This is a different team than the one Manager Joe Torre brought into Chicago in May. Then they scored one run in each game of a three-game series, losing all three games.
The last playoff series the Dodgers won, Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run in the bottom of the ninth. The shot so jarred the Oakland As that they never quite recovered. James Lonely's grand slam in the fifth inning that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-0 win might -- might -- just have done the same thing.
In the fifth inning, Rafael Furcal walked , Ramirez worked his way out of a 0-2 hole to also draw a walk and Andre Ethier collected a base on balls to load the bases before Loney came to bat.
In chilly (54°) and ultimately very quiet Wrigley Field, the Dodgers put runners on base on every inning but they left the first five on base, including the bases loaded in the third inning on a pair of walks and Ramirez's infield hit.
Ryan Dempster, Chicago ace, walked as many batters Wednesday as he had over the entire month of September (seven) and had to throw 109 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings.
Loney, who had hit below .200 over the final 10 games of the regular season and had popped to second and fouled out to left in his first two times at bat, swung through two low pitches, just fouled off a third and took a ball before connecting on a change-up and driving it into the second row of the center field bleachers. The stunning shot erased a 2-0 Chicago lead that came from a two-run homer in the second.
"James is just all over the place," hitting coach Don Mattingly said, shaking his head. "But we kind of expect this from him. Just when you expect him to never get a hit again...
"You never know what you're going to get with him. He's had a lot of big hits for us and, over time, he's going to get better," Mattingly continued. "I think he'll hit for power one day, but I didn't think it would be today.
"That ball he hit just took off and it was into the wind. He's still a baby. He hasn't got his man-strength. His front side is still weak. He's got great hand-eye coordination and he puts the ball in play. A lot of guys like that hit home runs later and get jammed early -- like Jim Edmonds and Garret Anderson."
And all those who criticized Logan White for drafting him as a hitter and not a pitcher have gone as silent as the first-game crowd.
Mark DeRosa nailed one of Lowe's pitches and drove it down the right field line. Despite the wind, the ball nestled into the second row just inside the foul pole and the Chicago crowd, who must have been holding their breath until that point, exploded.
"I didn't even have a one-two-three inning," said Lowe. "They were constantly getting guys on base, and they did a good job of working the count and getting to hitter counts."
It was pretty much the only time the rest of the night the Cub fans had anything to cheer about and as Loney trotted around the bases, and Wrigley Field was like a line from the Robert W. Service poem, "The Spell of the Yukon" that goes, "I've stood in some mighty-mouth hollows, that's plum full of hush to the brim."
In the meantime, back on the mound, Lowe struggled to keep his sinker low, allowing three hits in the second, another in the third and a pair in the fourth.
He gave up a double in the sixth, the first Chicago leadoff man to reach base, but stranded him at third. He finished the night after 94 pitches having given up seven hits and a walk but only the two runs in the second inning. A pair of double plays started by Furcal helped him escape trouble.
Manny Ramirez golfed a shot deep into the left-field bleachers to lead off the seventh ("Three-iron," Greg Maddux pointed out) that made it 5-2. "I'm just being Manny," Manny Ramirez said later with a smile.
Blake DeWitt smacked a shot off the center field wall for a double and scored on Casey Blake's crisp single up the middle in the eighth.
Martin put a cherry on top of the cake with a home run into the center field seats in the ninth. He had lined out deep to left field in both the third and sixth innings before the homer.
Uber-rookie Cory Wade worked a scoreless seventh, Jonathan Broxton allowed only a walk in the eighth and with a 7-2 lead, manager Joe Torre went with Greg Maddux instead of Takashi Saito in the ninth.
Maddux, pitching in his seventh relief role (three in the post season) gave up just an infield single. The 355-game winner, who started his career with the Cubs, received a good hand when he came into the game.
Ramirez's homer was the 25th of his career. Without the benefit of up to 12 games per season in divisional playoffs, Duke Snider leads the Dodgers with 11 post season home runs, all in the World Series,
Post-season hype drops a truck load of statistics on unsuspecting fans, who seem to appreciate them nontheless.
For example. Joe Torre and Cubs manager Lou Pinella are the only two managers with 1,700+ hits and 1,700+ win to meet in post season play and their combined 3,852 games managed is also a post-season record. The Dodgers and Cubs finished the regular season with 1,012 wins each over their long history.
And the stat that the Dodgers fans liked the best: The team that won the first game of the playoffs has gone on to win the series 23 of 26 times, in the National League.
Loney's slam was L.A.'s first in postseason play since Dusty Baker on Oct. 5, 1977. His four RBIs equal a Dodgers' NLDS single-game record, tying Eric Karros (Oct. 4, 1995) and he ties Karros and Steve Garvey (1981) for most RBIs by a Dodger in an National League Division Series. He now holds the team record with seven career NLDS RBIs.
Chad Billingsley, who posted a 16-10 record during the regular season, draws the start tonight against Carlos Zambrano, who pitched the first Cubs no-hitter late in the season against Houston.
Billingsley knows how important the game is, but he's treating it like any other start. "It's going to be a little different, just the playoff atmosphere," Billingsley said. "I'm not really thinking too much about it. Just go out there and concentrate on my game."
The Cubs are are attempting to end their 100-year championship drought and the Dodgers have been struggling in the postseason for the last two decades. Before winning last night, Los Angeles had been 1-12 in the playoffs after beating Oakland in the 1988 Series opener.
Now the pressure is on the Cubs, who must win tonight before heading to Los Angeles. If the Dodgers go home with a 2-0 lead where they are tough to beat it will be a big hill for Chicago to climb over.
Score by innings Los Angeles 000 040 111-7 Chicago 020 000 000-2 Los Angeles ab r h bi ave Furcal ss 3 1 0 0 .000 Martin c 4 1 1 1 .250 Ramirez lf 4 2 2 1 .500 Ethier rf 3 1 0 0 .000 Loney 1b 5 1 1 4 .200 Kemp cf 4 0 1 0 .250 DeWitt 2b 4 1 2 0 .500 Broxton p 0 0 0 0 .000 Maddux p 0 0 0 0 .000 Blake 3b 4 0 1 1 .250 Lowe p 1 0 0 0 .000 Wade p 0 0 0 0 .000 Kent ph 1 0 0 0 .000 Berroa 2b 0 0 0 0 .000 Totals 33 7 8 7 Chicago 35 2 9 2 Error- Blake (1). 2b hits- Kemp (1), DeWitt (1). HR- Loney (1), Ramirez (1), Martin (1). RBI- Loney 4 (4), Ramirez (1) Martin (1), Blake (10). LOB- Los Angeles 7, Chicago 8. DP- Furcal, DeWitt and Loney; Furcal and Loney. Los Angeles in h r-er bb so era Lowe (1-0) 6.0 7 2-2 1 6 3.00 Wade 1.0 1 0-0 0 1 0.00 Broxton 1.0 0 0-0 1 0 0.00 Maddux 1.0 1 0-0 0 0 0.00 T- 3:10. Att- 42,099.Roster Decision
The Dodgers wavered between keeping Ramon Troncoso or James McDonald on the playoff roster and finally decided on Troncoso because he had more experience pitching in relief. McDonald, the Dodgers' Pitcher of the Year, didn't allow a run in four appearances over the final month with Los Angeles.