Dodgers come alive in seventh, clinch division


On Saturday night, it took three things for the Dodgers to beat the Rockies and finally clinch the NL West. 1) A spectacular pitching performance from the 21 year-old Clayton Kershaw, who threw six scoreless innings on 10 strikeouts and three hits. 2) Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa’s groin injury in the fourth. De La Rosa pitched three hitless innings before the Rockies middle relief came in and struggled. 3) The seventh-inning rally from the Dodgers. After hits from Casey Blake, Ronnie Belliard, Mark Loretta, Juan Pierre, and Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers had scored five, breaking the game wide open.

The Dodgers unleashed their pent-up frustration in a five-run seventh inning that matched their entire offensive output from the previous five days, the five-hit, two-walk outburst lifting them to a 5-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night that secured their second title in a row.

For the last six days, the magic number for the Dodgers to win the division was at one.

The Dodgers lost five consecutive games over that span. The Rockies won six.

Ending the game was closer Jonathan Broxton, who had a chance to seal the division title in Pittsburgh six days ago, only to blow a three-run lead.

“In Pittsburgh, it didn’t go the way I wanted,” Broxton said. “It felt like a while to get here. The champagne traveled a lot. It probably has more miles on it than any other champagne.”

Obviously, the Dodgers hardly “clinched” anything. That word implies an interim of relaxation. The Yankees “clinched” their division and secured home field advantage some time ago. It took 161 games for the Dodgers to solidify their role in the playoffs. While they finish the season with the National League’s best record, the Dodgers are by no means its hottest team. Until last night, they had lost five straight. Fortunately for them, the Cardinals (their NLDS opponents) and the Phillies are both in similar skids. The Rockies, however, are tearing it up, winning six of their last seven.

Hats off to Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who took over midseason and completely turned this team around. The Rockies are thriving off the same type of momentum that took them from the wild card spot to the World Series in 2007.

Despite the Dodgers recent struggles, they did have to overcome a fair amount of obstacles, including Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension, Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin’s hitting woes, Hiroki Kuroda’s various injuries, and Chad Billingsley’s second-half meltdown. Really, it came down to Ned Colletti’s preseason and midseason acquisitions. Orlando Hudson, Randy Wolf, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard, Vicente Padilla, and Jon Garland turned it on when it mattered most. Notice how I didn’t mention the Twenty Million Dollar Man. Devotion transcends past drug use out here in L.A. and Manny Ramirez has received a season-long pass. Who knows if his bat will come alive in the playoffs. Nevertheless, it won’t matter. The best teams are going to advance, and that’s the end of it.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Phillies prove that there is another team playing in World Series

Philadelphia PhilliesFor good reason, the Tampa Bay Rays have been the talk of the 2008 MLB Season. Not only are they a rags-to-riches story, but they also are a young, likeable club and one hat is easy to root for. We love pulling for the underdog and the Rays certainly fit the bill.

Of course, they’re not the underdogs anymore. As soon as they beat the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, they instantly became World Series favorites because they’ve created the best storyline. Not to mention, they come from a better conference, arguably have better overall talent and they’re the hotter team, as well.

But as they proved in their 3-2 win in Game 1 of the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies are competing for a title, too. Nobody outside of Philly is talking about this club and for those who missed Game 1, it might have come as a surprise that the Phillies have thrown the first punch in this series.

The media (and I’m throwing myself into the mix here too considering I dedicated my column to the Rays this week) needs to start paying attention to the Fightin’ Phils or else we might wind up missing an even better story than the 2008 Rays. Philly has been a long-suffering sports city that is craving a title as much as anyone. And with phenomenal ace Cole Hamels (7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 5 Ks) and a solid lineup that features all-everything 2B Chase Utley (2 for 4, 2 RBI, 1 R), the Phillies might just close in on that title. (Although they’re going to need Ryan Howard to start hitting because Tampa won’t be held to just two runs every night.)

It’ll be exciting to watch the Rays’ magical season continue to play out, but ignoring the Phillies’ story would be a mistake.

Media Reactions: Red Sox defeat Rays 8-7 in dramatic comeback

Tampa Bay Rays– Steve Buckley recaps how the Red Sox snatched victory out of nowhere. (Boston Herald)

– Gary Shelton is worried about the Rays. He gives credit to Boston for a great comeback, but notes that Tampa will still close out the series. (St. Petersburg Times)

– Joe Posnanski had another post ready to go for when the Rays closed out the Sox in Game 5, but had to scrap it to write about how unbelievable Boston’s comeback was. (Joe

– Martin Fennelly writes that Tampa was just seven outs away from heading to the World Series and then the 2007 Rays showed up to blow the opportunity. (Tampa Tribune)

– Thomas Boswell searches for blame in Tampa’s collapse and notes that Joe Maddon managed the Rays out of a win. (Washington Post)

– Dick Scanlon writes that the series just got much harder for the Rays. (The Ledger)

Holy comeback Batman – Red Sox overcome 7-0 deficit to beat Rays

Boston Red SoxWith their 8-7 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the ALCS, the Boston Red Sox overcame the second largest deficit in postseason history and saved their season for at least the time being.

