Thud follows a slam
CHICAGO -- The trip around the bases was like no other James Loney had made in his 24 years.
“Pretty quiet,” Loney said.
“Like a cemetery in Wrigley,” Matt Kemp said.
With three teammates in front of him, Loney rounded the basepaths in front of 42,099 fans who fell silent almost from the moment his bat met a changeup from Ryan Dempster. His fifth-inning grand slam erased a two-run deficit to the Chicago Cubs and sent the Dodgers on their way to a 7-2 victory Wednesday at Wrigley Field in Game 1 of their National League division series.
The wait was over. The boys became men. The Dodgers won a playoff game, their first in four years and second in the last two decades.
Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin also hit balls over the fabled ivy, Derek Lowe pitched six innings of two-run ball and the Cubs found themselves down in this best-of-five series, their league-best regular-season record no longer of any value.
The Dodgers’ strategy on this night: Take, take and take some more.
Dempster walked as many batters Wednesday as he had over the entire month of September (seven) and had to throw 109 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings.
“We looked up in the fourth or fifth inning and he had 100 pitches, so we knew we were having good at-bats,” rookie second baseman Blake DeWitt said.
The Cubs had taken a 2-0 lead on Mark DeRosa’s home run in the second. In the third, Lowe and Rafael Furcal walked and Ramirez singled, bringing up Andre Ethier with two outs and the bases loaded, but he struck out.
It remained 2-0 until the fifth, when Dempster loaded the bases again, this time by walking Furcal, Ramirez and Ethier.
Loney stepped into the batter’s box, swung at a low changeup that was out of the strike zone and missed. He swung at another changeup and missed.
“James is just all over the place,” hitting coach Don Mattingly said, shaking his head. “But we kind of expect this from him. Just when you expect him to never get a hit again . . . “
He does something like he did Wednesday night, which was drive the ball into the bleachers in left-center and break the spirits of a team that hasn’t won a World Series in 100 years.
“Actually, I thought it got really loud because in our dugout, we were going nuts right there,” Martin said.
If Loney’s at-bat was the one that changed the game, Ramirez’s one before it was most talked-about in the Dodgers’ clubhouse afterward.
Ramirez had an 0-and-2 count, but he drew a walk against Dempster.
“It doesn’t matter what the count is,” Ethier said. “He’s still dangerous. 0-2 is like 2-0 or 3-0 to him.”
Ramirez demonstrated that in the seventh inning, practically scraping an 0-2 pitch by Sean Marshall off the ground and sending it into the upper half of the left-field stands to extend the Dodgers’ lead to 5-2.
“Three-iron,” Greg Maddux said.
“It’s normal stuff for him, isn’t it?” Mattingly said.
Ramirez was in a playful mood, much the way he was the previous day during his team’s workout.
“First, I want to thank Joe for cutting my hair,” Ramirez said.
Asked what transformed him in his two months with the Dodgers, he replied, “Nothing. I’m just being Manny.”
And Lowe was being Lowe.
Battling a cold, Lowe never found the rhythm that helped him post a 5-1 record with an earned-run average of 0.94 over his last nine regular-season starts, but he did more than enough.
“I didn’t have one 1-2-3 inning,” said Lowe, who is expected to come back on short rest to pitch in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. “There were constantly guys on base and they did a good job of working the count and getting into hitter’s counts.”
None of this surprised Manager Joe Torre.
“He just battles you,” Torre said. “I watched it for a number of years when he was with the Red Sox. Tonight was huge.
“When you have a young club and you come into a foreign ballpark, just to get off to a start like this and give us an opportunity to win, just keeping the score 2-0 is as important a start as he’s had for us.”
The kids said that playing at Wrigley in October was certainly a new experience -- but not an overwhelming one.
“It was unbelievable,” DeWitt said. “It’s something I’ve obviously never experienced in my life.”
Said Kemp: “It was electric, man.”