07/29/08 3:16 AM ET
Dodgers fall short of picking up Kuroda
Comeback bid nearly erases hole dug by starter
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
At 11 p.m. On the night that he pitched.
Four hours earlier, he took the mound as the starting pitcher for the Dodgers. Three hours earlier, he had committed a mental mistake, throwing to the wrong base to open the door for a five-run fourth inning, creating a seven-run deficit so even the most furious comeback of the year wasn't enough in a 7-6 Dodgers loss to San Francisco.
Maybe this is normal in his native Japan, but it's unheard of for Major League pitchers to run wind sprints at 11 p.m. on the night they throw 66 pitches. But there Kuroda was, after all the other players had showered and changed and left, still in his white uniform pants and blue undershirt making at least 20 passes back and forth in front of the left-field pavilion, a man in a strange country facing a difficult time.
Kuroda is 5-8 overall and 1-4 with an 8.54 ERA against the National League West. Since play resumed after the All-Star break, Kuroda has made three starts, two of them losses, none of them worth remembering. There was the two-inning debacle in Arizona the first day back, then an early-innings struggle in Colorado last week and now this.
He made it only 3 2/3 innings against the Giants, charged with seven earned runs, although the whole game came down, not to a pitch, but a throw.
He was trailing, 2-0, in the fourth inning with runners on the corners and one out, facing Rich Aurilia. With John Bowker breaking for second, Kuroda delivered to Aurilia, who returned a hit-and-run soft comebacker. Kuroda looked Aaron Rowand back to third base, then whirled and threw to second base, where Bowker had already arrived safely without a slide.
"That was a surprise, to say the least," deadpanned Torre.
And the bases were loaded.
"I yelled, 'One, one, one,'" said catcher Russell Martin, instructing Kuroda to throw to first base. "With the crowd, it's hard to communicate. If he doesn't hear the defenders yell, 'Going,' he's taught to turn around and fire [to second base]. The pitcher usually sees a runner breaking, unless it's a late break and that's what happened."
Kuroda said he didn't know the runner was breaking with the pitch.
"If I had known," he said, "I wouldn't have thrown to second."
Kuroda struck out Omar Vizquel for what would have been the third out, but with the inning extended, opposing pitcher Kevin Correia lined a 1-2 pitch up the middle for two runs.
"That was really his undoing," said Torre. "He had gotten through the tough part, Vizquel."
The next three batters were credited with RBI singles, although outs could have been called on three plays that inning -- Bowker barely sliding under Russell Martin's tag at the plate after Correia's single to center, Fred Lewis just safe at first base on an infield single and Jose Castillo's sinking liner ruled a trap by right fielder Andre Ethier.
"A couple of calls went the other way or it could have been different," said Martin.
Kuroda was asked if he was rattled by the play that got away.
"It appears so," he said.
He said he feels fine physically, attributing his 13.11 ERA post-break to mislocating pitches.
"I haven't had a good outing and I've put a lot of burden on the rest of the team," he said.
The rest of the team nearly bore the burden. The Dodgers rallied with six unanswered runs, getting a two-run pinch-double from Mark Sweeney (who was 0-for-19) and a pinch-RBI single from Andruw Jones. The bullpen -- Ramon Troncoso, Brian Falkenborg, Cory Wade and Hong-Chih Kuo --- pitched 5 1/3 innings of hitless relief.
The Giants' bullpen was pretty good, too, retiring the last 10 Dodgers. One of them was Blake, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored, but was called out on a check swing by first-base umpire Greg Gibson, whose motion was emphatic. Blake, still miffed for being rung up in his first at-bat by plate umpire Angel Campos on a check swing without appealing to Gibson, got to the dugout after his eighth-inning strikeout and mocked Gibson's call.
Gibson responded by ejecting Blake from 200 feet away. Blake raced out of the dugout for a brief argument, which Torre continued, until he also was tossed. Torre said he didn't argue the call, but he questioned why Gibson was watching Blake in the dugout instead of the action on the field.
"My contention is, he's just looking for trouble," said Torre.
Said Blake: "We've been together since Minor Leagues and it's uncharacteristic of [Gibson]. I didn't say anything from the dugout, just mocked his ring-up. It might be the first time I've been tossed out of a game. It was a bad at-bat right there, but I don't think he should stare, but a lot of umpires do."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.