A Closer is Born

Jonathan Broxton was locked in. He had retired the Cubs in the eighth with a 3-1 lead, a run in and the tying run at the plate. Then in the top of the ninth, he elevated his game to another level.

Over 1.1 innings he threw 17 pitches and 15 of them were strikes, including a foul ball. One was hit fair; a ground ball to short. Chicago had no chance in the ninth. With his fastball clocked at 10 he retired them 1-2-3 inning, closing out the game and the National League Division Series for the Dodgers.

After the game, Russell Martin said he had never seen Jonathan Broxton pitch that way. He was never tentative, excluded confidence and with the final pitch, a screaming fastball in the dirt that Alfonso Soriano swung at and missed, he exercised the ghosts that had haunted the Dodgers since 1988.

His four-out save is the first in post-season play since Jay Howell pitched 2.2 innings to save Tim Belcher's 7-4 win at Oakland in game 4 on October 19, 1988 and the Dodgers on their way to a World Championship.

"That's the best I've ever seen Broxton pitch," Martin said with awe. "He just needs to let it go like he did. He was a beast. It was fun to catch him."

Broxton's dominance is something the Dodgers have been waiting for since he broke the 100 mph barrier with Jacksonville in 2005.

A pleased General Manager Ned Colletti smiled and said, "He went right after them. He didn't lack confidence."

Colletti and Broxton talked at the end of the 2007 season, when the Dodgers finished fourth in the NL West. "Fifty-three weeks ago, we had a great conversation," Colletti told the Los Angeles Times. "We talked about what it would take for him to be as great as he could be. We talked about competing."

"He told me we got our butts handed to us," Broxton said. "He said, 'Let's return some of the butt-whippings next year.'" Colletti's words stayed with the big reliever throughout the winter.

However, the early part of 2008 was not an easy one for Broxton.

He was moved from the setup to closing role in the first game after the All-Star break, July 18, and earned his first save. Saito had sprained his right elbow ligament and Broxton was pressed into action. But during the month of August he had an ERA of 5.11 and opponents hit .255.

His metamorphosis from setup man to closer kicked in about the first of September and he rumbled down the stretch, posting an 0.79 ERA and allowing an even .200 batting average over the final month.

He seems to operate much better with one day of rest between appearances. On back-to-back days his ERA in 4.00. Every-other day it drops to 1.57 and on two-days rest moves up to 2.79. Fifty-two of his 70 appearances came in those three categories.

The only two home runs he allowed came after having pitched the game before.

Right-handers hit .181 during the season and left-handers 2.70. When the lead he is protecting is one run, opponents hit .208.

For the playoffs, Torre determined that Saito would become his closer, making the announcement on the day the series opened in Chicago.

Then Saito entered Game 2 in the ninth inning with a 10-1 lead and pitched to three Cubs, allowing three hits and two runs. Broxton, after walking the first batter, shut the Cubs down from that point.

In the third game of the series, Chicago had cut the Dodgers lead from 3-0 to 3-1 with two outs in the eighth inning. And the 6-4, 300-pounder took over with a a Cub on first.

The runner, Ron Cedeno, stole second base, but Broxton struck out Mark DeRosa to end the inning. Torre said he sent Broxton back out for the ninth because he was throwing strikes -- five of his six pitches to DeRosa were strikes.

In the ninth, Broxton struck out Ryan Theriot on three pitches. He forced Kosuke Fukudome to ground out to short. Then he ended the game by striking out Soriano on three pitches.

Broxton said the moment when he struck out Soriano and punched the air with his fist as teammates rushed to him was something he had long dreamed about and the emotions he experienced caught him by surprise.

"I couldn't believe the game was over," he said. "You can't imagine what it's like. It was just an unbelievable feeling out there. Now, I want to get a World Series clincher, too."

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