LA's reliable relief trio relents in eighth
Kuo, Wade and Broxton unable to keep Phillies bats at bay
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre handled his bullpen on Monday night as though there was no tomorrow. In two different senses, he was absolutely right. The Dodgers desperately needed a win to avoid a 3-1 hole in the series. And with an off-day in the schedule on Tuesday, he could stretch out his pitchers without worrying about next-day consequences.
That's why it was so crushing when the maneuvering didn't pay off for the Dodgers. The Phillies got to L.A.'s three best relievers in a devastating four-run eighth inning, taking Game 4 of the National League Championship Series and just about putting the entire series on ice.
Say this for Torre: he didn't go down without his best. He used all three of his top bullpenners in the fateful eighth. It's just that every one of them -- Hong-Chih Kuo, Cory Wade and Jonathan Broxton -- stumbled to one degree or another. A 5-3 lead turned into the final 7-5 margin of defeat within the space of six batters.
"Kuo did a great job for us tonight," Broxton said. "Cory came in and got an out. He gave up a homer, but it happens. ... I hate that it was tonight, but we've been good all year."
After a shaky and scary sixth in which they used three different pitchers, the Dodgers were already in a bit of a bind going into the seventh. They had Kuo, an outstanding lefty but a pitcher coming off a triceps injury that kept him out of the NL Division Series. They had Wade, the impressive rookie right-hander, but Wade pitched two innings the night before. And they had Broxton, their closer pro tem, who worked an inning on Sunday night.
Beyond that, it was very dicey. Greg Maddux was ready for long work if it came to that. Rookie James McDonald had only two days' rest after pitching 3 1/3 innings on Friday. In all practicality, the Dodgers had Kuo, Wade and Broxton to get the last nine outs.
Fortunately, those are Torre's three most trusted relievers. Unfortunately, Monday was one of those nights.
Kuo made it look easy to start with. He blitzed the Phillies in the seventh, getting a groundout and two strikeouts against the top three spots in the order. He batted for himself in the bottom of the inning and came out to face Ryan Howard in the eighth.
But Howard singled, starting the chain that ultimately put the Dodgers on the brink of elimination. Torre chose not to let Kuo face right-hander Pat Burrell, instead calling on Wade for a portion of the order that also included switch-hitting Shane Victorino and righties Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz.
"The seventh inning, we said you've got Howard leading off, let's send him out there," Torre said. "He started warming up, just didn't look like it was coming out the same. When Ryan got the base hit, I decided to make the change."
Enter Wade, who has been a revelation in this postseason. He got the dangerous Burrell to pop up, bringing up Victorino -- a thorn in the Dodgers' side all series. Wade threw a decent curveball, a ball that started high and broke into the strike zone. And Victorino jumped it -- tie game.
"He had his stuff warming up," said catcher Russell Martin. "He was spotting like he normally does. I wouldn't change that pitch. It was a try-to-get-ahead curveball. It wasn't a bad pitch. It was just a good piece of hitting."
With more right-handers lurking, Wade stayed in the game. He got Feliz, who struggled badly against right-handed pitching this year, to fly out. But when Ruiz singled, bringing up the pitcher's spot, Wade was done.
"I don't think I can say I would do anything differently, really," Torre said. "Cory Wade's numbers against left-hand hitters this year have been really good. He threw a breaking ball, and it stayed up."
With the No. 9 spot up, Phils manager Charlie Manuel played his last card on the offensive side -- veteran lefty Matt Stairs. Los Angeles didn't have a lefty to counter, so Torre did the reasonable thing. He called on his best pitcher for the biggest out of the year.
His best pitcher didn't get the out.
"I made a mistake right over the middle, and he capitalized on it," Broxton said.
The bigger mistake than the fastball over the plate, though, may have been the count that forced him to throw the fastball over the plate. Broxton fell behind Stairs, 3-1, leaving him little choice but to come after Stairs. With Jimmy Rollins on deck, putting a second runner on base would have been a bad move.
"If I'm ahead of him, there's different places I can go and he's maybe looking for something else," Broxton said. "But it's 3-1 and you're not wanting to put him on, so you've got to challenge him. I've just got to make a better challenging pitch."
So Broxton, he of the overpowering high-90's gas, came right at Stairs. He knew what he was going to do. Stairs knew what was coming. And Stairs won the battle, launching a ferocious homer into the right-field bleachers.
A crowd of 56,800 went quiet, and suddenly it felt like maybe there really wouldn't be a tomorrow for the Dodgers.
"The fans have been great all year," said first baseman James Loney, "but it took a little wind out.
"Or a lot."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.