Kuroda, Harden Under the Gun

The Dodgers Hiroki Kuroda and the Cubs Rich Harden, starters in game three of the National League Division series, are in a pressure-packed position tonight in Los Angeles. Kuroda, who never finished in first place in 11 seasons in Japan and Harden, who was with Oakland when Boston overcame a 2-0 advantage in 2003, have their club's fate in their capable hands.

Kuroda can give the Dodgers a win that would advance them to the National League Championships and Harden stands between the Cubs staying in the playoff battle or being eliminated.

Dodgers starters Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley allowed Chicago three runs in their first two games. And Kuroda is capable of the same thing, but manager Joe Torre isn't certain which Hiroki Kuroda will show up. He has almost equal parts of spectacular starts and early knockouts.

In his two starts against the Cubs this year he lost a tough game at Wrigley Field on May 27, allowing one earned run in 6.1 innings. Ten days later in Dodger Stadium, he shut out the Cubs on four hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks.

"One of the reasons I came to America and changed my environment was that I wanted to win," Kuroda said. "So many players play their whole life and never win a pennant. That seemed like my case in Japan. So what we did here, for me, it was huge."

Kuroda signed a three-year, $35.2 million contract to join a rotation and he's given them pretty much what they expected. He's 9-10 with a 3.73 ERA, over 183.1 innings. Unbeatable at times, he became the first Dodgers starter to throw two shutouts in the same season since 2005, one of them a one-hitter, however, he's also had five starts in which he couldn't finish four innings.

The 33-year-old is 6-2 in Dodger Stadium with a 3.68 earned run average. and is the fourth Japanese-born pitcher to start a playoff game.

Harden has never faced the Dodgers and had identical 5-1 records for Oakland and Chicago this season, recording a 1.77 ERA for the Cubs. He's struck out 89 in 71 innings and is 3-1, 1.74 on the road.

While flying under the radar, Harden has been as dominant as CC Sabathia, but hasn't gotten the same publicity.

Harden injury history has caused the Cubs to exercise caution during the second half but say's he's ready to go all out now.

"I've been up to 120 pitches so far this year, and I feel like I can go more," he said. "I've definitely shown I can do that. I know they've been keeping me on a strict pitch count. Now that we're in the playoffs, hopefully we can stretch it out a little more."

Control has been an issue for him at times. He's given up 11 walks in 11 innings over his last two starts. But with his impressive stuff he can be off a bit and still work into the seventh inning without allowing many runs.

Game Key
Kuroda must not take the attitude, "all we need to do is win one of the next three games." Sometimes tomorrow never comes, And Harden knows it will be a long, cold winter if he fails.

The pressure is definitely on Chicago but, after winning 97 times during the regular season, they are certainly capable of winning three games in a row against any team.

Quotes of the Day
"We went to Chicago hoping to win one of the game and we won two," Rafael Furcal said with a smile. "How big was that?" It was big enough that not even Manny thought to turn on his trademark stereo until 15 minutes after the game.

After Ramirez golfed a shot halfway up the left-center field bleachers on a pitch that seemed destined to him in the foot, Matt Kemp said, "How did he do that? The last time I did something like that was in high school with an aluminum bat."

"It wasn't good baseball," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "In fact, the last two days, they've probably been the worst two games we've played all year from a walking and errors standpoint. It wasn't fun to watch, I can tell you that."

"It's not pressure for us," Zambrano said. "It's pressure for them to get that last game to go to the next round."

Torre: Let's Win Two
A Dodgers win over the Cubs would give his Dodgers a sweep of their National League Division Series and a champagne shower. But before the evening game gets under way, a colt manager Joe Torre co-owns goes to the post in one of the most prestigious races of the year for 2-year-olds at Belmont Park in New York.

And if you believe in fate, check this: the race Torre's horse is in is The $400,000 Champagne Stakes.

A win by Vineyard Haven puts him into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with a shot at the 2-year-old championship. What kind of win parlay is that?

Torre has partial ownerships in about a dozen horses, most of them, like Vineyard Haven, in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.