Opportunity knocked. The Dodgers didn’t answer.
Now they need to bounce back Friday with a win against the best road team in baseball or things could go downhill fast. All that’s because the Dodgers lost game one of the League Championship Series 8-6.
The Philadelphia bullpen was supposed to be a weak spot the Dodgers could attack. It was — Los Angeles had the bases loaded in the sixth and men on base in every inning after. But the Dodgers hit just 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position, rarely taking advantage of their opportunities.
The Dodger bullpen was supposed to be its strong point, especially with lefthander George Sherrill setting up in the eighth inning. But Sherrill gave up two walks and a three-run homer. The Phillies grabbed their opportunities.
That’s why they are World Champions. It’s what the Dodgers will need to do in the rest of this series if they want a shot at that title.
Not all the blame for the loss falls on the Dodgers players — Joe Torre has the best bullpen in baseball, but it can’t help you if you don’t use it. For the first time this playoffs, Torre stuck with his starter hoping he could work his way out of trouble and the result was a five-run fifth inning for the Phillies.
Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw was great through four innings, but with two outs in the fourth two boarder line calls — okay, they were strikes — were called balls against Phillies power hitter Ryan Howard, who walked. After that, the young Kershaw was never quite right. He got out of the fourth but on a fly ball out to the warning track.
Then in the fifth he couldn’t find the strike zone. Kershaw had three wild pitches in the inning — a League Championship Series record. Worse yet was the three run homer by Carlos Ruiz that put the Phillies up 3-1. Then there was the two-run double by Ryan Howard to make it 5-1, still with Kershaw in the game.
In the first game of the previous series against the Cardinals, starter Randy Wolf got in trouble and Torre didn’t hesitate, pulling him in the fourth inning. He did hesitate Thursday, and it cost his team.
Fortunately, the patience of the Dodgers hitters through the first four innings — racking up the pitch count on Phillies starter Cole Hamels — paid off in the fifth. Helped out by a blown double-play ball by the Phillies infield that brought Manny Ramirez to the plate with Andrew Either on bas., Manny reminded the Phillies his slump was over — well, it is if you keep throwing him off-speed stuff and not fastballs — and hit a homer deep into the right field bleachers.
It was 5-4 Phillies in the eighth when Torre made what should have been a smart move, going to Sherrill, who had made 33 appearances for the Dodgers this season and given up just four earned runs. But when he gave up three Thursday the game was all but over.
Maybe if Casey Blake can get one hit for the Dodgers things are different. But you have to take advantage of your opportunities. Dodger fans better hope they start doing that fast.