LOS ANGELES – When it was done and he hadn't thrown a pitch for four innings, and his Los Angeles Dodgers were pushed near the end of their season and he the end of his tenure here, Derek Lowe said – insisted, really – that he could have played on.
The Dodgers all but ran out of pitching Monday night in a nine-inning game, in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, which would have been enough to live with by itself, except Joe Torre and his pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt, took the ball from their undisputed horse and ace after five innings and 74 pitches.
A very reliable bullpen broke down. A winnable game was lost. A competitive series was knocked sideways.
And the guy everybody agrees is a hardball warrior, especially in October, was pulled from the field long before he was spent.
There were factors. Lowe was pitching on three days' rest. He'd had a single clean inning. He had to go to the bathroom.
Now the Dodgers need to win three consecutive games, two of them in a ballpark they haven't won in all season.
"No, I was fine," Lowe said later. "I came down the stairs, went to the men's room, came back up and they said that is it. That's all I can really give you. I wish I had more."
When he sat down, the Dodgers led 3-2. Before he'd cooled off, the score was tied 3-3. And when he was back in the clubhouse, iced and reclined, he watched a two-run lead disappear beneath two home runs, both in the eighth, when Torre and Honeycutt were at the end of their bullpen.
That the Dodgers came to October with but three reliable starters is perhaps the greater crime, forcing them to Lowe on short rest, which clearly made everybody jumpy. Then Lowe played Jamie Moyer in the first inning, allowing three consecutive hits and eventually two runs to start everything, so maybe everyone in the bullpen was staring at the phone from then on.
Four days before, in Game 1, Lowe started the sixth inning but wouldn't see the end of it, the Phillies rallying there and then. And Torre took a little guff for his Lowe sentimentality.
But this, this was 16 pitches earlier. This was Lowe throwing ground balls and killing lefties with his changeup and burying righties with his slider. This was eight of his previous nine hitters retired, the ninth being a soft infield single. This was Lowe tying the series at two games apiece.
"He's the manager and he's made decisions all year long," he said. "What are you going to do at that point? Go down and throw a hissy fit? I'd already done that after the first inning, thrown everything I could have thrown. I mean, what are you going to say? You saw the game. It was by far my best inning. We can sit here and talk all night about it. But we're down, 3-1. We've dug ourselves a big hole."
He shrugged. He's the guy who sweats through his jersey standing up for the national anthem. He's the guy who looks gassed at pitch 10 but somehow makes it to pitch 100. Torre usually sees through all that stuff. He did in Game 1.
"This was definitely a tough loss," Lowe said. "It was one of those you didn't really see coming. … It's definitely frustrating. But, it's not because of the outcome. You play the game to play. Look, Joe didn't take me out because he thought the lead was going to be given up. He's a great manager."
Great managers make mistakes. This counted as one. With Lowe gone, Torre blew through three relievers in the sixth inning, matching up to protect a one-run lead. It almost worked but didn't. He had Cory Wade in the eighth, but no safety net, other than Jonathan Broxton, his neophyte closer, and that didn't work either. A few minutes after Shane Victorino danced around the bases, Matt Stairs stomped around the bases and hopefully Lowe was a beer or two into his evening.
"First," Torre said, "he was on short rest. I think that was well-documented. He had to work hard every inning, even though he was in the 70's pitch-count wise. The only one-two-three inning he had was the fifth inning. I thought at that point, especially when we took the lead, because it just looked like he was fighting his emotions the whole game. He said he felt fine. We were probably going to get only one more inning out of him anyway, pitch-count wise, and I just decided to make the move there."
The thing is, until then, Torre was golden, which made the misstep all the more inglorious. Not only had he turned the historically underachieving Dodgers into division winners and postseason achievers, he'd had five pristine innings.
Do this enough times – say, going on 4,200 times – and once in a while you wake up thinking Juan Pierre should be your center fielder that night.
It just, you know, comes to you.
So, you go with it.
Then Pierre gets two hits, including a double, and scores the run that puts you ahead by two in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS.
And in one of the more important moments of the season, you figure this would be a wonderful time for Matt Kemp to learn to put down a sacrifice bunt. He's done it once as a big leaguer, three times as a professional. But, hey, it's Juan Pierre Day, and Kemp squares around over and over, tries to make an out four times and instead is walked on four pitches.
And, because that went so well, you have Rafael Furcal, who has four hits in his last eight at-bats and will hit as a right-hander – his comfortable side – bunt, too. So, he, of course, flops a bunt toward Howard, who made 19 errors at first base in the regular season. Howard spins and throws the baseball into right field and who scores from second base? Juan Pierre.
But, the game finds everyone, even the manager, even the good ones. Lowe was his man, he'd said so many times. And now it's likely the Dodgers' season will end before the World Series, in part because Torre, fiercely loyal to the men he trusts, stopped believing. It happens.
"That's it," Lowe said. "I watched the game and we lost."
- The Dodgers
- Joe Torre