10/14/08 3:35 AM ET
Homers put LA on brink of elimination
Wade, Broxton give up tying, go-ahead shots in decisive eighth
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
That's so everyone involved in the 7-5 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series can privately mull over the task at hand, which is enormous. The Dodgers must sweep the remaining three games, or they'll have all workouts canceled until Spring Training opens in Arizona.
Since the seven-game NLCS format was introduced, 11 previous teams have fallen behind 3-1, and only two have come back to advance to the World Series -- the 1996 Braves and 2003 Marlins.
"These guys are fighting their hearts out, and I just told them to be back here on Wednesday to be ready to play baseball," said Torre. "We have to win the remaining games. We can only do it one at a time. I sense we'll be back right here with the right attitude. These guys have been playing hard. There's a little inexperience sprinkled in, but we know that going in. But they're certainly not afraid. And I expect us to be out here on Wednesday and play hard."
It turned out that the Dodgers' emotional Game 3 win was not the momentum changer they had hoped. The real momentum changer was the pair of two-run homers in the eighth inning slugged by Phillies Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs.
Disappointing? Shocking? Stunning?
"How can it not be?" said Casey Blake, who homered in the sixth inning when the Dodgers took a 5-3 lead. "The fans were just as disappointed and shocked as we were."
The Dodgers have led in all four games, but won only once. In a game tied three times, the eighth inning was the tipping point for Game 4, and possibly the series. Victorino, the former Dodgers farmhand, homered off Cory Wade. Stairs, in a pinch-hitting appearance, duplicated the feat off Jonathan Broxton.
And those weren't the only Dodgers relievers who gave it up. Four of them allowed runs, two of them (Wade and Chan Ho Park) were charged with blown saves (a Dodgers postseason record) and six were used in all.
3-1 edge significant in NLCS
|With the Phillies' victory in Game 4, an NLCS stands at 3-1 for the 12th time since it became a best-of-seven series in 1985. Nine of the previous 11 teams went on to win its NLCS, with only the 2003 Marlins and 1996 Braves rallying from the 3-1 deficit to win three straight and take the series.|
|Year||Team up 3-1||Opponent||Final|
|NLCS winners in bold.|
The reason for that was the five-inning stint by Derek Lowe, pitching on three days' rest. Lowe allowed the first three batters hits, gave up two runs in the first inning, felt squeezed on a walk by plate umpire Ted Barrett and, after limiting the damage to two runs, returned to the Dodgers dugout and had a meltdown.
Lowe followed that with four scoreless innings -- including a 1-2-3 fifth against the top of the Phillies order. But with the Dodgers having just tied the game at 2 and Ryan Howard leading off the top of the sixth, Torre replaced his starter with 20-year-old rookie Clayton Kershaw. Lowe was, let's say, puzzled with his removal.
"I was fine," he said, having made 75 pitches. "That [the fifth] was the inning I was looking for, an easy, 1-2-3 inning. I went down the stairs to the men's room, but when I came back, they said that's it. That's all I can give you [the media]. I wish I had more. I was in the game."
Torre defended the decision.
"I thought at that point, especially when we took the lead, because it just looked like he was fighting his emotions the whole game," Torre said. "He said he felt fine. We were probably going to get only one more inning out of him anyway pitch-count-wise, and I just decided to make the move there.
The Dodgers bullpen, ranked second in the league behind Philadelphia's this year, was second to Philadelphia's in Game 4. Kershaw walked Howard, gave up a single to Pat Burrell and, after being removed, was charged with a run when Park wild-pitched home Howard. Torre used his second left-hander that inning, Joe Beimel, to get pinch-hitter Geoff Jenkins on an exciting one-pitch fly-ball catch from Andre Ethier.
The Dodgers scored twice in the sixth on Blake's solo homer and an unearned run when Howard's throwing error allowed Juan Pierre to score after his double. Up 5-3, Torre went to the back end of his bullpen and the last of three left-handers.
Hong-Chih Kuo, his elbow not sound enough to pitch in the previous series, overwhelmed the top of the Phillies order in a 1-2-3 seventh inning and Torre brought him back to face Howard leading off the eighth, but Kuo was wild warming up. Howard singled up the middle and on came Wade, even though he had pitched two innings the night before.
Burrell popped out, but Victorino, the target of Hiroki Kuroda's purpose pitch that led to a benches-clearing standoff in Game 3, lined a tying homer into the Phillies bullpen.
"I watched [Kuo] warm up and if he didn't get Howard out, I was going to go get him," Torre explained. "That's what I did. I don't think I can say I would do anything differently, really. Cory Wade's numbers against left-hand hitters this year has been really good. He threw a breaking ball and it stayed up and Shane just [crushed] it."
Wade allowed a two-out single to Carlos Ruiz and Torre went to Broxton, in the eighth inning of a tied game, instead of the ninth inning with a lead. He was greeted by Stairs' decisive shot.
"It was right over the middle and they capitalized on it," said Broxton, Torre's go-to guy the final two months of the season because of Takashi Saito's elbow injury.
Offensively, the Dodgers were effective against Phillies pitchers. Manny Ramirez had two hits and three walks, Rafael Furcal scored twice, James Loney had two more hits to raise his series average to .417 and Pierre went 2-for-3 in a spot start in place of Matt Kemp.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.