Dodgers rally past Mets
Kuo fans eight in relief; DeWitt hits inside-the-park homer
By: Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Unhittable is a word too loosely thrown around to describe pitchers, but in the middle innings of Tuesday night's game, it described Hong-Chih Kuo and it was no exaggeration.
The Dodgers reliever, possessor of the electric yet brittle arm, won a game his team seemed destined to lose. He took over for Hiroki Kuroda with two on and two out trailing by a run in the fourth, and put down the inning by striking out Carlos Delgado and Angel Pagan on three pitches each.
When Blake DeWitt's two-run, inside-the-park homer gave the Dodgers the lead and an eventual 5-4 comeback decision over the Mets, it resulted in Kuo's second victory in a week, giving him four career wins, which equals the number of operations he's had on that left elbow.
Kuo struck out Brian Schneider leading off the fifth, caught Jose Reyes and Ryan Church looking that inning, then fanned three of the next five batters. His final line: 3 2/3 innings, eight strikeouts, no hits. His first 10 pitches were strikes. It took 11 batters and 45 pitches until a Met put a pitch into play in fair territory. Kuo's radar-gun readings topped at 98 mph and were consistently at 96.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt undercut the wow-factor when he said that the club had the Dodger Stadium radar gun re-calibrated this week and the readings went up, but Kuo's results were impressive enough.
"He came in and just threw fastballs and went after us," said Mets manager Willie Randolph. "He's what made the difference in the game. After they brought him in, he really kind of shut us down."
Kuo must like pitching against the Mets because three of his four career wins are against them. His maiden victory was Sept. 8, 2006, a gutsy six scoreless innings in raucous Shea Stadium against a powerhouse team. He tried to duplicate that win in Game 2 of the NL Division Series at Shea that year and was the losing pitcher, charged with two runs in 4 1/3 innings while the Dodgers were scratching out only one run off Tom Glavine in a 4-1 defeat.
Kuo made history that night for starting a postseason game with the fewest Major League wins (one). He beat the Mets again last year, when he also slugged his only Major League homer and did it with a flourish, flipping the bat like Reggie Jackson.
Excuse Kuo if the satisfaction occasionally shows, because nothing about his career has been ordinary. He was signed out of Taiwan for $1.25 million as a teenager, blew out his elbow in his first professional game after striking out seven of the 10 batters he faced and it's been a nightmare ride ever since, including the first five years he spent trying to get healthy, when he pitched a total of 42 1/3 innings (averaging less than nine innings a year).
He's nothing if not persistent. He signed in 1999, meaning he's been in the organization longer than any current active Dodger. That year, Kevin Malone was general manager, Davey Johnson the field manager and Gary Sheffield and Eric Karros hit 34 homers each.
Kuo's journey to the Major Leagues hit one pothole after another. He missed 2003 entirely, was taken off the Major League roster at one point and could have been selected by any club in the Rule 5 Draft. When his rehab stalled for the umpteenth time, he had to be talked out of quitting the game. He's has often credited Darren Dreifort (two Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgeries) and Eric Gagne (one) for their advice and counsel to keep him going.
Now, here he is, accepting of the relief role he previously said made him uncomfortable because it did not allow enough time to warm up his elbow.
"I've gotten used to it," he said. "I feel very comfortable right now."
So does manager Joe Torre, who in Kuo has a second left-hander who can pitch multiple innings and overpower left-handed hitters as well as right-handers.
"I really like him where he is," Torre said when asked if Kuo, who's already made three starts this year, might make more. "A weapon like that in the middle of the game -- as a starting pitcher, the thing is, he barely got to
the fifth inning. Innings four to seven are so important."
Honeycutt said Kuo had been using too many off-speed pitches earlier this year.
"Maybe now he's just raring back and letting it go," he said. "Sometimes he likes to show he's a control guy. I haven't seen that look in his eye in a long time until tonight."
Kuo provided the bridge to the back end of the Dodgers bullpen, where Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito closed it out, but not without some drama.
