posted 8 years ago
When they drafted him in the first round in 2003, the Dodgers envisioned Chad Billingsley as a staff ace, and on Thursday night, he pretty much became one.
Staked to a huge early lead, Billingsley followed Derek Lowe's opening victory by silencing the Cubs' offense and their Wrigley Field crowd in a 10-3 Game 2 triumph in the best-of-five National League Division Series, which shifts to Dodger Stadium with the Dodgers one win from advancing to the NL Championship Series."We're playing the same type of baseball that we played all September," said Russell Martin, who broke the game open with a three-run double. "We peaked at the right time. We had to battle to get to the point we're at now, and it's not time to stop yet."
No team has recovered from an 0-2 deficit to win an NLDS (0-16) and 13 of those series were sweeps. One American League team rebounded from losing the first two games of a Division Series at home to win the series -- Joe Torre's 2001 Yankees, who beat Oakland.
The Dodgers came into this series with the worst record of any playoff team, while the Cubs had the best record in the league and a 5-2 mark against the Dodgers in games played before Manny Ramirez arrived.
Still, for all the credit given to Ramirez for the Dodgers' turnaround this year -- and, of course, he homered again in this game, his MLB postseason record 26 and counting -- Torre has insisted that pitching won in October when he was leading the Yankees and it would be just as critical for the Dodgers.
To prove his point, the Cubs have scored three runs off two Dodgers starting pitchers. The Cubs are batting .222 with no RBIs for either Derrek Lee or Aramis Ramirez, while the Dodgers are batting .270 with seven players driving in runs. The Cubs have three walks, the Dodgers 11. Billingsley, a 16-game winner this year but virtually unproven in this type of test, lasted 6 2/3 innings, charged with one run on five hits with seven strikeouts. Two years ago, it took a broken beer bottle to put a rookie Billingsley on the postseason roster as an emergency replacement for Joe Beimel, and he threw two scoreless innings of relief. A little more is expected from Billingsley this series: If it somehow goes to a Game 5, it would be Billingsley's turn to pitch with the season on the line.
The Dodgers are hopeful it doesn't come to that. But from the way this game went, they'd be comfortable with him if it did.
"We're seeing him mature almost every outing," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said of Billingsley. "It's almost like he thinks he can overcome any obstacle. When the other team starts to build some momentum, he diffuses it. That's the real key to a great pitcher."
This game started with a crowd more energetic than the previous night, according to several Dodgers, further fueled when Carlos Zambrano set down the Dodgers in order in the top of the first inning. Billingsley's first pitch was ripped to left field for an Alfonso Soriano single. Billingsley's next pitch was wild, and the Cubs had a runner on second with no outs. But Billingsley struck out Ryan Theriot and Lee, got Aramis Ramirez on a fly to center and Cubs Nation shifted into worry mode.
"I just had to make some good pitches to get out of it," Billingsley said. "I was able to get my rhythm and kept it pretty much throughout."
Disaster for the Cubs followed with the Dodgers' five-run second inning that included a three-run double by Martin, a bases-loaded bunt single by a healthy Rafael Furcal (three hits) and back-to-back errors by a Cubs infield that made four of the runs unearned. By game's end, each of the four starting Cubs infielders had been charged with an error. Martin's double quieted the crowd, the errors demoralized it.
The key play of the inning, however, was probably a hit-and-run single by James Loney off the hand of shortstop Theriot, who was unable to change directions after breaking to cover second base with Andre Ethier in motion. Torre put the play on anticipating a fastball from Zambrano, who threw 30 of them in a 31-pitch first inning.
With the Cubs deflated, Billingsley allowed no other runner past first base until the seventh inning, when three consecutive hits prompted Torre to turn the game over to rookie Cory Wade.
"Normally, it takes Chad a couple innings to get his feet on the ground because he tends to overthrow the ball, and after [Soriano] got to second base, he just looked like everything slowed down for him," Torre said. "Striking out Theriot, I'm sure, helped his confidence and certainly made me feel good just about his command at that point, and he went out and did what he's done for us many times this year."
Wade, who could be closing out games by the time this postseason ends, retired all four batters he faced in Game 2 after pitching a scoreless inning in Game 1.
Torre wanted to get closer Takashi Saito some work, and it made for a nervous ninth. All three batters Saito faced laced hits. Meanwhile, having earlier warmed up James McDonald and Chan Ho Park, Torre wasted no time to rush Jonathan Broxton into the game and warm up 20-year-old rookie Clayton Kershaw and 42-year-old Greg Maddux, who pitched the ninth inning on Wednesday. But Broxton put out the fire.
"It just looked like his breaking ball was a little lazy out there," Torre said of Saito, who lacks his consistent sharpness since returning from two months off with a torn right elbow ligament. "He didn't have any physical problems."