Clayton Kershaw wasn't ready for his close-up. Tabbed to start the opening game of the National League Championship Series, the 21-year-old Dodger lefty dazzled for the first four innings, holding the Phillies to a single and a pair of walks while striking out two, at times flashing the big-bending curve that Vin Scully termed "Public Enemy Number One" before the kid even had a day of major league service. Alas, he came unraveled in the fifth inning, and it was excruciating to watch.All night long, on both sides, it was lefty-on-lefty violence, the kind of thing that could drive an analyst whose central thesis in previewing the series was that the Dodgers were better suited to attack the Phillies' weaknesses and counteract their strengths based upon the balance of lefties in the lineup and bullpen. Instead, batter after batter seemed to defy my analysis and the percentage, with Howard and Raul Ibañez collecting the big blows off the lefties Kershaw and George Sherrill.
Joe Torre wasn't ready for his close-up either. Lauded in this space and elsewhere for his deft handling of his pitching staff during the Division Series — handling that included boldly giving struggling Game One starter Randy Wolf the hook despite a 3-2 lead with two outs in the fourth inning — the Dodger manager spit the bit on Thursday night. He fiddled while Kershaw became a deer in the headlights of the Phillies' Mack truck offense, all in an effort to prevent himself from having to use one of his three lefty relievers, and one of his six pinch-hitters. By the time he finally emerged from the dugout to pull Kershaw, five runs had scored.
It could have been prevented. By the time Kershaw surrendered the coup de grâce, a two-run double to Ryan Howard (yes, off of a lefty), he had already walked three hitters in the fifth, including the hacktastic Pedro Feliz and pitcher Cole Hamels. He had also surrendered two hits, a leadoff single to Raul Ibañez and a three-run homer to Carlos Ruiz. He had additionally set an LCS record by throwing three wild pitches in the inning. As Chase Utley flung his bat away to take his base, he had thrown 31 pitches amid this meltdown, and Torre had both lefty Scott Elbert and righty Ramon Troncoso warming up in the bullpen. Beyond the numbers, the kid appeared to be rushing his tempo and hemorrhaging self-confidence, but pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had already visited to the mound prior to Ruiz's at-bat — which worked like a charm, obviously — and catcher Russell Martin was putting on a performance behind the plate that was only slightly better than this guy, so he wasn't exactly in a position to be calming his rattled batterymate's nerves...
Torre stuck to the percentages, keeping his wild, flagging not-yet-ace southpaw matched up with a slugger who hit just .207/.298/.356 against lefties this year and owns just a .226/.310/.444 line against them in over 1,000 career plate appearances — the latter more than 300 points of OPS below his showing against righties. He left a 94 mph fastball over the plate, and Howard smoked it to right field, expanding a 3-1 lead to 5-1 and finally spelling the end of the night for Kershaw. The Dodgers would keep the game tight thanks to an off night by Hamels and some shakiness in the grand tradition of the Phillies bullpen, but they ultimately fell, 8-6.
Wheels (Virginia): Anyone care to lay odds on a 1 to 0 game with both starters around in the 8th inning?He very nearly had to eat his words and said shoe, just as the German New Wave film director (no relation to Whitey) famously did to pay off a bet with fellow director Errol Morris. Luckily for him, Martinez was pulled after seven shutout innings, still leading 1-0. Padilla got one out in the eighth before he departed to a thunderous ovation.
[KG]: If Pedro pitches into the eighth, I will, in honor of the great Werner Herzog, eat my shoe.
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