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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Chris Capuano comes to Dodgers rescue

Left-hander takes over for an ineffective Hyun-Jin Ryu and gives team's pitching staff a shot in the arm in victory over Atlanta.

October 07, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Dodgers reliever Chris Capuano made his playoff debut on Sunday night at age 35.
Dodgers reliever Chris Capuano made his playoff debut on Sunday night at… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

In 2007, Chris Capuano appeared in an episode of "The Young and the Restless." He is no longer young, but the restless part is still in play.

If you're good enough to get paid to play ball for a decade, you ought to get into the playoffs sometime, at least one time.

Capuano made his postseason debut Sunday, at age 35, in an unfamiliar role. He just might have saved the Dodgers' season.

"That was as nervous as I've been since I first stepped on a big league mound," he said.

After Hyun-Jin Ryu got nine outs and gave up four runs, Capuano got nine outs without giving up a hit. The Dodgers' offense took it from there, with a 13-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Capuano was the winning pitcher.

The Dodgers lead the series two games to one, with Ricky Nolasco set to start Monday. With a victory, the home team advances to the National League Championship Series.

The Dodgers could go for the kill with Clayton Kershaw in Game 4, but that would make little sense. Kershaw never has started on short rest, and the Dodgers put themselves in good position no matter what happens in Game 4.

If they lose Monday, they have their ace for Game 5. If they win Monday, they have their ace for Game 1 of the league Championship Series.

"He's our future," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "You don't want to mess around with it."

Ryu, the first South Korean pitcher to start a postseason game in the major leagues, carried the hopes of his country with him. With Shin-Soo Choo and the Cincinnati Reds eliminated, Ryu is the last South Korean player in the postseason.

In Seoul, the game started at 9 a.m. Monday. The country went back to work a little after 10, and after three innings in which Ryu could not command his curve or slider well enough to rely on either one.

The Dodgers raised the local alert level to red by having their team doctor watch Ryu throw his bullpen session Friday. Ryu insisted he is not pitching with any injury.

"I know myself better than anyone else," he said through a translator. "If I'm not hurt, it doesn't matter what people say."

Ryu faced 16 batters, with nine reaching base. He also missed first base trying to catch a relay throw, then threw to the plate on a comebacker when he had no chance to get the runner. He called the latter play "a thoughtless mistake" and said both plays were "completely my fault."

Manager Don Mattingly said he would not hesitate to start Ryu if the team advances to the Championship Series.

"We don't turn our back on guys that have had great seasons for us after one game," Mattingly said.

Capuano did not have a great season, but he had a great game. He had not pitched even two innings in a game since August, but he gobbled up three Sunday, enabling the Dodgers to save Chris Withrow as a long man behind Nolasco on Monday. In his three most recent starts, the last on Sept. 25, Nolasco gave up a total of 19 runs in 12 innings.

There was a time when the Dodgers had three too many starters, and Capuano was one of the three. Aaron Harang was traded in the first week of the season. Ted Lilly was cut in August after two stints on the disabled list.

Capuano served two stints on the disabled list too, and a September groin injury meant he would make the playoff roster as a reliever or not at all. If the Braves did not have three left-handed hitters in the first five spots in their batting order — Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann — Capuano might well have been watching this series on television.

"It's unlike anything I've ever experienced," Capuano said of his postseason debut. "It's a whole other level of excitement. It's just awesome."

No doubt. He is 35, and he can finally say he has appeared in just as many postseason games as soap opera episodes.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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