LOS ANGELES - If the Phillies entered last night hoping to face the Hiroki Kuroda whom they demolished in the National League Championship Series last October, they came away severely disappointed. Instead, the pitcher they faced looked strikingly similar to the one who had stymied them on four other occasions, not to mention the one who entered the night with a 2.94 ERA in his last eight starts of this season.
Kuroda held the Phillies hitless for 7 1/3 innings, finally allowing a single to Shane Victorino, as the Dodgers cruised to a 3-0 victory and handed the Phillies their 11th shutout loss of the season.
It was the third time the Phillies have been one-hit this season, the others coming on May 22 against Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Red Sox, and on Aug. 13 against R.A. Dickey and the Mets.
"The lineup we had on the field tonight, that's our lineup," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "If that lineup don't hit, we're in trouble. Things are right there in our hands. If we don't take care of it, that's our fault."
The Phillies, now 73-58, saw their deficit in the National League East slip to three games, thanks to the Braves' 9-3 win over the Mets.
But the story of the night was Kuroda, whose dominance might have been exacerbated by the Phillies' recent offensive struggles. The Phillies were coming off a three-game sweep of the Padres at Petco Park in which they combined to score just 11 runs on 17 hits. That was preceded by a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park in which they scored a combined seven runs while getting swept by the Astros. In the 11 games leading up to last night's game, the Phillies hit .195 with a .270 on-base percentage while averaging 2.5 runs.
In Game 3 of last year's NLCS, the Phillies knocked Kuroda out with one out in the second inning, scoring six runs off him en route to an 11-0 victory that gave them a 2-1 series lead. But Kuroda, who had held the Phils to four runs in 25 innings in four previous starts, was coming off a herniated disk.
Last night, he retired 19 of the first 21 batters he faced, striking out six and allowing just seven balls out of the infield. He allowed his first base runner in the second, hitting Jayson Werth with a one-out pitch before getting Raul Ibanez to ground into an inning-ending doubleplay. In the sixth, he issued a one-out walk to Carlos Ruiz, then struck out Roy Halladay and Jimmy Rollins to end the frame.
But the eighth inning started ominously. First came a leadoff walk by Werth. Then, with Ibanez at the plate, a beach ball landed on the warning track in left-centerfield, prompting a brief delay. Ibanez eventually grounded into a fielder's choice that eliminated Werth at second. But Victorino broke up the no-hitter and put runners on first and second when he lined a 1-1 fastball to rightfield for a single.
Kuroda faced one more batter - Ruiz struck out - before he was replaced by Hong-Chih Kuo, who coaxed an inning-ending groundout from pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney.
Kuroda's final line: 7 2/3 innings, one hit, two walks, seven strikeouts, 102 pitches.
"You go back, how many hits have we had in the last three or four games?" said Victorino. "We've been able to have good pitching. Again, Roy pitched a great game, gave up only three, and unfortunately we weren't able to score any runs. I don't think we've put a 10-, 15-hit game up. We've scrapped and battled and our pitching's done a good job the last three games, kept us in a ballgame where we could win a 3-1 game . . .
"We've just got to get going as an offense. And when we do, knock on wood, hopefully it's tomorrow, and we keep rolling. We need to get going. That's what this team is built on."
Halladay, who threw a perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, wasn't bad himself. He entered the night looking to tie Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez for the NL lead with 17 wins, as well as to retain the slim margin he held in his new spot atop the NL's ERA leaders. But Halladay allowed three runs in seven innings as his ERA slipped to 2.27 (behind Tim Hudson's 2.24) and his record dropped to 16-10.
"I felt like I was a little sloppy all night," Halladay said. "I felt like I made a couple good pitches and they found their way in and I made some bad pitches, too, along the way. So it was definitely a case of both. I knew it early on, it was going to be a little bit of a grind for me, so you do the best you can, get as far as you can."
One of those runs came on a fifth-inning solo home run by Rod Barajas, who continued his torrid play against his former team. Barajas was a free-agent disappointment during his lone season in Philadelphia, hitting .230 with four home runs in 122 at-bats in 2007. But he has destroyed Phillies pitching since leaving town, going 18-for-35 with eight home runs and 19 RBI since the start of the 2008 season.
Nevertheless, Halladay was more unlucky than out of sync. In the first inning, Ryan Theriot drew a one-out walk, then moved to second after a lightly-hit Andre Ethier ground ball sneaked past Ryan Howard's glove and into shallow rightfield. Theriot then scored on a single by James Loney, although Werth ended the inning by gunning down Ethier at third base.
In the second, Casey Blake led off with a single, then went first-to-third on a bloop single that landed just inside the foul line in rightfield. He scored when Barajas grounded into a doubleplay for the first two outs of the inning.
Halladay allowed 10 hits, one walk and struck out four while throwing 103 pitches.
It was the 44th time this season the Phillies scored less than three runs, and the 63rd time they scored fewer than four.
Last night was the Dodgers' first game without slugger Manny Ramirez, who was claimed off waivers by the White Sox. In his career against the Phillies, Ramirez has hit .274 with eight home runs in 26 games . . . Tonight, the Phillies will face one of their former minor leaguers, Carlos Monasterios, a righthander whom the Dodgers selected in December's Rule 5 draft.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.