Ted Lilly tosses gem in Dodgers debut
Left-hander retires the final 20 batters he faces in a 2-1 win over the Padres
Well, actually, they could have asked for more, but they chose not to. More to the point, manager Joe Torre chose not to.
Fortunately for Lilly, even moreso for the Dodgers and most of all for Torre, that ultimately didn't matter. Lilly, who was plenty used to pitching with no run support while with the Cubs, combined with two relievers to make Russell Martin's second-inning, two-run double stand up for a desperately needed 2-1 victory over the first-place San Diego Padres before 38,886 Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.
After giving up consecutive one-out hits in the first inning -- a solo home run by Miguel Tejada that gave the Padres a 1-0 lead and a bloop single by Adrian Gonzalez -- Lilly retired the next 20 batters in a row, striking out five of them and allowing only four balls to be hit out of the infield. By the time he struck out Nick Hundley to end the seventh, his sixth perfect inning in a row, Lilly had thrown a total of 87 pitches, a staggering 65 of them (75 percent) for strikes.
In short, Lilly (4-8) was in complete control. Well, almost. There was still one thing Lilly wasn't in control of.
"When his turn came to bat, if I didn't have Kuo to go to, we really would have had to rethink it," Torre said of his decision to lift Lilly for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh. "Kuo has been pretty much lights-out. I thought we had a chance to get another hit and maybe another run and get a little cushion."
And yet, the situation didn't exactly suggest a run was forthcoming. There were two outs and nobody on when No. 8 hitter Jamey Carroll beat out a ground ball that Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera went into the hole to dig out but didn't have time to get Carroll at first. That brought up Lilly's spot, with Kuo warming up in the pen. But with Rafael Furcal unavailable because of an injury, Torre had three pinch-hitting options.
One was Xavier Paul, who had the highest batting average of the three at .231.
Torre went with Garret Anderson, who was hitting .184. Padres manager Bud Black, who apparently felt he needed to neutralize the left-handed-hitting Anderson because he was hitting a slightly more dangerous .195 against right-handers, countered with lefty reliever Joe Thatcher. Torre countered with righty-hitting Ronnie Belliard, who was hitting .219. Thatcher struck out Belliard on three pitches, ending the inning.
"I felt good at that point and felt like I was throwing the ball fine," Lilly said. "But you know as well as I do that the two guys who came in behind me are pretty darn good. There is a reason they are at the back end of the bullpen; there is certainly no question about that. Fortunately, I was able to get to a point where we had the lead and I could get the ball to those two guys."
It worked, of course.
Kuo pitched around a two-out walk to Cabrera in the eighth, and Broxton made up for a leadoff single by Jerry Hairston and a bobbled double-play grounder by James Loney that resulted in only one out by getting Ryan Ludwick to ground into a game-ending double play. That gave Broxton his 21st save and ended a six-game losing streak for the fourth-place Dodgers (55-52), moving them to within eight games of the Padres in the National League West.
Because of Kuo's history of arm problems, Torre won't use him on consecutive days. That means Kuo won't be available if the Dodgers have a slim lead in the eighth inning Wednesday night when they face another critical, must-win game against the Padres. And Broxton entered Tuesday with a 10.80 ERA in five appearances and having blown two of three save chances since the All-Star break.
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In the end, though, a situation that could have blown up in Torre's face didn't, and everyone went home happy -- especially Lilly, who said after the game he had been nervous on the occasion of his first start for a new team.
"You just have to deal with those feelings and try to settle down," Lilly said. "I threw a couple of bad pitches, but then I started getting into a little bit of a groove and locating my fastball and slider. Late in the game, you're trying to keep the ball in the park. That's really it. Early in the game, you're trying to get quick outs any way you can, whether it's by using your fastball or executing your breaking ball. But when you get later in the game, especially when it's a tight game like that, walks and long balls are the two things you don't want beating you."
Although he didn't see as much of Lilly as he could have, or perhaps should have, Torre was impressed by the performance of his new lefty, who also pitched for Torre with the New York Yankees as a promising but raw youngster from 2000 to 2002.
"This kid, he is really calm," Torre said. "He's got a lot of passion, but he's really calm. Certainly, when you go to a new club, it's nice to be able to pay dividends right away. Basically, he made it look easy."
For seven innings, anyway.
Right-hander Vicente Padilla (4-3, 3.47) is 3-2 with a 2.12 ERA in eight starts for the Dodgers since returning from the disabled list June 19. He has held opposing batters to a .183 (33-for-180) average with 43 strikeouts during that time. Left-hander Wade LeBlanc (5-9, 3.49) has made only one start against the Dodgers this season, taking a 1-0 loss May 16 at Petco Park despite holding the Dodgers to a run and two hits over seven innings.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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