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Friday, October 10, 2008
Billingsley plays blame game after rough outing

By Amy K. Nelson
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- If Chad Billingsley is going to be an ace someday, his performance both during and after the game is going to need improvement. Not only did the 24-year-old right-hander fail to get out of the third inning of Friday's 8-5 National League Championship Series loss against the Phillies, but he also shifted some of the blame to a teammate.

When asked repeatedly after the game what he thought went wrong, Billingsley kept saying it was "pitch selection." What went wrong was that Billingsley had the shortest outing by a Dodgers starter in an NLCS game since 1985 (Jerry Reuss).

What went wrong was that Billingsley allowed seven earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings in his second postseason start. He gave up eight overall and his team was out of it before it ever had a chance. The Dodgers quickly fell into a six-run hole from which they could never recover, and now they are headed to Los Angeles trailing the Phillies 2-0 in this best-of-seven series.

But after the game, Billingsley was awkward when answering questions and unable to provide any details other than saying that catcher Russell Martin calls the games behind the plate and that "pitch selection" was most likely the culprit.

"I felt good; I felt I had good stuff," said Billingsley, who added that a lot of the hits went the other way or found holes. "I didn't do well [Friday] and I didn't get the job done and I think pitch selection was kind of what the problem was."

He also said that when he's not feeling comfortable with what Martin's calling behind the plate, he'll shake him off. When Martin was asked whether Billingsley was shaking him off, he said, "Not necessarily. Not that I noticed. Not more than usual."

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It was an awkward moment because the next question for Martin was about what Billingsley had said.

"When you're not throwing the ball like you want to, it's easy to second-guess yourself," Martin said in a very mature, politically correct response. "If it works, it works; if it doesn't, it doesn't. We're going to have to make adjustments."

It all was a little surreal. And maybe it's part of who Billingsley is, to be emotional. After all, manager Joe Torre said as much before the game when he compared Billingsley's excitement at the outset of games to Roger Clemens'.

"I was very impressed with his start in Chicago [against the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLDS] because … I put him in a category of a Clemens type, where he gets pumped up for a start and sometimes it takes a few innings just to get his rhythm going," Torre said.

In that NLDS start, Billingsley gave up just a run in 6 2/3 innings and struck out seven in picking up the win. Perhaps one reason he did so well at Wrigley was that, as he admitted, his team scored five runs in the top of the second inning to give him some breathing room.

"A lot of me relaxed a little bit and could be a little bit more aggressive in the strike zone," Billingsley said about the five-spot the Dodgers threw at the Cubs.

Well, that run support didn't come Friday, not that Billingsley gave teammates much time to give him a cushion.

Chad Billingsley
Chad Billingsley wasn't happy with the pitch selection in his brief outing in a Game 2 loss against the Phillies.
An ugly second inning started off with so much promise as he struck out both Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth looking. Then it all went haywire, with the Phillies coming up with five straight hits. The inning finally ended after Billingsley had given up four runs. But then, the third inning wasn't much different -- he was tagged for another four runs.

It's fair to say he hasn't found a comfort zone pitching in this ballpark. The last time he lost a game, it was here, on Aug. 25 against the Phillies and Brett Myers, who beat Billingsley again Friday with three hits and three RBIs of his own to help the Philadelphia offense.

Yet when asked whether he could explain his recent struggles here, Billingsley mumbled an answer about a quality start, then seemed to reference his outing in Chicago before saying, "Never mind."

Even Torre was at a loss in trying to describe how the game devolved so quickly. Billingsley had retired five of the first six batters he faced before it all fell apart.

"All of a sudden, strange things happen," Torre said. "Very unexpected and certainly something that we certainly weren't prepared for. I'm sure he wasn't, either. I think sometimes when he gets into a situation like that, he fights it and sometimes he fights himself. And I think that may have been part of it."

Most of the players agreed that Billingsley's stuff didn't look that bad. So what went wrong?

"We weren't finishing off hitters," Martin said "He didn't have bad stuff; his command wasn't as good as it normally is. We just couldn't get them to chase, really."

How did Billingsley feel?

"How am I supposed to feel?" he said. "Frustrated, not happy with the way it went [in Game 2]. Just got to come back in L.A. and get back on track."

And so the potential ace was anything but one Friday. As for him basically assigning the blame to Martin, one teammate said, "He'll learn."

With time running out, the Dodgers hope it's sooner rather than later, on the field and off.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.