathan Broxton's fastball was hit.

Honesty will show that they lost when his fastball was haunted.

The crack of Jimmy Rollins' line drive, the roar of a stunned crowd, the shaking of a chilled stadium will live forever in the minds of those who witnessed an incomparable Dodgers' heartbreak.

But it is the soft shuffle of Matt Stairs jogging toward first base three batters earlier that will live forever with the man who caused it.

With two out in the ninth inning Monday, two strikes from a Dodgers victory that would even this National League Championship Series, Rollins hit a two-run double into the right-field gap against Broxton to give the Philadelphia Phillies a shocking 5-4 victory and probably insurmountable three games to one lead.

But the game wasn't lost then, Broxton fighting a fierce battle with a former league MVP.

The game was lost moments earlier, when Broxton folded in a timid battle with his ghost.

"Yeah, it's stunning," said Andre Ethier, shaking his head in a somber Dodgers clubhouse. "But we've said all year around here, anything can happen."

Anything can happen, but not this.

For a young team to take the next step, not this. For a great team to become a championship team, not this.

Your closer cannot be spooked by a memory. Your closer cannot be crushed by his past.

But that is exactly what happened with one out and the bases empty in the ninth inning of Game 4 when pinch-hitter Stairs came to the plate.

Yep, the same Matt Stairs who faced Broxton in the eighth inning of Game 4 of last year's NLCS.

Yep, the same guy who rocked Broxton for a two-run homer deep into the Dodger Stadium right-field pavilion that gave the Phillies the victory in that game and eventually the series.

Some wondered how the kid reliever would ever recover from such a blow.

Now we know that he probably has not.

"This is hard, this puts us in a hole," said Broxton afterward, facing the media with a reddened face and vacant stare.

The hole was dug with Stairs, who came to the plate with no hits in just one postseason at-bat, hardly a dangerous hitter after spending a cold night on the bench.

But this wasn't just any hitter. To Broxton, this was a former mugger.

Another closer might have felt like shouting, "I've been waiting a year for this!"

Broxton, however, essentially covered his eyes and said nothing.

His first pitch to Stairs was about 100 mph. But it was also outside the strike zone.

Said Stairs: "I thought, 'Oh Lord.' "

Said Broxton: "I never want to give it up to a guy off the bench."

The next pitch was a ball. Then another ball. Then another ball.

Said Stairs: "He just couldn't throw strikes."

Said Broxton: "I wasn't going to give him anything to hit."

When Stairs walked to first base, you could almost see the Dodgers' chins dropping.

Moments later, eyes were surely rolling when Broxton lost a fastball that hit Carlos Ruiz in the arm.

The memory of Stairs had cost him not one, but two baserunners.

"I just let it get away," said Broxton.

Two batters later, on a 1-and-1 fastball, Rollins put it away by driving the ball into the gap that skipped beyond a chasing Ethier and bounced to the fence.

Rollins danced around second base and shook his fist in the air. His Phillies teammates charged out of the dugout and smothered him in a pile of amazement.

Broxton backed toward the dugout, then turned and disappeared inside without even watching Ruiz score the winning run.

Hard to blame him. This was as difficult to watch as any Dodgers loss in recent memory.

Gone was a strong start by Randy Wolf, gone was a comeback from a 2-0 deficit, gone was the scoreless bullpen work from Ronald Belisario, Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill.

Gone was the feeling that the Dodgers had overcome the sting of Sunday's 11-0 defeat and had grabbed the advantage in a series that was certain to return to Dodger Stadium.

Not anymore. After today's day off, the Dodgers can survive only if Vicente Padilla can outduel Phillies ace Cole Hamels on Wednesday here in Game 5.

Citizens Bank Park will be rocking. The Phillies offense will be swinging. And if Broxton gets back into the game, no doubt, Stairs will be somewhere in the darkness, waiting.

"A day off will be a good thing, to step off of this and take a needed break," said Orlando Hudson.

Maybe the Dodgers' front office will use the time to reflect, again, on the fact that weak starting pitching has strained the bullpen, surely a factor in Broxton's late weariness.

But more important, maybe Broxton will use the time to reflect on the most important mental part of his job.

Closers forget. He could not.

The nightmare this created Monday is one that the Dodgers will remember forever.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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