Hiroki Kuroda won the game with six-plus innings and won his teammates' respect with one pitch, which sailed behind the ducking head of former Dodgers farmhand Shane Victorino, one game after he drove in four runs.
"It slipped out of my hand," said Kuroda, a quick study in the field of baseball political correctness, if not honesty.
Plate umpire Mike Everitt didn't buy it. He concluded it was retaliation for an inning earlier when Dodgers catcher Russell Martin was knocked down by a Clay Condrey pitch, the second time in as many games that Martin was brushed back, not to mention the two times he was hit by breaking balls in this game.
Kuroda's purpose pitch drew warnings to both benches from Everitt, while Victorino motioned to the Dodgers that the situation called for him to be drilled in the ribs, not the helmet. Moments later, a confrontation near first base between Kuroda and Victorino, who grounded out, emptied both benches and bullpens. Nobody was ejected, but everybody got the point.
"Kuroda's a ninja -- maybe more like a samurai," Martin said. "He gets fired up and he got us fired up.
"The last thing we're trying to do is hit somebody in the head. We were trying to make them uncomfortable. They've been swinging the bats pretty well. They throw up and tight on us and got us uncomfortable. We're just trying to make a statement. It's baseball. It's part of the game. I mean, we're not headhunters by any means. But when there's a statement to be made, you've got to get it done."
2-1 lead in LCS play
|With the Dodgers' victory in Game 3, an NLCS stands at 2-1 for the 18th time since it became a best-of-seven series in 1985. Thirteen of the previous 17 teams went on to win its NLCS.|
|Year||Team up 2-1||Opponent||Final|
|Winners of the NLCS listed in bold.|
For the Dodgers, Kuroda's enforcement of baseball's unwritten rules got it done a game later than many teammates wanted, considering the successful Game 2 bullying tactics of Phillies starter Brett Myers, whose fastballs sailed under Martin's chin and behind the head of Manny Ramirez.
Dodgers veterans were hot when Chad Billingsley didn't respond in kind, and there had been critical chirping in the clubhouse ever since.
"What happened in Philly wasn't right," said Ramirez, who during Sunday's scrum had to be restrained from going after Phillies reliever and former Boston teammate J.C. Romero by Dodgers teammates fearful their meal ticket would be suspended for fighting.
"We had to send a message. I was mad at myself, about what happened in Philly. We should have taken care of that over there. We want to play the game right. We don't want to hurt nobody."
The Dodgers send Derek Lowe to the mound Monday for Game 4 on three days' rest with a chance to even the series. If they didn't swing momentum to their side with Sunday's win in front of a record Dodger Stadium crowd of 56,800, at least they removed the chance of being swept. They're 5-0 against the Phillies at home this year.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who urged his team to take the game to the Phillies, was asked if his club had seized the momentum of the series.
"I think for the moment we have," he said. "I mean, to me it's all about -- it's a short series. You win a game and you have that good feeling about yourself and maybe hopefully we've planted a seed of doubt."
Of course, to say that the Dodgers won the game because they stood up to the intimidating tactics of the Phillies would be ignoring a simple fact, like the score at the time, which was 6-2 Dodgers. In the six innings after the incident, the Dodgers scored only one run, on Nomar Garciaparra's RBI single.
The real story line in the final score, even before the beanballs started flying, was the difference in starting pitching. Swinging early in counts, the first four Dodgers batters against 45-year-old Jamie Moyer reached base and a five-run first inning was capped by rookie Blake DeWitt's bases-loaded triple, his first hit of the series.
Moyer was gone after 1 1/3 innings, his shortest start in 10 years. Rafael Furcal, 1-for-9 in the first two games of the series, led off the first with a single, and later homered and walked, scoring twice.
"Furcal, that gives you an indication what he means at the top of our batting order," Torre said. "And then the two-out base hit by Blake DeWitt, I think, was the back-breaker for them. Because he was down 0-2 and he really kept things together."
Kuroda followed up last weekend's masterpiece clinching of the NL Division Series against the Cubs with an even more clutch performance in a virtual must-win game. He not only played policeman in the head-games department, he retired 13 consecutive Phillies batters at one point, 10 straight after the pitch at Victorino, until he wavered in the seventh.
The Japanese import has allowed the Phillies only four earned runs in 19 innings this season. Including the postseason, he's 8-2 at Dodger Stadium. Since Aug. 29, he's 4-0 with three no-decisions.
Unsung rookie workhorse Cory Wade inherited a pair of runners from Kuroda with no out in the seventh, put down the inning without further damage and pitched a scoreless eighth, with Jonathan Broxton pitching a scoreless ninth.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.