Walk-off homer spoils Lowe's gem
Righty holds Marlins scoreless unitl ninth-inning blast
MIAMI -- Holy Jack Clark, the Dodgers lost Thursday on a three-run homer in the ninth inning with first-base open.This was not the way Derek Lowe hoped to pitch the first complete game of the season. Eight scoreless innings at Dolphin Stadium down the drain on a walk to Hanley Ramirez leading off the bottom of the ninth, an error by third baseman Wilson Betemit on Dan Uggla's potential double-play bouncer and, one out later, a three-run blast by Josh Willingham for a 3-0 Marlins win, their second walk-off victory of the series. Lowe pitched the best game of the year until the last pitch of the game, which left him so upset he could barely speak to reporters. "It was right down the middle, and he hit it for a home run. We all saw the game, what else is there to say?" asked Lowe. "If it's 1-0 or 10-9, it doesn't matter. The bottom line is, it was right down the middle when I was trying to get a ground ball." Just before the homer, manager Grady Little went to the mound to confirm what he already knew -- that after Miguel Cabrera's tapper back to Lowe moved Ramirez and Uggla to third and second, Lowe did not want to walk Willingham to face Aaron Boone. Earlier in the game, Willingham had struck out looking, grounded sharply into a double play and bounced out. Boone had grounded out, struck out and doubled. "The game dictates to do that [walk Willingham], but with that pitcher on the mound and his history, he makes a living off the hitter's aggressiveness," said Little. "He just misfired on one pitch, and that was it." Lowe -- who has not issued an intentional walk this season and has only three since joining the Dodgers in 2005 -- was in agreement with the strategy. "I don't like doing that [intentional walks to load the bases]," he said. "A wild pitch, and the run scores. You're forced to throw strikes, pretty much." And the plan was not to throw strikes, at least not one that could be hit 409 feet. But for the focus to be on one Lowe pitch when he made about 93 good ones would be to ignore the true problem the Dodgers are now dealing with -- an offense that was blanked for eight innings by Sergio Mitre, who lowered his ERA to 2.13. Little, who juggled the lineup again for the early day game, is not ignoring it. "[Mitre] pitched a good game, but he caught us at a good time," said Little. "We've got to get things ironed out. We need to be more productive offensively, that's the bottom line. We'll do something different and may start as early as tomorrow. We need a change of scenery a little bit." Little wouldn't commit to whether that meant a further benching of slumping starters or the callup of a favored hitter like outfielder Matt Kemp or infielder Tony Abreu. The Dodgers' offense had only three hits in this game, two by Juan Pierre, who also stole two bases and walked in the leadoff spot as Rafael Furcal had the day off. Little wouldn't rule out the possibility of Pierre (.275) replacing Furcal (.226) again at the top of the order when the club returns on Friday night for the start of a six-game homestand. Nomar Garciaparra, returning after a 2-for-21 tailspin led to a one-game benching, singled in the fourth inning, but afterward beat himself up for fouling out with Pierre on third base and one out in the sixth. "That loss shouldn't be on Derek, it should be on us and particularly on me," he said. "If I get that run in, we're leading and going to the closer in the ninth. I tip my hat to Sergio Mitre, but sometimes you've got to capitalize on opportunities to pick up your guy. I was just trying to get one up in the air for a sacrifice fly. Obviously, personally it's frustrating." But the six-game trip started and ended with shutouts. Although a break-even trip is traditionally acceptable, losing two games in the bottom of the ninth inning isn't. The Dodgers averaged less than three runs a game on the trip and are averaging 3.7 runs over their last 17 games. "It's really tough to have a pitcher give that kind of effort for eight innings," Little said of Lowe. "It's a shame we couldn't get runs early in the game, but it didn't happen."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.