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Payback time: Harden can save Cubs

Harden can save Cubs in Game 3

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CHICAGO -- Rich Harden has never pitched against the Dodgers, but he's looking for payback nonetheless.

Harden's Athletics went up 2-0 in the 2003 American League Division Series against Boston. The Red Sox came back to win the next three games and knocked him out of the postseason.

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"It happened to me and it's not fun," said Harden, who took the loss in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS. "I think we're quite capable of doing it to them."

"Them" isn't the Red Sox, it's the Dodgers, who own a 2-0 lead heading back to Los Angeles for Game 3 against the Cubs on Saturday night. Harden matches up against Hiroki Kuroda with Chicago's season on the line.

National League teams on the brink of getting swept have never won three straight to take a Division Series, going 0-for-16. In the American League, only once has a team come back from losing the first two games at home to advance past the first round. The 2001 Yankees, managed by current Dodgers skipper Joe Torre, dropped Games 1 and 2 to the Athletics at Yankee Stadium and won it in five.

The Yankees got back on track in Oakland thanks to an outstanding Game 3 effort from Mike Mussina, who tossed seven shutout innings and gave way to Mariano Rivera for a two-inning save in a 1-0 victory.

Harden is 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA since switching leagues. Inning-for-inning, he's been as dominant as CC Sabathia, but hasn't gotten the same publicity.

"He's taken us from a postseason team to a team that has a shot at winning the whole thing," second baseman Mark DeRosa said. "He solidifies the entire rotation."

GAME 3: JUST THE FACTS
Dodger Stadium, Saturday, 9 p.m. CT
Cubs starter: RHP Rich Harden
2008: 10-2, 2.07 ERA (OAK and CHC)
2008 on road: 5-2, 2.50 ERA
2008 vs. Dodgers: No record
Career vs. Dodgers: No record
Career postseason: 1-2, 6.43 ERA
Dodgers starter: RHP Hiroki Kuroda
2008: 9-10, 3.73 ERA
2008 at home: 6-2, 3.68 ERA
2008 vs. Cubs: 1-1, 0.59 ERA
Career vs. Cubs: 1-1, 0.59 ERA
Career postseason: First appearance
Dodgers lead series, 2-0. No team in the Wild Card era has won a National League Division Series after trailing 2-0.
Game 1: Dodgers 7, Cubs 2
Game 2: Dodgers 10, Cubs 3
Did you know? Kuroda will be the fourth Japanese-born pitcher to start a playoff game in Major League history, joining Hideo Nomo, Masato Yoshii and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

A Game 3 win is still a tall task. Kuroda baffled the Cubs in two first-half starts with a 0.59 ERA, his best split against any club, including a complete-game shutout in Los Angeles.

Harden's concern is two-fold: his much-discussed health and his control. The Athletics dangled him before the Trade Deadline because of his injury history. The Cubs bit, and they exercised caution with Harden during the second half. He maxed out at seven innings per start despite some gaudy lines and skipped one turn at the beginning of September to stay rested for the playoff run. Harden said he's ready to go all out now.

"I've been up to 120 pitches so far this year, and I feel like I can go more," he said. "I've definitely shown I can do that. I know they've been keeping me on a little bit of a strict pitch count. Now that we're in the playoffs, hopefully we can stretch it out a little more."

Given Chicago's hitting woes, it might take a Mussina-type effort from Harden to snap the club's eight-game postseason losing streak. General manager Jim Hendry dealt for Harden three months ago with October in mind. Well, here they are.

While with Oakland in the first half, it appeared Harden would be watching the playoffs on TV. The Angels began to take hold of the American League West, and the AL East had multiple Wild Card contenders.

Meanwhile in the NL, the Brewers grabbed Sabathia from Cleveland on July 7. Hendry countered by dealing a few prospects for Harden four days later. The right-hander quickly realized what was on the horizon.

Teams going 0-2 at home
YearHomeOpponentOutcome
2007PhilliesRockiesL, 3-0
2006Padres CardinalsL, 3-1
TwinsAthleticsL, 3-0
2004AngelsRed SoxL, 3-0
2002D-BacksCardinalsL, 3-0
2000White SoxMariners L, 3-0
AstrosBravesL, 3-0
YankeesAthleticsW, 3-2
1997MarinersOrioles L, 3-1
1996DodgersBraves L, 3-0
1995 Dodgers Reds L, 3-0
Rockies Braves L, 3-1

"I didn't really get too far ahead of myself thinking about it too much, but I knew that this was where we'd be," Harden said. "I'm looking forward to taking the ball."

Walks have been an issue, 11 in 11 innings over his last two starts. That's a scary stat considering Ryan Dempster's wildness doomed the Cubs in Game 1, but a little less concerning given Harden gave up three combined hits in those outings.

"What's impressive to me about Rich is he's able to go out there without his best stuff and go five, six innings, two hits," said DeRosa, who knows Harden well from his days with the Rangers. "I constantly ask him how he's able to do that. I've faced him in the past, and I know the matchup problems he presents."

The Dodgers may not be aware of those problems. They've never faced him. However, Harden is very familiar with Los Angeles right-hander Derek Lowe.

Lowe closed out Harden's A's in Game 5 of the 2003 ALDS, getting out of a bases-loaded jam for the save. The A's accused Lowe of making obscene gestures toward their dugout after the series-ending strikeout. If the Cubs can win twice, Lowe will start Game 5, and Harden will likely be in the dugout looking for redemption.

"He turned to us and showed us up," Harden said. "You know what? Hopefully we can return the favor."

Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["division_series" ] }
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