One swing by Russell Martin, and Dodger fans are starting to believe that this team is for real.
Even with the best record in the National League and home-field advantage, the Chicago Cubs have looked helpless the first 2 games, as the Dodgers took Game 2, 10-3. Up 2-0 in the best of 5 series, it now shifts to Los Angeles this weekend.
The game started off promising enough for the Cubs, much like Game 1. Carlos Zambrano was on the mound chomping away at his gum, and he K'd Manny Ramirez to end the 1st. Alfonso Soriano led off the bottom of 1st with a single off of Chad Billingsley, and advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch. The heart of the order was due up for the Cubs, and things were looking good.
Too bad for them, that was as good as it would get.
Billingsley bared down to K Ryan Theriot and Derek Lee, then got Aramis Ramirez on a fly ball to center. Bills never looked back, finishing the night at 6.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K. For a guy making his first postseason start, he was as calm and cool as could be. Man, what a warrior he was out there.
The real fun started in the 2nd on consecutive singles by Andre Ethier and James Loney. After Matt Kemp struck out looking, the Cubs' defense just fell apart. An error by Mark DeRosa at 2nd allowed Ethier to score, and Derek Lee's error on Casey Blake's grounder loaded 'em up. Bills struck out (probably a good thing considering it wasn't a double play). Rafael Furcal then had the perfect bunt between the pitcher and 2nd to score another.
With the bases loaded and 2 down again, Martin unloaded on a scorcher to the gap in left and center to empty the bases, and in effect put the game away early at 5-0.
As Bills was dealing, more runs were tacked on from the 5th inning on. Manny hit another bomb; Kemp doubled home Manny; and Raffy, Manny, and Blake all had RBI singles. Needless to say, their whole lineup was clicking in every way possible.
It was an odd feeling for sure after the game, as it's been since the great 1988 team since they've looked this good in October. Throw in the fact that it's on the road against a loaded team, and it's just crazy to think that the Dodgers have won the first 2 games by a combined score of 17-5.
Seriously, is this the Dodgers I'm watching? Wow!
The whole offense was terrific again, as each position starter contributed to scoring 10 runs in some way. In the bullpen, Cory Wade continued his remarkable season, throwing 1.1 hitless innings. I remember when he came up, he had a reputation of throwing strikes. Who would have thought he'd have this much of an impact? Probably not even himself.
About the only negative of this game was the 9th when Takashi Saito came in. Quite frankly, he looked awful. 3 hitters faced, and the results were 2 doubles and a single. Jonathan Broxton came in and perhaps cemented himself as the only closer this postseason. He walked Felix Pie, but got Geovany Sota to line-out to 2nd, and struck out Kosuke Fukudome and Darryl Ward to end the game. As the announcers accurately said, it was a sloppy inning. But being up that much, it made no difference.
So now the scene is set in LA for perhaps a major upset. Hiroki Kuroda takes the mound against Rich Harden. Kuroda absolutely deserves to get the start, as he's shown the ability to shut teams down. However, there's also the starts in which he gets bombed, so we shall see which side of him shows up.
For Harden, it's the same old story today as it's been his whole career. When he's on, he's frighteningly good. When he's banged up, his velocity is down, and he becomes quite ordinary. In his last 2 starts, he's given up only 3 earned runs in 11 innings, but has also walked 11. The Dodgers have shown the patience this series to draw the walk, so that should be their game plan again.
As is the case with any postseason, momentum can quickly come and go. Right now, the Dodgers look like they are clearly the better team. It's funny how that works out sometimes. A big win by the Cubs tomorrow, and then the Dodgers are panicking about closing out at home. Obviously, the Cubs are the ones playing like they feel all of the pressure, so the Dodgers need to take the approach again that they have nothing to lose.
One more solid game, and it could be a glorious Saturday night in LA.