Broxton allowed a two-out double to Ryan Church in the ninth, but caught David Wright looking at a 99-mph strike three and showed a rare display of emotion with a fist-pump. Saito allowed a pair of two-out singles in the
ninth, then caught Luis Castillo looking at a strike-three slider for his fourth save.
Kuo plays key role as Dodgers beat Mets
By Tony Jackson, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 05/07/2008 01:39:04 AM PDT
Hong-Chih Kuo isn't the type to complain much.
Complaining isn't what got the cherub-faced left-hander through a year-long rehabilitation after he blew out his elbow just three innings into his pro career, and it isn't what got him through a second rehab after he blew it out again less than three years later. All before he had even gotten close enough to the major leagues to smell the meal money.
Once he finally got there, Kuo didn't figure to complain about being shuttled back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, either. And his dutiful acceptance of one of baseball's least glamorous roles never came in more handy for the Dodgers than it did on Tuesday night, when they rode it to a 5-4 victory - their 10th in their past 11 games - over the New York Mets in front of 43,927 at Dodger Stadium.
With $35.3 million Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda having been nickeled-and-dimed right out of the game by a flurry of Mets singles that sent him to the clubhouse when there were two outs in the fourth inning, Kuo trotted in from the Dodgers' bullpen and proceeded to dominate. He got the Dodgers through the seventh without allowing a run or a hit, matching his career high of eight strikeouts in the process.
In the meantime, rookie third baseman Blake DeWitt delivered his second career home run - his second in the past two evenings - in the bottom of the fifth, a two-run shot that clanged off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field and caromed to a spot at least 75 feet away from any Mets outfielder. It was the first inside-the-parker by a Dodger since Dave Roberts hit one Aug. 9, 2003, and it turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead.
It also turned Kuo into a hero, for the second time in the past four games.
"He came in there and did exactly what he was supposed to do and more," DeWitt said. "He pitched great, and it gave a lift to everybody."
Kuo's injury problems didn't end with his two Tommy John surgeries in the minors. He began and ended last season on the disabled list, spending a total of four months there with injuries to both his shoulder and elbow, and even the two months he was active were interrupted by a two-week stint in the minors.
Although he has made three starts this season, Kuo's primary role has become coming out of the bullpen and saving the Dodgers' bacon when their starter doesn't last long, and he has become remarkably adept at it.
On Saturday night at Colorado, he relieved a shaky Esteban Loaiza with one out in the third and immediately gave up a two-run homer to Brad Hawpe, erasing what was left of a 6-0 lead. But Kuo stemmed the tide from there, the Dodgers exploded in the late innings against the Rockies' bullpen, and both Kuo and the Dodgers got away with a win.
This time, Kuo inherited a 4-3 deficit, as well as a sticky, two-on, one-out mess, from Kuroda in the fourth. He got out of it by blowing away Carlos Delgado and Angel Pagan, then got out of his own, identical jam an inning later by freezing Jose Reyes and Ryan Church.
Kuo didn't allow another baserunner. More importantly, the Dodgers didn't need another reliever until the eighth inning, when they were able to turn the game over to back-end relievers Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito.
"I think right now, just the way (Kuo) feels physically is exciting to him," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "I haven't been here very long, but (pitching coach Rick) Honeycutt was talking about the way the ball was coming out of his hand and how it's something we need to take advantage of. Right from the first time I met this young man, it was like, 'I'll do whatever it takes to help this ballclub."
"If you tell him he is going to start, he gives you the same expression he gives you when you say you're putting him back in the bullpen."
The second-place Dodgers (19-14), who remained three games behind division-leading Arizona in the National League West, won't need a fifth starter again until May 17 at the Angels. Whoever it ends up being, it isn't likely to be Kuo, no matter how well he pitches. "No," Torre said. "That second left-hander in the bullpen ... that's important."
Somehow, you get the feeling Kuo (2-1) won't mind.