The Dodgers opened up the 2008 National League Division Series in a way that not many outside of the friendly confines of Chavez Ravine thought they would: by winning.
Derek Lowe pitched six solid innings and a three-pitcher combination came out of the Dodgers' bullpen to put the Cubs away in front of a lackluster crowd at Wrigley Field.
Lowe allowed seven hits and two earned runs, walked one, and struck out six on his way to his third career playoff victory. The two earned runs came in the bottom of the second inning with Mark DeRosa's two-run home run that drove in Jim Edmonds, giving the Cubs an early 2-0 lead. The fans at Wrigley field came alive with the homer and would remain rather loud until the top of the fifth inning.
Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, who was 14-3 at Wrigley during the regular season, walked two straight batters with two outs to load the bases for Dodgers' first baseman James Loney. Loney took two gargantuan swings on Dempster's first two pitches, raising the Cubs fans to their feet.
He silenced them almost immediately, blasting Dempster's 1-2 pitch over the ivy in center field to give the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. They would never look back.
The home run would spell the end of a tough night for Dempster, whom Cubs Manager Lou Piniella said had his worst night of the season, control-wise. Dempster walked a season-high seven batters, twice walking the bases loaded.
He allowed only four hits, and only one of his four earned runs recorded a hit before crossing the plate. The Cubs' bullpen was not much better, as Sean Marshall, rookie Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Marquis—the Cubs' fifth starter during the season—combined to allow three runs in relief.
Marshall pitched two-and-a-third innings of one-hit ball, but the one hit was a solo home run by Manny Ramirez. Samardzija, who also struggled with control, allowed an RBI-single by Casey Blake in the eighth inning after rookie second baseman Blake DeWitt doubled to lead off the inning for the Dodgers.
Marquis allowed a solo home run to catcher Russell Martin in the top of the ninth for the final margin.
Lowe pitched himself out of a couple of jams to prevent further damage after DeRosa's second-inning homer. In the bottom of the fourth, Lowe allowed two-straight singles to DeRosa and Ryan Theriot before striking out Dempster, who had singled earlier.
In the bottom of the sixth, Cubs third-baseman Aramis Ramirez doubled to start off the inning before Lowe struck out Geovany Soto and got Edmonds to ground out to second, advancing Ramirez to third.
With the runner on third, the crowd came to the aid of DeRosa, who came to the plate after having homered and singled in his first two at-bats. Lowe went to work on DeRosa, and eventually forced the flyball to right field to end the inning and the evening for Lowe.
Rookie Corey Wade came on in relief for Lowe, allowing a hit before striking out Kosuke Fukudome to end the inning. Wade was credited with the hold in his first career playoff appearance.
The original pitching plan for Torre was to pitch Jonathan Broxton in the set-up role and Takashi Saito, who is still recovering from an elbow injury in the middle of the year, in the closer role he held for the entire season, when healthy.
Broxton pitched after Wade in the bottom of the eighth, walking Soto and retiring Edmonds on a flyball to deep center that looked for a moment as though it would clear the wall. Broxton was strong in his first postseason appearance, throwing pitches that registered near 100 MPH on the radar gun and making batters miss with pure heat.
After Martin's home run in the top of the ninth, Torre decided to sit Saito down after having him warm up the previous two innings. With a five-run lead, Torre most likely put Saito back on the shelf to ensure he would be ready Thursday night, if a save situation arose.
Since Saito is still in the healing stage, pitching on back-to-back nights could put extra soreness in the elbow; something the Dodgers intend to avoid whenever possible.
Dodgers' midseason acquisition, future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux, came in to pitch the ninth, allowing Theriot to reach third after a single and a fielder's indifference moved him to second base and veteran Daryle Ward grounded out; moving him over. Maddux retired Alfonso Soriano on a pop-up to shallow right to end the game.
If the Dodgers can get the kind of offensive production and solid pitching that they got on Wednesday night, they could be playing deep into October. The Dodgers played with confidence and poise, showing no signs of a team filled with the youth that they are.
The Cubs, on the other hand, could be on their way to extending the Curse of the Goat if they cannot get any more production than they showed in Game One. The Cubs left eight runners on base and brought only two runs across on nine hits.
If the pitching does not improve, the hot bats that have been in the hands of the Dodgers down the stretch could wind up burning the Cubs.
Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.91 ERA) will take the mound on Thursday for the Cubs against the Dodgers' young Chad Billingsley (16-10, 3.14 ERA), who has been lights out in his last few starts.
Game Two will be crucial for the Cubs, as the series heads out to Los Angeles on Saturday. If the Cubs travel to L.A. down 0-2, chances are they won't make it back to the windy city.