LOS ANGELES - Another young Dodger pitcher came undone last night in the Phillies' 8-6 NLCS Game 1 victory.
Clayton Kershaw, a 21-year-old with a scruffy face seemingly meant to prove he can grow whiskers, was the Dodgers' new hope. Their future Cole Hamels, perhaps.
Then he suddenly looked like this year's Chad Billingsley.
For four innings, Kershaw's first-pitch strikes and his curveball mastered the Phillies in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium.
Then came the fifth, and Kershaw's near total loss of control.
Before the inning was over, he gave up five runs on three hits, three walks and threw three wild pitches, setting a league championship record for wild pitches in an inning, and tying the LCS record for wild pitches in a game.
"I felt fine - but it's about throwing strikes," Kershaw said after the game. "When you give up that many walks in an inning, something is going to happen."
At 21 years and 221 days old, Kershaw was the youngest pitcher in history to start Game 1 of a league championship series.
Kershaw looked worthy of the confidence until the fifth, an inning after he thought he had struck out Ryan Howard with a full-count pitch on the outside corner, only to see home-plate umpire Randy Marsh call ball four.
Kershaw started the fifth by giving up a leadoff single to Raul Ibanez, then put him on second with a wild pitch. He walked Pedro Feliz, and then Carlos Ruiz belted a three-run homer to left.
Shaken, Kershaw walked Hamels on four pitches. Jimmy Rollins reached on a fielder's choice, then took second on a second wild pitch.
The bullpen was up, but Dodgers manager Joe Torre let lefthanded rookie Scott Elbert stay there.
With Chase Utley at the plate, yet another wild pitch - No. 3 - put Rollins on third.
Utley walked on ball four in the dirt, and the writing was on the wall - a wall that finally collapsed with Ryan Howard's two-run double to right.
Phillies 5, Dodgers 1.
Righthander Ramon Troncoso came out of the bullpen, and young Kershaw was done, his confidence surely shaken.
"I had guys warming up . . . we have two lefthanders coming up and I have to make a decision whether I want Scott Elbert or Kershaw to pitch them," Torre said. "You know, to me he's a starting pitcher in Game 1 so I felt that's what I wanted to do."
Kershaw, in his first full season in the majors, went 8-8 with a 2.79 earned-run average and was dominant at times.
Manager Joe Torre considered starting him in Game 1 of the division series against St. Louis, then hesitated and started him in Game 2, perhaps because of Billingsley's disastrous two starts in the NLCS last season at age 24.
Billingsley went 0-2 with an 18.00 ERA against the Phillies and was tarred by the perception he didn't defend the Dodgers against aggressive pitching by the Phillies.
"We were flirting with Game 1 against the Cardinals, but we felt 'Let the veteran handle the hoopla and stuff like that in Game 1,' " Torre said.
Perhaps, as it turned out, not a bad idea in this series, either.