Takashi Saito said he's aware that he's nearing the end of his career. He's aware that at 38, his body can fail him at any moment and that his next voyage out of the Dodgers' bullpen could be his last.
He said he's not afraid of giving up hits or runs. What he's afraid of is doing what he did Wednesday night -- walking batters, or, in his words, "avoiding a confrontation."
Saito walked two of the first three batters he faced and blew a save in the ninth inning, setting the stage for Chan Ho Park to give up a walk-off single to Alfonso Soriano in the 10th that sent the Dodgers to a sweep-sealing 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Soriano ran down the first base line clapping, Park walked toward the dugout with his head bowed, and Joe Torre was about to depart for his first series in New York as the manager of the Dodgers, a team that has lost five of its last six games because of a lineup that has scored only eight runs in that span. The Dodgers start a four-game series against the Mets today at Shea Stadium.
The Dodgers got another solid performance from a starting pitcher and they managed to waste it again, the latest victim of the punchless offense being Derek Lowe, who threw seven shutout innings to hand set-up man Jonathan Broxton a 1-0 lead in the eighth.
Saito, who blew his third save, blamed himself. He admitted that he didn't touch first base when James Loney tossed him the ball on a play that was scored as an infield hit for Kosuke Fukudome and loaded the bases for the Cubs. The next batter, Geovany Soto, hit a sacrifice fly to right field that drove in Ryan Theriot to tie the score.
"I erased Lowe's win and I pinned a loss on Chan Ho," Saito said. "I didn't do my job as a closer."
In the hours leading up to the game, Saito spoke about how he felt that his days as a player could be coming to a close.
"I want to play as long as I can, but I'm always thinking that my next game could be my last," he said. "So I'm not afraid of being hit. What I don't want to do is run away from a challenge. I don't want to give up walks because that's not the way I want to finish."
Catcher Russell Martin faulted the offense for Lowe not getting a win.
"You can't win every game 1-0," Martin said. "Instead of trying to do it ourselves, we have to do it as a team, especially with runners in scoring position."
On this night, they were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position, making them six for their last 56.
The only run they managed came in the fourth inning, when rookie Blake DeWitt drew a bases-loaded walk from Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano, who remained 4-0 at Wrigley Field because of the Dodgers' collapse, gave up six hits and four walks over eight innings. He struck out three.
In every game of the three-game series, the Cubs' starter went at least seven innings.
But Lowe remained a step ahead of Zambrano for seven innings, giving up four hits, walking two and striking out five.
"Pitch after pitch, it seemed like he was getting strike one," Martin said. "That's the key for him."
Lowe didn't fault Saito for squandering what Martin called his best start of the season.
Glancing over at Saito's vacant locker, the former Boston Red Sox closer said, "I've been there. If anybody can understand ninth-inning frustrations, it's me."
Pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot doubled to the ivy in left-center field with one out in the 10th inning and scored the winning run when Soriano blooped a hit to left.
The victory for the Cubs tied the all-time series between the two franchises at 1,010-1,010.