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Prima Lima - He's a Dreama
2004-10-09 21:17
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Prior to tonight, the two most exciting Dodger pitching performances I've witnessed in person:

1) Fernando Valenzuela's no-hitter in 1990.

2) Pedro Astacio's three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout in his major-league debut.

Jose Lima's shutout against the best offense in baseball, in the playoffs, in an elimination game, easily makes this a top three.

I was forced to be at home for the Dodgers' amazing division-clinching comeback against San Francisco two weeks ago. I saw the entire game on television (Dodgers, I'm hopelessly TiVoted to you) and was thrilled.

But the difference in being able to attend the game is the glory of being able to genuflect, to offer your praise and feel it being received. And it was just a magnificent experience. I mean, I was waving and yelling to Lima from the Loge level - and I'm pretty sure he knew it.

Leaping to your feet in front of the television set just isn't the same.

Lima's roughest inning tonight was the first, when Tony Womack became what turned out to be the only Cardinal to reach third base. When Lima escaped that dilemma, he earned a standing ovation - who knew if we would able to give another?

As it turns out, we gave him about a dozen.

While I was in the food line, the Dodgers got a break when Lima was ruled safe on a hinky bunt to load the bases with none out in the third inning. Not apologizing for that one, considering how rough it's been for Los Angeles this week. The play came just after Alex Cora was deked by Scott Rolen into not sliding into third on Brent Mayne's single and almost got himself tagged out. Razor-thin margin for error, these Dodgers have.

Cesar Izturis popped out to short left, and Jayson Werth struck out. Just as it looked like the Dodgers would miss their latest, and perhaps last, golden opportunity, Steve Finley delivered a broken-bat two-run double to put the Dodgers ahead.

Shawn Green then hit two solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings - bigtime plays that help make up for Adrian Beltre's sudden power shortage - to give Los Angeles and Lima a 4-0 lead.

When Lima came up with the bases loaded in bottom of the sixth, one can understand the tempation to pinch-hit for him. Would four runs be enough against St. Louis? Did Lima have more than one good inning left in him?

While I was against Jim Tracy's decisions in recent weeks not to pinch-hit for Wilson Alvarez against the Giants on September 25 and not to relieve Jeff Weaver in Thursday's Game 2, I supported his choice to let Lima bat for himself. Lima's pitch count was in the sixties (he needed only 65 pitches to pitch the second through seventh innings) and he was so integral to this game - to remove his energy from the mound with three entire innings to go seemed premature.

After all, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa walked perhaps the worst-hitting catcher in baseball, Brent Mayne, with a runner on first base. Do you think he expected the Dodgers to take Lima out?

Lima cruised through the seventh and was one strike away from a perfect eighth before Womack singled. Lima suddenly looked a little wobbly - a couple of pitches went in the dirt. Eric Gagne was warm in the bullpen. With Larry Walker up and Albert Pujols on deck, this figured to be the end.

Instead, Lima retired Walker. Eight innings in the books.

And indeed, that seemed enough. You didn't want to see Lima's outstanding outing marred by a collapse - and you had a rested Gagne ready. But then again, with a four-run lead, wasn't it worth a shot to see if Lima could ride this horse all the way back to the stables? The Dodgers certainly planned to remove him if one batter reached base in the ninth.

Facing the three All-Stars, Pujols, Rolen and Jim Edmonds, Lima retired them in order on 10 pitches - 10 pitches! - Beltre flairing a basket catch of a popup to end it.

Lima kneeled down and genuflected. As did we all.

What an incredible night in Los Angeles baseball history.

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