Dodger fans are not certain how you spell "Hero" in Japanese but as far as they are concerned, it is "Kuroda."
The club drew some criticism when they signed the 33-year-old to a $33.5 million contract in the off-season but he has pitched extremely well for the most part, hurt sometimes by poor run support and poor relief pitching, but has allowed only one run in each of his last three starts.
Against the Phillies, Kuroda (7-8) walked none and struck out seven before being lifted for a pinch hitter. After allowing 25 hits and 17 earned runs in 14.2 innings (10.48 ERA) over three starts just after the All-Star break, he has allowed just three runs and 14 hits in 22.1 innings (1.21 ERA) in his last three outings.
When asked about the turnaround, he smilingly said with Kenji Nimura translating, "If I knew the difference, I would have made the adjustment right away."
But his catcher, Russell Martin, said the recent transformation is mainly a matter of location. "He's got the stuff. We've seen it a couple times this year, where he was really dominating," Martin said.
"That's the way it was tonight. He was just executing pitch after pitch. He's locating his fastball really well. His slider was outstanding. The main thing was he could throw it for strikes early in the count."
Kuroda retired the first 11 Philadelphia batters before Chase Utley doubled inside first in the fourth. But Kuroda then struck out Ryan Howard, the Major League home run leader for the second time to end the inning.
Kuroda breezed through seven inning almost effortlessly. He faced only 23 batters, allowed two hits and threw 79 pitches, a remarkably economical performance that under normal circumstances would have probably turned into a complete game win.
But with the bullpen in such battered condition, Torre couldn't take a chance on burning out one of his starters.
Kuroda had given the battered pen a desperately needed night off shortly before Brad Penny and Cory Wade were placed on the disabled list and Eric Stults and Tanyon Sturtze were called up from Las Vegas to replace them.
The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the second when James Loney singled to right field and outfielder Geoff Jenkins turned it into a triple when he missed a diving attempt to catch the drive and the ball rolled to the fence. Nomar Garciaparra's ground ball to second base drove him across.
Matt Kemp opened the sixth with his 14th homer, hitting a 2-1 pitch into the right-center field pavilion to make it 2-0.
The Phillies scored their only run in the seventh to cut the lead to 2-1 when former Dodger Jason Werth led off with a double, moved to third on Utley's infield out and scored on Howard's sacrifice fly.
The Dodgers got their final run in the bottom of the inning when Martin singled, stole second and scored on Casey Blake's two-out single.
Kuo emphatically slammed the door on the Phillies with two hitless innings and two strikeouts for his first career save.
Kuroda's day got even better when his native Japan beat Kuo's native Taiwan in Olympic baseball. "We made a bet and he owes me dinner," said Kuroda.
With Takashi Saito out, Kuo and Jonathan Broxton have begun to share the closers role. Kuo lowered his ERA to 1.66 in 34 games with 82 strikeouts and only 49 hits allowed in 70.2 innings.
Nomar Garciaparra was hitless but made three outstanding plays to take away potential Philadelphia hits.
"I can do it. I never thought I couldn't," said the 35-year-old Garciaparra, who moved in 2004 moved from short to third base with the Cubs and to first base with the Dodgers two years ago. "When I went to first, it didn't have anything to do with playing short. For me, short is just familiar."
Joe Torre appreciated Kuroda and Kuo's effort even more when the win came without a Manny Ramirez home run or RBI or even a base hit. The remarkable outfielder was 0-for-3 to drop his average to .438.
"You can't score enough runs to afford bad pitching," Torre said before the game. "You can't freeze the ball in this game. To me, pitching is the only way you can control the game. It's nice to have the firepower, but if you have to rely on something, it's pitching."
Before the game, outfielders Andruw Jones and Delwyn Young were sent in rehab assignment to Las Vegas.
Things don't get any easier for the Dodgers with the Milwaukee Brewers coming to town tonight for a three-game series. The pitching matchups include:
Tonight LHP Manny Parra (9-5, 4.02) vs Chad Billingsley (11-9, 3.07)
Saturday RHP Dave Bush (7-9, 4.35) vs RHP Derek Lowe (9-10, 4.11)
Sunday RHP Jeff Suppan (8-7, 4.87) vs LHP Clayton Kershaw (2-3, 3.78).
Score by innings Philadelphia 000 000 100-1 Los Angeles 010 001 10x-3 Los Angeles ab r h bi ave Kemp cf 4 1 1 1 .298 Ethier rf 4 0 1 0 .276 Kent 2b 4 0 1 0 .272 Berroa 2b 0 0 0 0 .202 Ramirez lf 3 0 0 0 .438 Loney 1b 3 1 1 0 .296 Martin c 4 1 1 0 .289 Garciaparra ss 3 0 0 0 .258 Blake 3b 3 0 1 1 .278 Kuroda p 2 0 0 0 .077 Sweeney ph 0 0 0 0 .125 Kuo p 0 0 0 0 .273 Totals 30 3 6 3 Philadelphia 28 1 2 1 2b hits- Ethier (25). 3b hits Loney (6). HR- Kemp (14). RBI- Garciaparra (21), Kemp (62), Blake (10). SB- Loney (6), Martin (12). LOB- Los Angeles 6, Philadelphia (2). Los Angeles in h r-er bb so era Kuroda (7-8) 7.0 2 1-1 0 7 3.88 Kuo (sv 1) 2.0 3 0-0 1 2 1.66 T- 2:21. Att- 51.600.Remembering 1962
The Dodgers' sweep of the Phillies is the first since July 2-4, 1962, the year Dodger Stadium opened.
Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres won a doubleheader on July 2, winning by identical scores of 5-1. Drysdale fanned 13 in the opener and Pod punched out 12 in the second game.
On July 3, Stan Williams shut Philadelphia out 4-0 and struck out eight, then on the Fourth of July, with Sandy Koufax on the mound, the Dodgers lit up the stadium with a 16-1 win as Sandy fanned 10.
Fast forward some 46 years and the starting pitchers in the next sweep of the Phillies were Derek Lowe, Clayton Kershaw, Brad Penny and Hiroki Kuroda.
Those names don't seem as impressive since Drysdale and Koufax were inducted into the Hall of Fame after they retired but the totals for the four games are remarkably similar.
The 1962 team would wrack up a 102-63 record, scoring 5.1 runs per game and finishing with a 3.62 ERA and a league-leading 1104 strikeouts. Throw in 44 complete games and the difference is apparent.
Over the July sweep in 1962, Los Angeles allowed 22 hits and struck out 43 while limiting Philadelphia, a team that finished 81-80, to three runs.
In the series just completed, the Dodgers allowed 25 hits and struck out 40 against and is much more powerful than their 1962 compatriots.
The Dodgers are are scoring well less than a half-run lower than the 1962 team's final runs per game total and they allowed 16 runs in the four games.
The difference in the two sweeps are in the work of the current club's bullpen, including (in order of their appearance): Chan Ho Park, Joe Beimel, Jonathan Broxton, Hong Chic Kuo and Jason Johnson.
The performance of the bullpen was shaky in the opener, but in the final three games they allowed one hit and no runs over the final 11 innings, a remarkable performance.