LOS ANGELES - The visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium was packed after yesterday's game - clogged with players and coaches and the media. Despite the congestion, J.A. Happ looked completely alone.
The part-time starter, part-time reliever was standing in front of his locker in the far back corner. He dressed slowly, then turned around to face a pack of lingering reporters.
"No excuses," Happ said softly. "I didn't execute."
No, he didn't. In the eighth inning, Happ missed his spot with a full count and the bases loaded. The winning run walked home without much effort. And that was that. The Phillies wasted a fine pitching performance from Pedro Martinez, lost the game, 2-1, and allowed the Dodgers to tie the National League Championship Series at one game apiece.
What a disaster. Forget about whatever horror flicks are scheduled to come out this Halloween - the bullpen's combined effort was scary enough to haunt all of us for a while.
If you polled Fightin's fans entering the playoffs, the biggest concern would have undoubtedly been the club's relievers. And with good reason. The team's strength last season has been unmitigated weakness this year - the kind of avert-your-eyes mess that has kept a lot of us up at night. Thing is, most people would have expected Brad Lidge to be the biggest problem, but he's been fine so far.
The same can't be said of the Faulty Four in the eighth inning yesterday. Happ, Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyre and Ryan Madson all made costly mistakes - combining to allow three hits, two walks and two runs that inning.
Charlie Manuel used five pitchers in the eighth, including Chad Durbin. Bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer had to pick up the phone so often that I'm pretty sure he had to ice his arm after the game.
Yeah, Chase Utley blew another double play that would have helped end the inning sooner, potentially saving the bullpen from yet another costly implosion. But relievers ultimately get paid to ignore those mistakes and rescue the team from drowning. Instead, they poked more holes in the U.S.S. Fightin' Phils and everyone went under. Gurgle, Gurgle.
"Close - but not close enough," Happ said. He was talking about the pitch that walked in the winning run, but the statement worked pretty well when applied to the bullpen's entire, awful effort.
If you're worried about them, that makes at least two of us. The only way the Phils lose this series is if those guys can't figure out whatever it is that has broken out in the 'pen all season. I suggest they call maintenance - pronto.
Utley's ugly fielding
That's two double plays in two games that he has failed to turn. The guy looked entirely unfocused in L.A. Maybe his wife is pregnant.
Put some effort into it
Lots of halfhearted "Phillies suck" chants at Dodger Stadium in Games 1 and 2. They were uncoordinated attempts that mostly petered out before they got going. It was like watching a bunch of slow kids try to clap on cue to the beat - awkward and sad.
Forgive and forget?
Each time Shane Victorino stepped to the plate at Dodger Stadium, the crowd rained boos down on the Hawaiian's head. Guess fans are still mad at him for last year. As one journo astutely noted: "They throw at his head and they get angry when he gets out of the way." Dodgers fans may have spent the first two games awash in SoCal sunshine, but they aren't the brightest bunch.
Dodger Stadium is beautiful, but the scoreboards are painfully outdated. They're the Commodore 64s of video screens.
The Backstreet Boys delivered a memorably earsplitting rendition of the national anthem at last year's World Series. Inexplicably, they keep getting gigs and sang the anthem at Game 2 of the NLCS. If Francis Scott Key wasn't already in the ground, he would have died a painful death after sitting through their interpretation yesterday.
Kobe's face time
Kobe Bryant sat with Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. When they showed him on TV and the Dodger Stadium scoreboard - wearing a Dodgers hat and a shirt with his own picture on it - Kobe made an "L.A." signal with his hands and the crowd went crazy. I bet Philly fans also made a hand gesture when they saw that, but I'm guessing it only involved one digit.
Celeb watch: Danny DeVito and Alyssa Milano were at Game 2. Her poor taste in baseball teams aside, Milano could be my boss any day. . . . Around this time last year, the city adopted a fun (if grammatically incorrect) slogan for the Phils' postseason push: "Why Can't Us?" We're in need of something similarly whimsical and unique. Send in your suggestions. I'll throw the best one in the column, along with the clever creator's name. . . . I don't care what anyone says - Dodger Dogs are wildly overrated. Can't wait to get home and detox with a few Schmitters.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.