Dodgers stack dominoes behind Derek

Dodgers stack dominoes behind Derek

When a pitcher is named to start Game 1 of a postseason series, it's often because he's been there and done that.

Good and bad, that applies to Derek Lowe.

He pitched the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2004, which helped him earn a four-year contract from the Dodgers. And when the Dodgers reached the postseason in 2006, Grady Little gave Lowe the Game 1 start. That one didn't go so well.

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With that history as the backdrop, he will take the ball Wednesday as the Dodgers enter their third postseason in the past five years at Chicago in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, meeting right-hander Ryan Dempster in a 3:30 p.m. PT start.

Chad Billingsley led Dodgers pitchers in wins (16) and strikeouts (201) this year, but manager Joe Torre chose Lowe, in part because of his postseason experience (including against Torre's Yankees), in part because he's best suited to come back on three days' rest in a Game 4 if needed, in part because he finished this regular season like the ace the club has always hoped he would be.

With three scoreless innings Friday night as a final tuneup, Lowe finished 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA. More pertinent, he finished on a seven-week roll, unbeaten in his last six starts, 4-0 with an 0.50 ERA in that time, dropping his overall ERA more than half a run. In his last nine starts, he was 5-1 with a 0.99 ERA.

"This year, as far as confidence goes, I don't know if I've ever had a month where I allowed only two runs," said Lowe, who has been fighting off a cold for the past week. "You don't want to think you're invincible or anything, but any time you go into a big series or big game, you want to be at your peak, you don't want any doubts.

"If you're pitching well, you take that momentum, especially in the playoffs, and you can really impact the team. Confidence can be the biggest hurdle to clear, especially in the playoffs, on the road. That's why I've always felt that first inning is so important, to get yourself settled down. You really want an easy first inning."

Lowe goes to work in this series opener with a 4-4 overall postseason record with one save and a 3.34 ERA in 67 1/3 innings.

"In a five-game series, Game 1 is very important because you really don't have that much time to make up," Lowe said. "It's such an adrenaline rush at this time of year to go out there and pitch in big games. This is why you play the game. Having played in Yankee Stadium all those years, you learn how to deal with it. You learn how to deal with a hostile crowd, and this is going to be no different.î

Lowe has faced the Cubs twice this season, getting a May 28 no-decision in a seven-inning masterpiece, throwing seven scoreless innings in a game the Dodgers lost, 2-1. He was just about as good five days later at Dodger Stadium on June 3, allowing only one run in eight innings of an 8-2 victory.

Lowe, by the numbers
Here is how Dodgers Game 1 starter Derek Lowe has fared at home, on the road, against the Cubs and in the postseason:
Home, 2008: 9-5, 2.30 ERA, 17 starts
Road, 2008: 5-6, 4.57 ERA, 17 starts
Vs. Cubs, 2008: 1-0, 1.93 ERA, two starts
Vs. Cubs, career: 2-1, 3.25 ERA, eight starts
Postseason, career: 4-4, 3.34 ERA, 18 games, seven starts
Did You Know? He and Brad Ausmus are the only active Major Leaguers who have spent 10 or more years in MLB without going on the disabled list.

That just continued a career trend for Lowe against the Cubs. In eight starts, he's 2-1 with a 3.25 ERA. At Wrigley Field, his only decision in four starts was a win but it was a beauty -- a one-hitter Aug. 31, 2005 -- and overall he has a 2.67 ERA.

The postseason, of course, is always another story. In 2004, Lowe was brilliant, going 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA in a relief appearance and three starts, including the Game 4 clincher. In Game 1 of the 2006 Division Series against the Mets, Lowe got the start to one of the more forgettable postseason games in Dodgers history.

Lowe allowed fourth-inning home runs to Carlos Delgado (470 feet) and Cliff Floyd, then a two-run RBI double by David Wright in the sixth and left trailing. But the Dodgers battled back to get Lowe off the hook with three runs in the seventh inning off former Dodger Guillermo Mota on Rafael Furcal's RBI single and a two-out double by Nomar Garciaparra.

Then the game got away from the Dodgers' bullpen, which was left shorthanded by the freak bar injury Joe Beimel suffered. Brad Penny, this year's Opening Day starter who is disabled and ineligible, lost in relief, having been dropped from the starting rotation because of back spasms. The game also was marked by two Dodgers -- Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew -- getting tagged out at the plate on the same play in the second inning.

Clearly, Lowe is hoping for a little more of a blast from his Red Sox past as he sets the tone for the Dodgers' 2008 run into the postseason.

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