Lets put the Red Sox historic comeback on ice for a moment and talk about the complete collapse by the Rays, who took a 7-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning but managed to squander it in the final three frames.

The game was over…the series was finished…Fenway vendors were hanging up their beer carriers for the final time…fans started pulling out their New England Patriots 2008 Team Handbook to learn more about Matt Cassel…Dice-K looked like crap…Scott Kazmir looked like Cy Young…see-ya Boston – thanks for coming out.

As is usually the case with most defeats, this wasn’t a complete team loss by Tampa. No, the Rays’ bullpen just flat out blew it. When you build a 7-0 lead and your starter goes six strong while only allowing two hits and no runs, you win the game. Period. But hey, give Boston credit. This is what veteran teams do – they don’t give up. They got their ass kicked for three straight games but found a way to win when everything was on the line. This is a huge momentum swing and one that maybe a young Rays team won’t be ready to bounce back from.

The good news for Tampa is that they get to head home and they get two cracks at trying to win one game. If someone told them that they would take 2 of 3 in Boston before the series started, I’m sure they would have gladly accepted. But to lose this way is crushing and if they don’t win Game 6, it’s going to be awfully hard to top a veteran club like the Red Sox in the most pressure-packed situation. (Especially considering Boston was in a similar scenario last year when they beat Cleveland after falling behind 3-1 in the series.)

Top 5 Hitters and Top 5 Pitchers in LCS Play

Unlike the division series that began in 1995, the ALCS and NLCS has been played since 1969. Before that, there was just a World Series. Anyway, with the two series underway to determine who will play in the 2008 fall classic, we’ll take a look at the career Top 5 in LCS play in both batting average and starting pitching ERA. Enjoy, and hope you’re enjoying the games…..

Batting Average

1. Kevin Youkilis (.531)—Okay, so Kevin Youkilis has only played in one full LCS, last year’s ALCS with Boston, and he just began his second, against Tampa . Last year, Youkilis went 14 for 28 with a double, a triple, three homers, and 7 RBI. And last night he went 3 for 4 with two doubles. Sox fans not surprisingly love this guy as well as, or in spite of, his facial hair.

2. Mark Grace (.515)—Mark Grace played in two league championship series—in 1989 with the Cubs and in 2001 with the Diamondbacks. Despite the fact that Gracey hit .647 with a homer and 8 RBI in the 1989 NLCS, the Cubs lost to the Giants. Are you surprised?

3. Will Clark (.468)—First baseman Will Clark has played in three NLCS—1987 and 1989 with the Giants and 2000 with the Cardinals. He hit .360, .650 and .412 in those series, respectively. It’s worth noting that the .650 was against Mark Grace’s Cubs. That, and a billy goat, partially explains the result of that series.

4. Craig Counsell (.400)—“Screech” is lights out in the LCS (with Florida in 1997 and Arizona in 2001), but has a .212 average in the NLDS and .130 World Series mark. Huh?

5. Mickey Rivers (.386)—Talk about consistency. In three straight ALCS appearances for Rivers’ Yankees against the Royals (1976-78), he was almost impossible to pitch to, hitting .348, .391, and .455. Considering Rivers was the Yankees’ leadoff man, do I have to tell you who won each series?

Starting Pitching ERA (note: we only included those who have started more games than they relieved)

1. Gary Nolan (1.35)—Gary Nolan pitched in four NLCS for the Reds—1970, 1972, 1975 and 1976. In four starts, he went 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA, and 16 strikeouts. Though Nolan was a very good 3.08 in his career during the regular season, he clearly knew how to turn it up a notch when it counted most.

2. Orel Hershiser (1.52)—Orel Hershiser was almost unhittable in 1988, but in all he pitched in five LCS—1985 and 1988 with the Dodgers; 1995 and 1997 with Cleveland, and 1999 with the Mets. His record in championship series play? 4-0 with the 1.52 ERA and 47 strikeouts.

3. Jeff Suppan (1.69)—Jeff Suppan has pitched in three NLCS, all with the Cardinals—2004-06. His numbers are aided mostly by those two ridiculous starts in 2006 against the Mets when he gave up one earned run in 15 innings of work. And as a Mets fan, I do mean ridiculous literally.

4. Randy Johnson (1.72)—The Big Unit has been lights out in LCS play—in 1995 with Seattle and in 2001 with the D-Backs. In those two series, he went 2-1 with 32 strikeouts and just 5 walks in 31 innings. The man is just sick.

5. Fernando Valenzuela (1.95)—Fernando Valenzuela was like a cult hero for the Dodgers and pitched for them in three LCS—1981, 1983 and 1985. Over that time, Valenzuela, who’s out pitch was a screwball, went 3-1 with 28 strikeouts.

Source: Baseball Reference

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