Reliever plan works well for Dodgers
Although Kuo and Broxton are used differently, they combine to hold off the Cubs
CHICAGO -- It was highly unusual, and it was anything but ideal. But when you are desperately clinging to the last remnants of what was once a commanding lead, as the Dodgers were in the final three innings of Wednesday night's game, you resort to whatever you need to, even if it might be slightly out of your comfort zone.
And yes, manager Joe Torre admitted after the Dodgers had secured an 8-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs before 35,828 at Wrigley Field, this was way out of his comfort zone.
It involved Hong-Chih Kuo, who has sort of morphed into the eighth-inning setup role by default, coming on to pitch out of a jam and record all three outs in the seventh, grab a bat and step into the box for the first time this year in the top of the eighth (he laid down a successful sacrifice), then going back out to face the first two batters in the bottom half. This is the same Kuo whose oft-surgically repaired left arm is basically hanging by the thinnest of threads and whose career basically hangs in the balance every time he pitches.
And then, it involved Jonathan Broxton, for only the second time this season and the first time in more than a month, coming on to record not the final three outs, but the final five.
And somehow, at a point when the Cubs had clearly seized the momentum and the Dodgers clearly were in danger of a demoralizing defeat, it all worked.
Torre just hopes it doesn't have to work again any time soon.
"I didn't want to send Kuo back out there, but he was OK," Torre said. "He had thrown 18 pitches that first inning, and with the way we had used [Jeff] Weaver [for one inning on Tuesday], even though he said he was OK, I didn't want to give myself a short leash."
So with Geovany Soto, who had just entered the game defensively, and left-handed-hitting Kosuke Fukudome due to start the inning for the Cubs, Torre left the left-handed Kuo in to face both of them. Although Soto led off with a single through the left side, bringing the potential tying run to the plate, Kuo struck out Fukudome, and that was it.
In came Broxton, who hadn't pitched in the eighth inning since April 18 at Washington, when he had immediately blown the save by giving up a tying single to the first batter he faced.
Broxton had a more favorable result this time, after which he steadfastly refused to admit there is anything different about pitching in the eighth inning than pitching in the ninth inning.
"You just go out there and worry about one batter at a time," he said. "If you get strike one, that is the biggest thing you can do in that situation, because that puts you on the offensive side of the game. Besides, it's not about how many outs you have to get. It's how many pitches you have to throw. You can throw one inning and make 30 pitches, or you can throw one and two-thirds or two innings and make 20 pitches and actually feel better."
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Well, Broxton had to throw only five of them to get out of that eighth inning. In what might have been the biggest moment of the game, Broxton got the first batter he faced, Cubs second baseman Ryan Theriot, to ground into an inning-ending double play on a 1-and-2 slider.
"It's always big to face one guy and get two outs," Broxton said. "You just go out there and throw strikes and hope they hit it at somebody."
And then, in what might have been the second-biggest moment of the game, Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake yanked a two-out solo homer to left off Cubs lefty James Russell in the ninth, stretching what had been a tenuous two-run lead to three and taking no small bit of pressure off Broxton the rest of the way. Broxton needed 11 more pitches to retire the Cubs in order, nailing down his 11th save.
"Casey's home run was like a grand slam," Torre said.
Both Broxton and Kuo said they will be ready to pitch again in Thursday's matinee. But Torre hopes they won't have to pitch like this again any time soon -- even if it's a little more comforting to know that they are at least capable of doing it.
Cubs pitcher Tom Gorzelanny had just released a baseball in the general direction of Dodgers second baseman Blake DeWitt in the top of the fourth inning when a loud sound, similar to an insect hitting a bug zapper, could be heard throughout the ballpark as the lights flickered. They came back on long enough for Gorzelanny's pitch to miss the strike zone for ball four, but by the time DeWitt had taken half a step up the first-base line, the whole place went dark.
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The result was an 18-minute delay until ballpark officials could get the lights back on.
The official explanation from the Cubs was that the Chicago Fire Department was to blame, albeit inadvertently. The whole episode started with an electrical fire in a building a few blocks north of Wrigley Field in the neighborhood commonly known as Wrigleyville but more properly known as Lakeview. As a safety precaution upon arriving at the scene, the fire crew ordered that the electrical grid for the entire neighborhood be turned off.
Apparently, it never dawned on the firemen that the entire neighborhood also encompasses the Friendly Confines, where there happened to be a Major League Baseball game going on. The Cubs immediately responded by transferring power from the primary grid to their secondary service within the ballpark. But once the lights go out, it takes a certain amount of time for them to cool down and reignite, hence the delay.
Quote of the day
"I just kind of saw a flash, and I definitely took my eye off the pitch. That was something I had never really seen before. I didn't know what it was. It was a little scary. If he had pitched me inside right there, I wouldn't have had much of a chance to get out of the way." -- DeWitt, describing what he saw from the batter's box as the power went out.
Dodgers rookie sensation John Ely (3-1, 3.41 ERA) will take the mound in his hometown for the first time in his professional career. He will be opposed by right-hander and former Dodgers prospect Ted Lilly (1-4, 4.30), who is 3-1 with a 3.94 ERA in six career appearances, including five starts, against the team that drafted him in the 23rd round in 1996 and traded him to Montreal as part of a seven-player deal on July 31, 1998. Lilly has reached double figures in wins each of the past seven seasons. And no, the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company isn't being charged an advertising fee for this pitching matchup.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.