10/05/08 3:31 AM ET
Dodgers finish NLDS sweep of Cubs
Los Angeles advances to NLCS for first time in 20 years
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
"It was a series of jinxes," said Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, "and something had to give."
The Dodgers gave it to the Cubs, all right. Hiroki Kuroda threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings while James Loney and Russell Martin drove in the runs Saturday night in a 3-1 Dodgers win that swept the Cubs and their Billy Goat Curse right out of the best-of-five National League Division Series.
"I'm going to party like a rock star," said Manny Ramirez, firmly gripping a magnum of Moet & Chandon, the Dodgers' champagne shampoo of choice, after going 5-for-10 in the series.
And after the partying, the Dodgers will open the best-of-seven NL Championship Series on Thursday against the winner of the Philadelphia-Milwaukee Division Series -- in Philadelphia if the Phillies are the opponent, at home if it's the Brewers.
"This feels great," chairman Frank McCourt said. "The fans are the ones who deserve this, for rooting for this team, for turning out in record numbers, for paying their hard-earned dollars. This is for them. You saw and heard the support they gave this team tonight. It was unbelievable."
The Dodgers previously won a postseason series for the 1988 World Series championship and last swept one in 1963, when a staff led by future Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale took the World Series by overwhelming the vaunted New York Yankees.
And the Yankees figured prominently in this season and this series, as their former manager, Joe Torre, further enhanced his reputation, if that's possible. He explained the satisfaction of reaching the second round in his first Dodgers season, at age 68.
"This is about as satisfying as it can get," said Torre, who completed a ridiculously unprecedented parlay with the Dodgers clinching after cheering home a thoroughbred he co-owns, Vineyard Haven, to victory in the $400,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park earlier in the day.
|You would think it would be uncommon for a lower-seeded team to sweep its opponent, but since division play began in 1969, there have been 12 such instances. But the 13-win difference between the Dodgers and Cubs is the largest by any underdog that swept its opponent.|
|1975||Red Sox||Athletics||3||ALCS, 3-0|
|2000||Mariners||White Sox||4||ALDS, 3-0|
|2004||Red Sox||Cardinals||7||WS, 4-0|
"We had a lot of people doubting us all year. And we didn't have -- we weren't resentful about it. It was just the fact we haven't really played well enough to get anybody's attention. Starting in Chicago may have been a benefit for us. Because I just thought that with everything going on with them having the record they've had -- I've experienced it before. It's a lot of pressure when you're playing at home."
Torre the horse owner and his partners are thinking Kentucky Derby for Vineyard Haven, while the Dodgers are playing like the World Series is a legitimate destination. They came into this series an underdog with the worst record among division champs against the team with the best record in the league, having lost five of seven to the Cubs during the regular season.
But like those Dodgers of the '60s, the current version proved Torre's theory that pitching wins playoffs. Starters Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and then Kuroda combined to limit the Cubs to three runs in 19 innings, a 1.42 ERA.
"To come into a series like this and have Derek Lowe show the way, and Billingsley who was about as calm as I've seen him in that second game in Chicago and then Kuroda," Torre said. "What an adjustment he's made and to go out there and dominate like he did tonight."
Kuroda -- an 11-year veteran in Japan but technically the first rookie to clinch a postseason series for the Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 -- struck out four and pitched out of three jams. In three games this year against the Cubs, he's allowed one run in 21 2/3 innings.
"The last time I pitched against them here at Dodger Stadium, I had good command of my slider," said Kuroda, referring to a four-hit shutout of the Cubs on June 6. "And I think I put input there in their mind that that was my pitch. But I really didn't have my slider today. But I was able to dominate them with my [fastball]."
The Dodgers outhit the Cubs by only 10 points (.250-.240) but outscored them, 20-6, and the team ERA was more than three runs lower. Cubs slugger Derrek Lee was 6-for-11 but without an RBI, as the 1-2 hitters for the Cubs went a combined 2-for-24.
General manager Ned Colletti, who swung the in-season deals for Ramirez, Casey Blake and Greg Maddux that reshaped the team, handed off the credit to his advance scouts.
"We had two guys, Vance Loveland and Toney Howell, who did the advance scouting, and without them, we may not be standing here now," Colletti said. "They laid it out to the team and reinforced it and the players and coaches executed it."
With the win, the Dodgers are 24-9 at home since the All-Star break and 22-8 since the eight-game losing streak was halted and the season turned around.
"This club had to face the fact of either melting away or doing something about it," Torre said. "I kept reminding the guys about beating [Dan] Haren and [Brandon] Webb [of the D-backs]. That was a huge get for us."
The Dodgers scored in the first inning off Rich Harden with a double by Martin, a single by Ramirez and a two-run double by Loney, who keyed the Game 1 win with a grand slam and drove in six runs in the series despite hitting .214.
On the Ramirez single, Martin got away with indecision on the bases as Ramirez's single got through the infield. Martin barely eluded third baseman Aramis Ramirez's casual tag after the throw in from Alfonso Soriano.
In the fifth inning, Martin followed Rafael Furcal's one-out walk with an RBI double. Martin had four hits in the series, all for extra bases -- three doubles and a homer -- and five RBIs.
The only Cubs run Saturday scored off Cory Wade in the eighth, but Jonathan Broxton closed it out by getting the last four outs, three on strikeouts, hitting triple figures on the radar gun when he wasn't throwing the nastiest slider he's ever had.
"That was the best I've ever seen him," Martin said. "A hundred miles an hour and spotting it. The breaking ball was as good as it can be. It's good to see him embrace the role of closer. He's a beast out there."
Although Torre had said since Takashi Saito's shaky Game 2 outing that he'd stick with Saito to close, he couldn't take out Broxton the way he ended the eighth inning, overmatching Mark DeRosa, who represented the tying run.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.