Dodgers Bullpen Collapses; Phillies One Win Away From World Series
The Dodgers failed to even the NLCS at two games apiece on Monday night and now face elimination in Game 5 on Wednesday. The Dodgers bullpen, usually a shutdown type group, was exposed for the first time in the postseason, and it could not have come at a worse time.
Game 4 got off to the same type of start that Game 3 did, only for the opposite team. Philadelphia’s first three hitters reached base, with Chase Utley’s double scoring the leadoff man Jimmy Rollins. Ryan Howard notched his first RBI of the season in the next at-bat, scoring Jason Werth. Dodgers’ starter Derek Lowe was in danger of being buried early with Utley on third and only one out. Lowe walked Pat Burrell and was faced with Shane Victorino, one of the hottest hitters on the Philly roster. After a chat with his catcher Russell Martin, Lowe got Victorino to ground into an inning ending double play, surviving a hairy first inning. The Dodgers responded immediately answered with a beautiful bunt single by Rafael Furcal to lead off the inning. That ignited the crowd and got the towels waving again. Andre Ethier grounded out to Utley, advancing Furcal to second. That brought Manny Ramirez to the plate with a runner on second and one out; RBI city. Phillies starter Joe Blanton recognized this and threw four intentional balls to Manny, putting him on first base and bringing Martin to the plate with two on. Martin struck out swinging, and it looked as though the Dodgers promising start to the inning might leave them empty handed. James Loney came to the plate and took two quick strikes, similar to his at-bat in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cubs. On cue, Loney took a Blanton pitch out to center and missed a home run by no more than four feet. The ball was good enough to score Furcal, and Ramirez was wisely held up at third by Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa. That brought up rookie Blake DeWitt, giving him another opportunity to drive in clutch runs. DeWitt got a solid bat on a ball that took off down the right field line, but Howard snagged it and ended the threat for the Phillies.
The pitchers took over for the next few innings, with nobody putting more than one base runner on until the bottom of the fifth when L.A.’s offense struck again. Furcal lead off the inning by drawing a walk from Blanton, and Ethier followed with a single to put runners on first and second with no outs and Manny coming to the plate. The Phillies had nowhere to put him, so Blanton was forced to pitch to him. Manny took the first pitch and put it in the gap between short and third to drive in Furcal. There was a play at the plate, advancing Ethier and Manny. Martin executed an RBI ground-out to shortstop in the next at-bat, scoring Ethier and putting the Dodgers in the lead. Chavez Ravine was rocking once again, and with only one out it looked as though the Dodgers were in for a big inning. Blanton buckled his seat belt, however, and after walking the streaking Loney got DeWitt to ground into an inning ending double play. DeWitt left a total of six men on base a night after driving home the go ahead runs early with a bases-clearing three-run triple.
The night was over for Lowe, and rookie phenom Clayton Kershaw took the mound for his second relief appearance of the post season. This one was nothing like his last, as Kershaw walked Howard to start the inning before allowing a single to Burrell to put runners on first and second with no outs. Victorino sacrificed to move the runners, and that was it for Kershaw. Chan Ho Park relieved him and got Pedro Feliz to pop out to right field, bringing the Dodger crowd to their feet with two outs and a chance to get out of the jam. Park could not keep his composure, though, and threw a wild pitch that scored Howard, tying the game. Park walked Carlos Ruiz after the wild pitch and was yanked for Joe Beimel, who was outstanding in the regular season. Beimel took care of business, popping pinch hitter So Taguchi out to end the inning.
Blanton was done for the evening as well, giving way to Chad Durbin. Casey Blake greeted Durbin by knocking his 1-2 pitch into the seats in left field, sending the Dodgers faithful into a frenzy and putting L.A. back on top. Juan Pierre, getting his first start of the postseason, continued his good showing, doubling to center to follow Blake’s shot. Matt Kemp pinch hit for Beimel, and drew a walk from Durbin, who headed to the dugout afterwards, giving way to Scott Eyre. Furcal laid a sacrifice bunt down the first base line, and a charging Howard threw the ball into right field trying to get the out at first. Pierre came around to score while Kemp and Furcal advanced, bringing up Ethier with no outs and two runners in scoring position. Ethier lined out to Howard and Manny was intentionally walked again, loading the bases for Martin. Martin hit a rocket to Utley at second, who snagged the catch and dove to the bag to complete the double play, preventing any further damage from the Dodgers. That play would prove to be key. Hong Chi Kuo came on for L.A. and retired the Phillies in order with a ground out and back to back strikeouts. The game looked like it was settling into place for the Dodgers, with their bullpen having been so effective this postseason. Ryan Madson pitched the seventh for the Phillies, putting runners on second and third for Kemp before retiring him on a line out to center.
Kuo started the eighth for the Dodgers, but was pulled after allowing a lead-off single by Howard. One night removed from a two-inning, one-hit performance, Corey Wade took the hill for the Dodgers. This night would be one he would want to forget. He retired Burrell for the first out of the inning, but on the first pitch to the pesky Victorino, the game was tied, as the ball lined over the right field wall, scoring Howard. The Dodgers crowd was silenced as the control they had over the game had just evaporated. Wade retired Feliz and faced Ruiz, who singled to left. That brought Matt Stairs, the 40-year old journeyman, to the plate to pinch hit for Madson. That also brought Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to the mound to stop the bleeding. Stairs absolutely jacked a two-run shot to the same place that Victorino did, stunning Broxton, who had not given up a home run since 2006, and the Dodgers crowd. Of all the likely heroes that the Phillies have throughout their lineup, it was Matt Stairs who put them on the cusp of clinching the NLCS and heading to the World Series.
The Dodgers tried to make a case for another bit of postseason heroics in the bottom half of the inning, as J.C. Romero walked Furcal to start the inning. Ethier couldn’t capitalize, and grounded into a double play in the next at-bat. The Phillies’ closer, Brad Lidge, perfect in 45 save opportunities this year including the postseason, came in to face Manny. Manny connected to right for a two-out double, bringing Martin to the plate representing the tying run. Lidge struck Martin out to end the inning, but the ball got away from Ruiz and squirted to the backstop, allowing the speedy Martin to reach first safely, continuing the inning. Loney came to the plate with a chance to add to his already thick folder of postseason memories this year. Loney popped out to left, ending the threat and ultimately the game for the Dodgers, as they would be retired in order in the ninth.
This shifts all of the momentum that the Dodgers gained from their Game 3 win back to the Phillies, who now have to win just one of the next three games to advance to their first World Series since 1993, when they lost to Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Dodgers must win the final home game of the series to be back in the discussion of perhaps making a comeback. Chad Billingsley will pitch Thursday for L.A. and ace Cole Hamels will take the hill for the Phillies. Do Manny and the Dodgers have enough left in the tank for an amazing comeback from 3-1 down to make it to the Fall Classic? We will know by the end of this weekend.
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