Long balls lead Dodgers in Game 1

Long balls lead Dodgers in Game 1

CHICAGO -- When Joe Torre's Yankees owned October, this was how they did it.

With starting pitching to keep it close, the way Derek Lowe did for six innings Wednesday night. Hitters patiently worked walks -- the Dodgers had eight -- and ran up opposing starters' pitch counts, leading to a big mistake and early exit of the starter -- Ryan Dempster didn't finish the fifth inning -- and lesser relievers to punish.

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Having earlier landed the Yankees' manager and hitting coach, the remodeled Dodgers borrowed from that proven playbook to win Game 1 of the National League Division Series from the Cubs, 7-2. They rifled three home runs through the inbound wind, none of them with more impact than a fifth-inning grand slam by James Loney with the Cubs ahead, 2-0.

NLDS History
Teams that have taken 1-0 leads have won 23 of 26 Division Series in the Wild Card era. Only the 1999 Braves lost Game 1 at home and won the series.
Won Game 1: 23-3
Won Game 1 on road: 12-1
Won Game 1 at home: 11-2

Loney's first two at-bats in the game went for a popup and a flyout. Dempster walked the bases loaded, and Loney came up with two outs, immediately falling behind 0-2 and looking bad doing it. He barely foul-tipped a third pitch, took ball one outside, then crushed a changeup to left-center, the same direction that Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin sent their homers later. It was only the fifth inning, but it was Dempster's 108th pitch.

"The atmosphere was real quiet as I was going around the bases, so I think our fans were cheering back home," Loney said.

A packed Wrigley Field, knowing full well the horror of 100 years without a Cubs World Series, fell silent, although that wasn't the way Martin remembered it.

"I thought it got really loud," the Dodgers catcher said. "Our dugout went nuts."

Grand Beginnings
James Loney rallied the Dodgers with a two-out grand slam in the top of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.
Loney's slam was L.A.'s first in postseason play since Dusty Baker on Oct. 5, 1977.
Loney's four RBIs equal a Dodgers' NLDS single-game record, tying Eric Karros on Oct. 4, 1995.
Loney ties Karros and Steve Garvey (1981) for most RBIs by a Dodger in an NLDS. He now holds the team record with seven career NLDS RBIs.

Casey Blake was so excited he smashed his head into the cement roof of the dugout jumping up to watch the ball sail out. Martin homered later, as would Ramirez with a ridiculously awkward swing on nasty outside pitch, extending his MLB postseason record to 25 long balls. It was his 54th RBI in 54 Dodgers games.

"Everybody acts like his second half was unbelievable," hitting coach Don Mattingly said of Ramirez. "That's what he does all the time. He puts whole years together like that. He's not hot. He's always like this."

Last 10 grand slams in postseason play
Year
Series
Player
Team
2008NLDSJames LoneyDodgers
2007NLDSKazuo MatsuiRockies
2007ALCSJ.D. DrewRed Sox
2005NLDSReggie SandersCardinals
2005NLDSAdam LaRocheBraves
2005NLDSLance BerkmanAstros
2005WSPaul KonerkoWhite Sox
2004ALCSVladimir GuerreroAngels
2004ALCSJohnny DamonRed Sox
2003NLCSAramis RamirezCubs

And his team is right there with him. Three home runs into the wind at Wrigley, seven unanswered Dodgers runs. The last time the Dodgers were here, in May, they scored one run in each game of a three-game series, losing all three games.

But these aren't the Dodgers that lost five of seven to the Cubs this year. They are different, from Ramirez to Blake to Rafael Furcal back atop the batting order. Combined, they built a big enough lead so Lowe could be shut down after 94 pitches, with the thought that he'll come back in Game 4 on three days' rest if needed.

Mattingly arrived at the All-Star break and Ramirez two weeks later, and the entire offense has exercised more discipline since. From Opening Day through July 31, the Dodgers ranked 11th in the NL in walks. From Aug. 1 through the end of the season, they were second.

Now, they have the franchise's second postseason win in 20 years. Jose Lima, you have company. Only this time, instead of delaying elimination, as Lima's Game 3 shutout win did in 2004, this Loney-led victory assured the Dodgers -- the playoff team with the worst regular-season record -- of no worse than a split on the road against the team with the best record in the league.

Better news: Teams that won Game 1 of the NLDS have gone 23-3 in the Wild Card era. The Dodgers send Chad Billingsley against Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. PT, but the players don't buy into the underdog role.

"If we play the same way tomorrow, we have a good chance to get a win," Martin said. "They'll say the pressure of the past isn't affecting them, but they've got 100 years of pressure. This is only our second postseason win in 20 years. You know it exists."

But the Dodgers are playing with confidence coming off a 17-8 September and see no reason why they can't continue the Cubs' misery into a second century.

"When James hit that homer, it lifted us up, pumped us up," outfielder Matt Kemp said. "Look around Wrigley and the whole stadium went silent. We were motivated and we never stopped from there."

The grand slam by Loney was the Dodgers' first in postseason play since Dusty Baker on Oct. 5, 1977. Ron Cey hit one the day before that. The four RBIs by Loney equal a Dodgers' NLDS single-game record, tying Eric Karros (Oct. 4, 1995), and the seven for his career is a club NLDS record.

They don't call him "Big-Game James" in the clubhouse for nothing. In fact, in his lone appearance during the 2006 playoffs against the Mets, Loney drove in three runs in Game 2.

"He's so unpredictable," Torre said of Loney, whom he often compares to Yankees postseason hero Bernie Williams. "We've seen that time and time again this year. This is only my first year with him, but I've seen him have at-bats like that before where he just seems to be overmatched at times, but yet comes up with a base hit."

Mattingly said Loney, who hit 13 home runs this year, will improve.

"You never know what you're going to get with him. He's had a lot of big hits for us and, over time, he's going to get better," Mattingly said. "I think he'll hit for power one day, but I didn't think it would be today. That ball took off into the wind. He's still a baby. He hasn't got his man-strength, for me. His front side is still weak. He's got great hand-eye coordination and he puts the ball in play. A lot of guys like that hit home runs later and get jammed early -- like Jim Edmonds and Garret Anderson."

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