Jonathan Broxton got the Los Angeles Dodgers to the brink of a tying win in the NL championship series. Then he gave it away.
Broxton lost his control in the ninth inning of Game 4 on Monday night, failing in his attempt at his eighth save of at least four outs this year.
He walked Matt Stairs and hit Carlos Ruiz before Jimmy Rollins drove a 1-1 pitch into the gap in right-center for the winning double in the Philadelphia Phillies‘ 5-4 victory.
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“He put a good swing on it and barreled it up,” Broxton said. “It got right through the defense.”
Broxton went 7-2 with 36 saves in 42 opportunities and a 2.61 ERA as Los Angeles won the NL West title this season. He had two saves in two chances and a 1.59 ERA in the postseason before his meltdown against the Phillies.
Manager Joe Torre went to Broxton with runners on first and second and two out in the eighth. The hard-throwing right-hander recorded at least four outs in 10 games this year, including two of Los Angeles’ wins in its division series sweep against St. Louis.
It didn’t work out this time.
Broxton got Jayson Werth to fly out to end the eighth and retired Raul Ibanez on a grounder to begin the ninth. But Stairs walked on four pitches, starting Philly’s rally.
Broxton also had trouble with Stairs when he pinch hit in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS, yielding a homer that helped the Phillies advance to the World Series.
After Stairs walked this year, Broxton hit Ruiz with his next pitch. Greg Dobbs lined out but Rollins followed with the winning hit.
“We knew once we got to the eighth inning that Brox, when it got to Werth, that was going to be his man,” Torre said. “It’s one of those things. They’re a very tough lineup to go through. You try to be careful. He almost dug himself out of that last inning.”
Broxton had said entering the series that he was looking forward to a rematch with Stairs. Stairs forever cemented himself as an unlikely postseason star when he took Broxton deep a year ago.
Broxton didn’t let the setback shake his confidence this year. He insisted he was over Stairs’ homer “the next day” and hadn’t watched a replay of the drive.
“You just got to train your mind to where you’ve got a short memory,” he said. “Forget about the past, come out the next day ready to go.”
Broxton was terrific in his first full season as the Dodgers closer. He had picked up a pair of saves in the 2009 playoffs, and No. 3 seemed moments away.
Perhaps nerves and last season’s failure got to Broxton in the ninth. Used primarily as a pinch hitter, Stairs hit only .194 this season with five homers and 17 RBIs.
Stairs never had to swing the bat this time.
“I just wasn’t going to give him anything out over the middle,” Broxton said. “Try to keep it down and get him to chase.”
Broxton was the fourth Dodgers reliever in Game 4 and the only one to allow a hit. Ronald Belisario, Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill combined for 2 1-3 scoreless innings, keeping Philadelphia in check while Los Angeles rallied for a 4-3 lead.
The series’ next game is Wednesday in Philadelphia, giving Broxton an extra day to put the costly meltdown behind him.
“You just got to shake it off,” Broxton said. “You could be back out there in the same situation, so you’ve got to have a short memory.”