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BILL PLASCHKE

In the end, Dodgers 'just didn't have what it takes'

They end up battered and bruised by Phillies for second year in a row, and must add to their pitching rotation if they have any hope of fulfilling promise everyone sees.

October 22, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM PHILADELPHIA — Nowhere, fast.

So describes the journey of the 2009 Dodgers, which ended Wednesday in a recognizably battered heap in the darkest part of a familiar dead end.

Again, it was the Philadelphia Phillies dancing on the grass.

Again, it was the Dodgers staring from the dugout.

Again, it was three wins and three light years short of a World Series.

"We thought we were better this year, we thought we had what it takes," said Matt Kemp afterward with a strange softness in his voice. "But we just didn't have what it takes."

Out on the Citizens Bank Park field, the Phillies were bubbly wet and giddily swaggering after a 10-4 pounding of the Dodgers to give them a four-games-to-one victory in the National League Championship Series.

"The playoffs are a whole different animal," said Ryan Howard, the series MVP. "You've got to step your game up."

In the whispering Dodgers clubhouse, ashen owner Frank McCourt was clearly upset that his team did not.

"A horrible, horrible feeling," McCourt said. "It just rips a hole in your stomach."

In an inner hallway, a different sort of rip was perhaps being mended, uniformed Manager Joe Torre stopping Jonathan Broxton as the embattled reliever was leaving in street clothes.

Broxton stuck out his hand. Torre grabbed it and pulled Broxton close in a full, prolonged hug.

"A learning process," Torre whispered to him.

Given this lineup and payroll, two years of learning should have been enough.

Despite having the best record in the National League, the Dodgers must now consider this season a failure.

"I did feel this year we were better equipped to play them," claimed McCourt. "We are making progress, and we will get it done."

For the Dodgers to fulfill that promise, the first bit of education must occur in the front office, which needs to realize something that everyone from here to Nicaragua now understands.

They need an ace, or they will continue to be NLCS jokers.

The fact that they had to start castoff Vicente Padilla in Wednesday's critical game makes one sort of statement.

The fact that Padilla was a complete wreck, giving up six runs in three innings, just confirms that statement.

In this championship series, the Dodger starters were 0-3 with a 12.59 ERA, and even the best bullpen in baseball couldn't save that.

At this moment, it appears the front office will pursue a No. 2 starter while believing that Clayton Kershaw will become their ace.

Isn't this a risk too large for a group of young players so good?

Kershaw folded as badly as anyone here, with a 9.45 ERA in two NLCS appearances. He is still only 21. He may not be ready for this.

The established Dodgers stars such as Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp will not shine without better pitching, and they know it. They were dominated this series by the midseason acquisitions Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, and now they want some of that.

"On the pitching front, the Phillies definitely did things that made them better," Ethier said. "We've decided we have guys who can do that over here, we just have to give them time to reach that level. It's all about faith."

Faith and hope are fine. A shut-down righty would be better.

When asked whether off-field issues would effect the club's ability to spend money, McCourt, who is enduring marital issues with wife and team president Jamie, was emphatic.

"Nothing has changed," he said. "Nothing has changed."

On the field, little really has to change.

The infield seems set, from Russell Martin to James Loney to Rafael Furcal to Casey Blake, with a possible platoon of Ronnie Belliard and Blake DeWitt playing second base.

The young bullpen is also set, with the hope that Broxton will indeed take Torre's advice and build on his Game 4 failure.

The only other issue is in the outfield. Particularly, left field. Yeah, Manny Ramirez.

His awful second half of the season ended in an array of wild swings and jeers Wednesday, beginning in the fifth inning with the Dodgers still trailing just 6-3.

With runners on first and second and facing new pitcher Chad Durbin, Ramirez bounced a ball in front of home plate, and he did not seem to run particularly hard, as he was easily thrown out to end the inning.

And here came the Philly chants . . .

"You take steroids," they screamed.

"Take a shower," they howled.

Ramirez hit .263 in this series with one extra-base hit and countless blown opportunities, and talk about faith.

The Dodgers must spend the winter praying that Ramirez relearns to hit with an untainted body.

Ramirez could opt out of his $20-million contract, but he won't, because nobody will give him anything close to that sort of money, so both parties are stuck with each other.

Yeah, it could get even uglier. And Wednesday night was truly ugly.

Standing in front of his locker, Kemp sniffed something sour and wrinkled his nose.

"Man, you are really starting to annoy me with that smell," he said to a cameraman.

The guy was, you guessed it, drenched in Phillies champagne.

Kemp said he was joking. But it's no longer funny.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillPlaschke

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