Dodgers sweep, stay tied atop West
Kuroda, Kuo team up for two-hitter on quiet night for Manny
LOS ANGELES -- Except for dreading the occasional dreadlock question, Joe Torre appreciates everything that Manny Ramirez brings to the Dodgers.
But even while Mannymania has the town in a frenzy, Torre cautions that winning or losing depends on pitching, and the Dodgers proved his point Thursday night when they completed an impressive four-game sweep of the Phillies with a 3-1 victory. It was the Dodgers' first four-game sweep in four years, the first at home in 13 years and the first over the Phillies in 46 years.
Coming off a pair of walk-off wins, they nailed down this one without a Ramirez home run or RBI or even a base hit.
They did it with pitching, a combined two-hitter by Hiroki Kuroda and Hong-Chih Kuo, a huge triumph for the organization's Asian operations on a day when Kuroda's native Japan beat Kuo's native Taiwan in Olympic baseball.
"We made a bet and he owes me dinner," said Kuroda.
The two-inning save was the first for Kuo in the Major Leagues, another milestone in a star-crossed career that the organization doubted would ever get untracked after four elbow operations.
"I guess it's about time, with all the rehab I've done," Kuo said.
And it was a crucial performance by Kuroda. Reestablishing a nasty slider, he allowed only two hits while striking out seven without a walk in seven innings, providing needed rest for a pitching staff that lost two of its own -- Brad Penny and Cory Wade -- to the disabled list earlier in the day.
"I put a lot of burden on the bullpen this season, so I wanted to pitch deep into the game," said Kuroda, 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA since allowing seven runs in 3 2/3 innings to San Francisco on July 28.
Long after that game against the Giants, Kuroda cleansed his mind by running wind sprints in the outfield for 20 minutes. Is that what turned around his season?
"That's always been my style of baseball [after a bad outing], but if I knew I would pitch well after that, I would run every day," said Kuroda. "I did it to clear my mind and release my stress. My overall confidence is good the last three starts."
Kuroda had an early lead, as Philadelphia right fielder Geoff Jenkins missed a diving attempt of James Loney's drive that went for a triple. Nomar Garciaparra's groundout scored Loney. Matt Kemp slugged a team-high 14th home run off Brett Myers leading off the sixth inning and Casey Blake singled in Russell Martin in the seventh.
Kuroda, meanwhile, was mowing through the Phillies' potent lineup. Assisted with three sparkling defensive plays from re-energized shortstop Garciaparra, Kuroda efficiently used only 79 pitches while allowing one run on a seventh-inning double by former Dodger Jayson Werth and a sacrifice fly by Ryan Howard.
"You can't score enough runs to afford bad pitching," Torre said before the game. "You can't freeze the ball in this game. To me, pitching is the only way you can control the game. It's nice to have the firepower, but if you have to rely on something, it's pitching."
That being said, Torre batted for Kuroda during the seventh-inning rally, looking for a knockout blow, otherwise Kuroda might have been headed for his third complete game. Instead, the game was handed to Kuo, who didn't allow a hit.
With Takashi Saito out, Kuo has emerged as a co-closer with Jonathan Broxton. If you don't think it's amazing that he has a 1.66 ERA in 34 games with 82 strikeouts and only 49 hits allowed in 70 2/3 innings, a refresher course on Kuo's pockmarked career is in order.
He was signed out of Taiwan for $1.25 million as a teenager, blew out his elbow in his first professional game after striking out seven of the 10 batters he faced and it's been a nightmare ride ever since, including the first five years he spent trying to get healthy, when he pitched a total of 42 1/3 innings (averaging less than nine innings a year).
He's nothing if not persistent. He signed in 1999, meaning he's been in the organization longer than any current active Dodger player, owner, general manager or assistant general manager.
Kuo's journey to the Major Leagues hit one pothole after another. He missed 2003 entirely, was taken off the Major League roster at one point and could have been selected by any club in the Rule 5 Draft. When his rehab stalled for the umpteenth time, he had to be talked out of quitting the game. He's has often credited Darren Dreifort (two Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgeries) and Eric Gagne (one) for their advice and counsel to keep him going.
And now he's in a pennant race, closing games despite dire predictions that his arm would fall off if subjected to the abuse of relief.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.