10/14/08 10:10 PM EST
LA focused only on business at hand
Torre preparing to win Game 5 and send NLCS back to Philly
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
But four current Dodgers have. Greg Maddux was on the 1996 Atlanta Braves, who rallied to beat the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. Juan Pierre was on the 2003 Florida Marlins, who beat the Cubs. Derek Lowe and Manny Ramirez were on the 2004 Red Sox, who really did it the hard way, losing the first three games of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees, winning the next four. Ramirez also did it with the Red Sox last year against Cleveland.
The exceptions prove the rule of how enormous the task faced by the Dodgers -- winning the next three games against the Phillies -- if they are to advance to the World Series for the first time in 20 years.
Manager Joe Torre, however, wants his club to focus only on Wednesday's Game 5.
"The thing is, knowing we have to win the remaining games of this series, you could go at it thinking that, as opposed to winning tomorrow," said Torre. "I think that could be a hindrance for you. What we have to do is make sure we just go out and put the blinders on tomorrow and win tomorrow and then concern ourselves with the next game and hopefully in Game 7 again.
"We have to think in terms of not looking too far ahead. We know we lost six games in Philly. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Our goal is to be on the plane Thursday."
Monday's Game 4 was decided by Dodgers pitchers, specifically the bullpen, pressed into early action when Torre decided that five innings were enough from starter Lowe on three days' rest. What followed were two blown saves and a relief loss. Four Dodgers relievers allowed runs, the crushers being eighth-inning homers from Shane Victorino, off Cory Wade, and Matt Stairs, off Jonathan Broxton.
Phillies closer Brad Lidge has 46 consecutive saves. Counting the postseason, Lidge has as many saves since the All-Star break (26) as the career totals of the eight Dodgers relievers combined.
|The Dodgers have a 3-1 hill to climb, but it has been done before. Here are the 10 teams that have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, including five that closed out the series on the road:|
|* Won final two on the road.|
Assuming Phillies starter Cole Hamels pitches anywhere close to the way he did in Game 1, even if Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley bounces back from his Philadelphia disaster, it's hard to imagine the Dodgers not needing this bullpen to win Wednesday and keep the team alive for a Thursday flight back east. Are the young Dodgers relievers up to it?
"Once you get to the point of a postseason roster, you can't guard anybody experience-wise or inexperience-wise," said Torre. "I think these kids have all shown enough courage. It's a crapshoot as far as being too amped up or not. One thing they won't be is afraid. That's what you guard against -- a look in the eye that they don't want to be in the game. That's not the case with any of them. As far as being overaggressive, you can't say, 'Calm down.'"
The manager, who had a meal ticket like Mariano Rivera throughout a 12-year postseason stint with the Yankees, has been piecing together his bullpen since convening in Vero Beach, Fla., in February. While Torre was the target of plenty of second-guessing for his decisions Monday, many resulted from the ripple effects of the unavailability of closer Takashi Saito and the brittle condition of Hong-Chih Kuo's elbow.
Saito, a closer extraordinaire his first two seasons, was taken off the roster for this series because his mechanics and confidence were still shot after missing two months with a torn elbow ligament. Kuo's elbow has been a ticking time bomb after four operations and, currently dealing with a bone bruise in the back of the elbow, he's virtually on a pitch-to-pitch basis.
After Kuo overpowered the top of the Phillies' lineup in a 1-2-3 seventh inning, Torre couldn't help but send him back out to get Ryan Howard leading off the eighth. But Kuo's elbow is in such a delicate state, that the 10-minute shutdown while the Dodgers batted in the bottom of the seventh resulted in a very different Kuo taking the mound than the one that was firing 97-mph fastballs the previous inning. One of his warmup pitches bounced, another sailed to the screen and Torre feared he was on borrowed time.
Howard led off with a single and Torre went to Wade, although he had pitched two innings the previous night. Victorino took him deep to tie the game and with the go-ahead run on base, Torre needed Broxton to stop the damage, but he couldn't, as he fell behind Stairs and the pinch-hitter put the Dodgers behind.
The Dodgers' bullpen ranked second in the league behind the Phillies this year, but the version Torre selected for this series consists of three rookies (Clayton Kershaw, Wade and James McDonald), two veteran former starters (Maddux and Chan Ho Park), Kuo, a veteran situational lefty in Joe Beimel and in Broxton, a 24-year-old who has closed for two months. Torre said he expects Kuo to be available for an inning Wednesday.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.