Hiroki Kuroda in five innings Tuesday convinced manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt that the herniated disk in his neck was healed. Of course, he wasn't facing any Ryan Howards or Jayson Werths in Arizona.
Howard and Werth showed up on a chilly Philly Sunday night, though, and so did starter Cliff Lee. The combination overwhelmed the Dodgers in their worst postseason loss in 50 years, an 11-0 rout as the Phils took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers have trailed in the NLCS 2-1 three times, winning in 1988 (best of seven) and 1981 (best of five) and losing last year.
"You know, they scored 11 runs, they only beat us once," Torre said. "So that's good news for us. You never want to get your rear end kicked, there's no doubt about it. But these games, you don't toss and turn wondering, 'If I had made this move or that move.' This is one you can put away a lot quicker even though it's a lot uglier than most."
Putting it away will be tougher for Kuroda. Dealing with game-time temperatures of 46 degrees, he wasn't out there long enough to work up a cold sweat. He was charged with six runs in 1 1/3 innings for an ERA of 40.50, unable to duplicate his victory over the Phillies in last year's NLCS when he stepped up after the Dodgers appeared intimidated losing the first two games.
Kuroda rejected rustiness, injury and weather as excuses for the way he pitched after missing nearly three weeks with a herniated disk in his neck.
"Everybody knew it was a critical game," he said. "Everybody expected to win, everybody expected me to win. I needed to come through and I didn't. I need to close the book and start a new chapter. I still hope to pitch again in this series."
That won't happen unless the Dodgers turn back into the team that led the NL in batting average, team ERA and, most of all, wins.
Whatever happened to those hitters that had gained so much confidence after dispatching the Cardinals' dual aces, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright? They were shut out for the first time in the postseason since 1993 (also by the Phillies) and are batting .234 in the series.
|2009||NLCS 3||PHI 11, LAD 0||11|
|1959||WS 1||CWS 11, LAD 0||11|
|1985||NLCS 4||STL 12, LAD 2||10|
|1978||WS 5||NYY 12, LAD 2||10|
|1995||NLDS 3||CIN 10, LAD 1||9|
|1956||WS 7||NYY 9, BRK 0||9|
They should have known what they were in for with Lee, the left-hander for whom the Phillies outbid them at the Trade Deadline. Lee allowed only three singles (two by Manny Ramirez), struck out 10 in eight scoreless innings and didn't let a Dodgers baserunner reach second base until the seventh inning.
The Dodgers had only five singles in winning Game 2 and in the past two games have scored on an error and a walk. Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake are 1-for-11 each in the series.
"This is a very disappointing game for everybody," said Furcal, who was 6-for-12 in the NL Division Series sweep of St. Louis. "Lee pitched a great game, threw the ball wherever he wanted. They've got to win two more games. We didn't lose yet."
Torre, meanwhile, stood by his call to start Kuroda, who hadn't pitched in a Major League game since getting whacked in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28.
"I don't second-guess the decision because we made it on what we saw, and his bullpen [two days later] was good for this start," Torre said. "He came into the game, and he just didn't -- the ball didn't behave. That's basically all I can tell you about that. But if there was -- if it was a rust situation, it wouldn't have shown up the way it did, I don't think, because he threw strikes, nothing but strikes, when I saw him."
Hittable strikes. Howard tripled in a pair and Werth followed with a two-run homer that rocketed through the wind in a four-run first inning off Kuroda, who had been left off the Division Series postseason roster.
"We went up there, took pitches, got good pitches to hit and hit them," Howard said of the Phillies, who have had little success against Kuroda in the past. "It's really simple, really simple. But I think we made a lot of adjustments up there and really just tried to work counts."
Even with Vicente Padilla's strong start in Game 2, the Dodgers' three-game ERA is 6.92 in the series compared to 2.00 against St. Louis. In the Cardinals series, the Dodgers contained Albert Pujols to one RBI and no extra-base hits. But Howard already has six RBIs and three extra-base hits.
The early onslaught fueled the hometown crowd into a frenzy in a repeat of the Dodgers' visit here a year ago. Then the Dodgers, a team that prides itself on playing all 27 outs, seemed to pack it in early. Lee makes a lot of clubs look like they pack it in.
"There was a lot of losing to think about from the first inning on," right fielder Andre Ethier said. "This is still a tough one to take, and we have to figure a way to get a win tomorrow. We're facing good pitching, sometimes you run into that. We faced two in the first series and got it done. These guys are getting it done."
Chad Billingsley, bumped from the rotation by Kuroda's return, ate up 3 1/3 innings in long relief, but also was charged with two runs. Billingsley mopped up a year after starting (and losing) two games against the Phillies in the NLCS.
Shane Victorino, a former Dodgers farmhand, delivered the final blow, a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth off Ronald Belisario.
Kuroda was in trouble from the second batter, Victorino, who singled, stole second and was stopped at third on Chase Utley's single to right. Kuroda was unable to get a fastball far enough inside to Howard, who tripled into the right-field corner for two runs.
Former Dodgers outfielder Werth was next and caught a 2-1 fastball thigh-high down the middle, launching it off the ivy-covered wall in center field, 427 feet away. Kuroda finished off the first inning with no more damage, but Dodgers killer Carlos Ruiz doubled to open the second and when Jimmy Rollins doubled him home, Kuroda was done.
That made for the shortest Dodgers NLCS start since 1983, coincidentally also by a pitcher contending with an injury. Bob Welch left that Game 3 with numbness in his leg, the result of an injection the previous day that struck a nerve. The last Dodgers starter failing to finish two innings in the postseason was John Tudor in the 1988 World Series.
Scott Elbert relieved Kuroda and walked Victorino and Utley to load the bases for Howard, who tapped out for his third RBI. In the Phillies' fifth, Pedro Feliz tripled in a run and was singled home by Ruiz.
The loss margin was the largest for the Dodgers in the postseason since an 11-0 defeat to the White Sox in Game 1 of the 1959 World Series.