Dodgers can't recover from Phils' homers
Pair of three-run shots trump long balls by Manny, Loney
LOS ANGELES -- Good thing the Dodgers are so comfortable in the role of underdog because that's where they find themselves now.
Carlos Ruiz keyed a five-run fifth inning off Clayton Kershaw with a three-run homer and, after the Dodgers pulled to within a run, reliever George Sherrill allowed a three-run blast to Raul Ibanez in the eighth as the Dodgers absorbed an 8-6 loss in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night.
Home runs from Manny Ramirez and James Loney couldn't overcome the uncharacteristic collapse by the best pitching staff in the league in this rematch from last year, when the Dodgers lost in five games and twice to Thursday night winner Cole Hamels.
"Any time you win on the road the first game is definitely a big win," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "It sets up tomorrow's game and that gives us a chance to really go home looking good."
The Dodgers kept grinding away in this game, cutting a 5-1 deficit to 5-4, then an 8-4 deficit to 8-6. They had Ramirez, who homered in the fifth inning, at the plate representing the go-ahead run with two outs in the eighth inning, but he grounded out.
They ran up Hamels' pitch count to 106 when he was removed after 5 1/3 innings. They outhit the Phillies, 14-8, three each by Loney and Andre Ethier. They even had the bullpen duel they wanted.
But Sherrill walked the first two batters he faced, then allowed as many runs on one pitch to Ibanez as he had in the 2 1/2 months since his acquisition July 30. Sherrill has allowed four runs on five hits with three walks and a hit batter in 3 1/3 postseason innings.
"I think that was a shock for everybody," manager Joe Torre said of Sherrill. "But he'll get the ball tomorrow in the eighth inning. It's just one of those things."
The Dodgers double back for a must-win day game Friday. Since the League Championship Series moved to a seven-game format in 1985, the team taking a 1-0 lead in the NLCS has won 16 of 23 series, including 14 of the past 16. In the NLCS with the ALCS combined, the Game 1 winner is 28-18.
The Phillies are the 11th road team to take a 1-0 advantage in the NLCS since '85, with eight of the first 10 advancing to the World Series. The past seven road teams to win Game 1 have gone on to win the NLCS.
Kershaw -- chosen for this assignment instead of Randy Wolf, who started Game 1 in the first round -- showed why Torre would entrust a 21-year-old with the Game 1 start while allowing one hit over four scoreless innings.
But in the fifth, when a few close pitches weren't called strikes by plate umpire Randy Marsh, Kershaw suddenly turned into a 21-year-old. He allowed three walks, an NLCS-record-tying three wild pitches and the homer to Ruiz.
Torre -- having explained earlier to reporters that Don Zimmer taught him the postseason is no time to be patient with pitchers -- left Kershaw in long enough to allow five runs in one inning, the most in any of his starts since April 26. Most telling were the five walks Kershaw allowed.
"As quickly as it got away from him, where his pitch count was [50 in four innings], as far as I'm concerned, he's going to have to fight his way out of that, that early in the game," Torre said. "It looked like he tried to overthrow the ball. It looked like he got frustrated."
Kershaw had a 1-0 lead on a Loney homer in the second inning and had allowed only one hit until the fateful fifth, which he couldn't finish despite throwing 33 pitches.
"That's where a more veteran guy will step back away and slow it down," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "Greg Maddux used to say it best -- go slower. Young guys want to power it through."
Loney went more than a year between home runs at Dodger Stadium and had only one in 275 at-bats there during the regular season. But he caught a Hamels 2-1 fastball on the inner half of the plate and lined it over the right-field fence leading off the bottom of the second inning. It was Loney's first homer at home against a lefty since May 2008.
The only hit Kershaw allowed through the first four innings was former Dodgers farmhand Shane Victorino's broken-bat single to left with one out in the first inning.
Tough hill to climbSince the League Championship Series moved to a seven-game format in 1985, teams that have lost Game 1 have only won 18 of the 46 series combined between the two leagues. Here's the breakdown of how teams that lost Game 1 have fared:
But Kershaw said he lost command of his pitches in the fifth and couldn't adjust quickly enough.
"I really don't have an answer for it," Kershaw said. "I wish I knew. I didn't throw enough strikes and didn't get the job done. I lost my command and it just kind of skyrocketed on me."
Ibanez led off with a single, advanced to second on the first of three wild pitches in the inning and Pedro Feliz walked. Ruiz followed by tomahawking a 2-1 high fastball into the Mannywood box seats for a three-run homer. Kershaw then walked Hamels on four pitches and rookie Scott Elbert started warming up in the bullpen.
Kershaw got Jimmy Rollins on a forceout and struck out Victorino, but Chase Utley worked a walk. Torre let Kershaw face Ryan Howard, who laced a two-run double to right field for a 5-1 lead and Torre finally removed Kershaw.
"You know, to me he's the starting pitcher in Game 1, so I felt that that's what I wanted to do," Torre said, defending his decision to leave Kershaw in. "I've got a quality left-hander on the mound. Things didn't work out. We gave away too much as far as the number of walks we issued [seven, four of them scoring]. But I mean, this young man, I trust him a great deal and it just didn't work out tonight."
The Dodgers battled right back with three in the bottom of the fifth, which started with Russell Martin's ground-rule double. Rafael Furcal singled Martin to third and he scored when Utley's relay on Ethier's likely inning-ending double-play grounder sailed into the Philadelphia dugout.
The error cost the Phillies two more runs when, with the inning extended, Ramirez launched a 2-0 fastball into the pavilion in left-center. Ramirez not only showed he hadn't forgotten how to hit them, he also showed he hadn't forgotten how to watch them, standing at the plate until the ball was just about to land in the seats. The homer extended Ramirez's Major League postseason record to 29 and left him two behind Bernie Williams for the RBI record with 78.
Hamels was chased with a pair of one-out singles in the sixth, his pitch count up to 106. With two out, pinch-hitter Jim Thome walked off reliever J.A. Happ to load the bases, but Furcal grounded out.
The Dodgers answered the Ibanez homer with two runs in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI single by Martin and a sacrifice fly by Furcal, but Ramirez left runners on the corners with a groundout.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.