Lee gives Phillies the advantage

By Dave Sheinin
Monday, October 19, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- It all felt like overkill Sunday night -- the frantic waving of white towels by a bloodthirsty crowd, the frequent "Beat L.A!" chants, the conveniently bitter cold that greeted the visitors from southern California, the utter disregard showed by the Philadelphia Phillies' mighty lineup for the feelings of poor, helpless Hiroki Kuroda, the late-inning piling on.

And especially Cliff Lee's merciless, bullying performance on the mound.

Staked to a four-run lead in the first inning of Game 3 of the Nationals League Championship Series, then a six-run lead in the second, Lee could have eased up on the suddenly pitiable Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, he lifted them off the ground by the throat and squeezed harder.

With Lee throwing eight dominating innings of three-hit, 10-strikeout, shutout baseball, the Phillies smothered the Dodgers in an 11-0 victory in front of 45,721 fans, giving them a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 slated for Monday night.

The competitive portion of Game 3 lasted about as long as it took Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who has been at his monstrous best all postseason, to motor around the bases for a two-run triple in the top of the first inning -- which is to say, not long at all. (Howard is faster than you might think.)

Two batters later, Jayson Werth blasted a towering two-run homer that landed somewhere in the swamps of Jersey -- actually, near the base of the vine-covered batter's-eye beyond the center field wall. Werth lifted his index finger toward the upper deck in right field as he hit the first base bag, while Kuroda, standing on the mound, simply watched the ball's flight with his glove on his hip, grimacing slightly as it landed.

Down 4-0 mere minutes into the game, the Dodgers already got their bullpen warming up. Three batters into the next inning, it was deployed.

Kuroda, left off the Dodgers' Division Series roster after suffering a herniated disc in his neck late in the season, was added to their NLCS roster -- and given the ball Sunday night -- after a hastily arranged trip between series by Manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to see Kuroda pitch to minor leaguers in Arizona.

The trip only cost perhaps a few grand in fuel costs for the Dodgers' chartered jet, but it had a steep cost Sunday night, because it cost the Dodgers a game. Whatever it was Torre and Honeycutt saw in Arizona that convinced them Kuroda was the right call was nowhere to be seen.

"I don't second-guess the decision [to start Kuroda], because we made it [based] on what we saw," Torre said. "He came into the game, and the ball just didn't behave. That's basically all I can tell you."

The sequence that spelled the end of Kuroda's night in the second inning went double by Carlos Ruiz, sacrifice bunt by Lee, RBI double to right by Jimmy Rollins.

All told, Kuroda faced 10 batters, gave up six hits ¿ all of them rockets ¿ and threw only 20 strikes among his 39 pitches. In one six-batter stretch, the Phillies hit for the cycle against him.

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