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Broxton's struggles waste Kemp's efforts

Broxton's struggles waste Kemp's efforts

PHILADELPHIA -- Surrounded by reporters, Jonathan Broxton had that Terry Forster/Tom Niedenfuer/Jonathan Broxton look of stunned disbelief on his face. In the eighth inning on Thursday night, there was a seven-run Dodgers lead, and an inning later it was a shocking, 10-9 Phillies win.

Broxton was unable to retire any of the five batters he faced in the bottom of the ninth, and after Carlos Ruiz won it with a two-run walk-off double, Joe Torre was not willing to say Broxton's still his closer.

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"Let the smoke clear before you get me to say something I haven't thought about," Torre said when asked if Broxton remains the go-to guy in the ninth. "He's a big boy, he'll be all right. Long-term, I'm not worried about him."

The Dodgers are now nine games out of first place, and they've never overcome a deficit that large to win the division.

This wasn't even the greatest Phillies comeback against the Dodgers. Next week marks the 20th anniversary of that one, when Los Angeles took a 10-run lead into the eighth inning, then allowed a nine-run ninth for a 12-11 loss to Philadelphia.

The Dodgers also saw something like this last October, when Broxton let Game 4 of the National League Championship Series get away. On Thursday, Torre went to the mound during the meltdown to tell Broxton, "Trust your stuff."

Maybe he was still seeing ghosts from last year's disaster, when Jimmy Rollins hit a game-winning double in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS off Broxton, or the 2008 LCS homer Broxton served up to Matt Stairs.

"No," said Broxton. "Whatever happened last year, happened last year. I wasn't thinking about that at all."

Maybe that's true, because Broxton was struggling before he arrived at Citizens Bank Park. The All-Star's ERA in July was 7.45.

Broxton said that he's healthy, and 98-mph readings on the radar gun seem to support that assertion. In his career (regular and postseason) against the Phillies, he's 3-2, with two saves in six opportunities and a 6.30 ERA in 20 appearances. He was asked if Citizens Bank Park is a tough place to pitch.

"When you pitch like that it is," he said.

He also said that his confidence is fine.

"[I'm] just a little wild right now," he said. "Every pitcher goes through it. Hopefully I'll get back to my normal self out there."

After starting the first two games of the series on the bench, Matt Kemp returned to the lineup and contributed a home run and four RBIs. Clayton Kershaw pitched 6 2/3 quality innings, allowing only two runs, and appeared en route to an 11th win, then the bullpen collapsed. It started with Ronald Belisario, rushed back with only two rehab innings at Class A following a month on the restricted list, reportedly for substance-abuse treatment. Belisario faced four batters in the eighth, and they all scored. On Tuesday night he allowed a home run in one inning of work.

"Rust, I guess," said Torre. "No question, he only had a couple of rehabs. We thought we'd give him a couple of outings to get him going. A seven-run lead seemed comfortable. [It's] one of those days we have to live with."

Said Belisario: "I feel good, you know? Those kind of things happen sometimes."

Kenley Jansen and George Sherrill restored order, only for Broxton to take over in the ninth and lose it. Broxton had his velocity but not his control. He hit leadoff batter Placido Polanco with a 2-0 fastball, then issued a nine-pitch walk to Mike Sweeney and a five-pitch walk to Jayson Werth.

Ben Francisco followed with a chopper to Casey Blake, inserted at third base for defensive purposes after Ronnie Belliard had driven in two runs starting in his place, but Francisco's top-spinner went through Blake's legs, and two runs scored.

"One of those ... You don't call it do-or-die, but an in-between, and if you don't come up with it, it kind of makes you look like an idiot, and tonight I looked like an idiot," said Blake. "I've got to make that play, bottom line."

Broxton wouldn't blame Blake.

"When you walk guys, it doesn't matter. It's my fault for walking them," Broxton said. "Guys play back on the heels when the pitcher is not throwing strikes. It's all my fault."

Then Ruiz smoked the double to center field.

"I always like that moment," said Ruiz. "I was going to the plate relaxed. I was thinking [manager] Charlie [Manuel] showed his confidence to get a big hit, because right there you have a bunt situation. So I said, 'You have to do something.' I definitely was looking for a good pitch to hit, and he threw me a slider right down the middle, and I made good contact."

The Dodgers seem to suffer one worst loss of the year after another, but they'll have a hard time topping this one.

"[It's] probably the toughest one," said Torre. "A tough pill to swallow."

This was the swing game of the series, and perhaps of the seven-game trip that continues in Atlanta on Friday night. During their last trip, the Dodgers won the first game and watched the bullpen blow the third, and they didn't win another.

What will be the effect of this loss?

"Too early to tell," said the veteran Blake. "Obviously, the mood isn't great right now. It's tough to lose in that fashion. That's a dagger."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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