Billingsley punctuated that stellar season by yielding just one run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings, while striking out seven to just one walk, in a Game 2 win in the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field in which the 24-year-old right-hander was proving that he could pitch on a national stage.But then came Game 2 of the NL Championship Series at Philadelphia. Billingsley threw the worst game of his career, giving up a career-high eight runs -- seven earned -- on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings, with three walks and five strikeouts. He twice allowed four-run innings without the aid of a home run, and 10 of 12 batters reached base before he was mercifully pulled. Now with the Dodgers trailing the Phillies, 3-1, following Monday's Game 4 loss, Billingsley has a chance to atone for that outing. "I think after the last outing and how disappointed he was, whether this outing was pitching 2-2 or down 3-1, he was knowing how pivotal it was going to be," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
Added catcher Russell Martin, "I'm sure he wants another shot at it."
TALE OF THE TAPE: GAME 5 STARTERS
|2008 REGULAR SEASON|
|Overall||33 GS, 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 53 BB, 196 K||35 G, 32 GS, 16-10, 3.14 ERA, 80 BB, 201 K|
|Key stat||Allowed .272 OBP to opponents (best in NL)||Allowed 14 HR in 200 2/3 IP|
|2008||2 GS, 2-0, 1.20||2 GS, 1-1, 8.00|
|Career||3 GS, 2-1, 2.08||4 G, 2 GS, 1-1, 6.55|
|AT DODGER STADIUM|
|2008||1 GS, 0-0, 2.57||17 G, 16 GS, 10-4, 2.95|
|Career||1 GS, 0-0, 2.57||44 G, 33 GS, 17-8, 3.58|
|AGAINST THIS OPPONENT|
|2008 regular season||2 GS, 1-0, 2.57||1 GS, 0-1, 4.50|
|Career||2 GS, 1-0, 2.57||3 GS, 1-1, 4.00|
|Loves to face||2-for-11 (incl NLCS)||Chris Coste, 0-for-3|
|Hates to face||Manny Ramirez, 4-for-11 (incl. NLCS)||Pedro Feliz, 4-for-12, 1 HR, 1 2B|
|Why he'll win||7-3, 2.20 in last 12 starts (incl playoffs)||1.65 ERA last 7 home starts|
|Pitcher beware||LHH slugged .471 against him||5.06 first-inning ERA|
|Bottom line||Cole's on a roll||Can Bills bounce back?|
For the Dodgers to keep their reservations for a Thursday afternoon flight to Philly, Torre said the young right-hander needs to do a better job of working both sides of the plate and changing speeds than he did in Game 2.
"I think the last time out he may have tried to over-prepare," Torre said. "[It] looked like he was trying to do too many things or think about doing too many things, as opposed to just going out there and staying with his plan of using his stuff and changing speeds and the variety that he has."
The eight runs were as many as he had given up in his final six regular-season appearances combined besides a shelling of seven runs (six earned) in 4 2/3 innings Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh. That outing would have been much cleaner if not for a grand slam he yielded to Adam LaRoche on his final pitch.Going back further, Billingsley yielded three runs or fewer in 18 of his previous 20 starts dating back to July 17, during which time he was the Dodgers' most consistent pitcher. He's been particularly good at Dodger Stadium, going 6-0 with a 1.65 ERA over his past seven home starts. "We have confidence in him," said Dodgers first baseman James Loney. "He just left a few balls up last time, but his stuff's been great." It's been a rough week for Billingsley. After his Game 2 start, some veteran teammates chirped they were not happy that nobody retaliated after Phillies Game 2 starter Brett Myers threw under the chin of Martin and over the head of slugger Manny Ramirez. After the game, Billingsley said pitches intended to back Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth off the plate ended up being called third strikes. "I wasn't doing it to retaliate, but I tried to come inside, but I couldn't get it in enough," Billingsley said. "I was having a hard time, and that was my fault." Added Torre, "I think he was mad at himself for being sort of in between in that start." After a relatively calm Game 4 as far as extracurricular activity is concerned following a chippy Game 3, such issues appear to be by the wayside. But for Billingsley and the Dodgers, no margin of error exists on the playing field with a 3-1 deficit staring them in their face. "It's pretty much do or die," Billingsley said. "We've just got to come ready to play."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.