The bottom of the fifth inning ended with a single by catcher Ruiz, then a two-strike single by Hamels, then a fly out by Rollins. I turned to my wife and suggested that it was time to take Lowe out.
This isn't hindsight, because I saw it at the time. It's the experience of hindsight, of watching all those other Lowe games where the inning before he gave up a lot of runs he started giving up singles and fly balls. Derek Lowe is one of the easiest pitchers to read. When he's getting ground balls he's on. When he stops getting ground balls it's time to get him out of there, or at least to have someone up in the 'pen to relieve him at a moment's notice, for example after a game-tying home run.
I understand why Torre wouldn't lift Lowe after five shutout innings. He had only made around 80 pitches. But the warning signs should have been too dire to ignore. At the very least he should have had a quicker hook in that sixth inning. Maybe after the error, which would seem unfair since he did get the ground ball but the fact was you had three home run hitters coming up as the tying run. Or at least after the tying home run! This I think was the latest you could justify leaving Lowe in. And failing that he should have been lifted after the sharp ground out by Howard. That was no "Lowe is back on the horse ground out", that was an "oh bleep he just doesn't have it anymore that was hit so hard ground out". And yet Torre left him in just long enough to lose the lead, and the tie, and as it would turn out, the game.
Look, running Lowe out for the sixth inning could have worked. If Furcal doesn't make that error maybe it does work. I've seen Lowe come back with a strong ground-based inning after a shaky air-based one. So yes, you can gamble. But why would you? The heart of the Phillies lineup was coming up. It's a two run lead in a playoff game. You have an 8-man bullpen ( if Lowe goes again in game 4 ). It's a good bullpen, though I wouldn't have picked Park to be the guy backing up Lowe, not with those hitters in that park. ( I shudder just to think about it. ) It would have made so much sense to get Lowe early. It may be too quick a hook by traditional standards, but let's just win that damn game first and worry about the way things are usually done and players' feelings after the game.
The Dodgers almost hit a home run in the first inning, and they almost got to Lidge with two long drives in the last inning, and they almost gave Lowe that precious first out in a middle inning when he was on the ropes, but the bad break that most haunts me is the mental mistake by the manager.
Yesterday's game thread post on Dodger Thoughts was just one word: Vigilance. It was a prophetic warning for the game. I wish Torre had been more vigilant. I wish he had been more watchful of the danger of Lowe losing his effectiveness. But he was not, and it cost the Dodgers game 1 of the 2008 NLCS.