Dodgers let Billingsley gem slip away

Dodgers let Billingsley gem slip away

NEW YORK -- Since Dodgers relievers last converted a save opportunity, they've blown four. Already, the starting pitching went through a spell of short outings, the injury-depleted offense is barely getting by and now there's the bullpen to worry about.

For the second time on this trip, a Dodgers starter left with a lead after seven scoreless innings and the team was unable to hang on to win. Saturday, it was Chad Billingsley's gritty effort being spoiled, when setup man Jonathan Broxton struggled in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Mets. Closer Takashi Saito never got in the game.

The Dodgers can't expect those 9-5 wins like Friday night to become the game plan. They know they must be able to win games like this one.

For that to happen, they'll need a better performance from their main setup man. After watching Broxton allow a two-run homer to Carlos Beltran and a game-winning single to Fernando Tatis, manager Joe Torre said Broxton "has been consistent for us. It's just one of those things. It looked like his stuff was good. I'm not concerned as long as he's feeling all right and he's honest in that regard."

In truth, Torre has never really seen the Broxton that had been the most reliable setup man in the league, with a fastball that was regularly clocked in the high-90s. That Broxton had a 1.80 ERA and a .208 opponents batting average over the second half of 2006 and a .196 average against right-handers for the year.

For the first two-thirds of 2007, Broxton kept up his amazing pace, running his streak of not allowing a home run to 94 games from July 23, 2006-Aug. 21, 2007. But the home run he allowed to Tad Iguchi on Aug. 23 signaled a new Broxton, one who allowed six home runs in his final 17 games of 2007, along with three blown saves. His ERA over the last 13 outings last year was 7.84.

The hope was that Broxton was just a little ragged from 162 appearances in two seasons and that he would return in 2008 in his previous form. And to some extent, he has. He still has a 3-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, still has a fastball in the upper-90s and came into this game with right-handed opponents batting only .158.

But his overall ERA is now 4.94 (two runs higher than his career average), he's come up short in protecting three saves in the last week (four on the season), and when left-handed hitters make contact now, it's often for extra bases. Broxton pitched a perfect inning Friday night, but his ERA when he's pitching with no days' rest is 5.87, compared to 1.59 with one day rest.

Torre couldn't be faulted for turning over a two-run lead to Broxton after Billingsley had made 109 pitches, having to escape jams with runners in scoring position in five different innings, including his last one.

The Mets were sending up the heart of their order -- David Wright, Beltran and Carlos Delgado. But against Broxton lifetime, Wright was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts, Beltran was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and Delgado was 2-for-5 with two strikeouts.

Wright doubled and Beltran launched an 0-1 slider that was right into his swing path. Delgado singled and was removed for pinch-runner Nick Evans, who was bunted to second by Damion Easley. Torre then had Brian Schneider walked intentionally to bring up Fernando Tatis, who didn't make the Dodgers out of last year's Spring Training. His clean single -- on another slider -- scored Evans and won the game.

Afterward, Broxton said he felt fine, that the strained lat muscle that sidelined him for a week one month ago was healed. So, what went wrong?

"I have no idea," Broxton said. "I felt great down there. I haven't looked at [the video], so I can't tell you. I just got hit around. You're going to get beat sometimes."

Bullpen coach Ken Howell said Broxton hasn't had trouble warming up and, other than the home run pitch, seemed to be throwing fine.

"Sometimes, you tip your hat to the other guys," Howell said. "It wasn't him."

Meanwhile, Billingsley took the tough-luck no-decision. His ERA over his past seven games is 1.53. He allowed four hits, all singles.

"Bills pitched his tail off," Torre said. "Chad did his job. We just couldn't finish it off."

The Dodgers gave Billingsley an early lead because of, and in spite of, Matt Kemp's baserunning. After Juan Pierre's single leading off the game, Kemp hit a soft single over first base and tested the arm of right fielder Endy Chavez, who would have thrown Kemp out easily except that shortstop Jose Reyes dropped the short-hop, allowing Pierre to score.

The Dodgers' other run scored in the fourth on a walk to Russell Martin and singles by Andre Ethier and Blake DeWitt.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.