Curveball

George Sherrill Wanted To Stay With O's But Now Is A Key Part Of Dodgers' Playoff Run

Baseball Playoffs

October 21, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

PHILADELPHIA -- George Sherrill never wanted to leave Baltimore.

That was his stance back in July, when the Orioles dealt their 32-year-old closer to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two prospects.

Ultimately, it was all out of Sherrill's control.

So he accepted the move. Learned to embrace it. Now, he ponders it philosophically.

"Everything happens for a reason, and maybe this is supposed to be my first shot at the playoffs," Sherrill said before Monday's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. "Maybe it is supposed to be my only shot at the playoffs. You never know."

It's possible Sherrill's playoff experience lasts only one more game.

His Dodgers are down 3-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the best-of-seven NLCS with the potential clincher tonight at Citizens Bank Park.

Sherrill, who had been tremendous since joining the Dodgers - he was scored on in only three of his first 33 appearances - has scuffled in the NLCS.

In the eighth inning of Thursday's Game 1 in Los Angeles, he walked the first two batters he faced on 10 pitches and then served up a backbreaking three-run homer to Raul Ibanez. He hadn't allowed multiple RBIs in an inning in his two-plus months as a Dodger and hadn't yielded a homer to a left-handed hitter since surrendering one to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Adam LaRoche on June 14, 2008, while Sherrill was with the Orioles.

On Monday, in Game 4 at Philadelphia, Sherrill again struggled with his command in the eighth, yielding a walk, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch while recording only two outs. Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton had to replace Sherrill to preserve a one-run lead and proceeded to give up a two-run, game-winning double to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of the ninth.

"I was telling a bunch of guys, I hate doing that to [Broxton] because he has picked me up time and time again," Sherrill said after Monday's loss. "There shouldn't be an opportunity where I leave two guys out there. But it is what it is."

As he spoke, frustration simmered in his voice and fire burned in his deep-set brown eyes, producing the familiar glare that Orioles fans witnessed during his time as the club's closer.

Overall, he looks slightly different now. Once freed from the Orioles' no-facial-hair policy, Sherrill grew a thick goatee and, in the past two weeks, has added a "playoff beard." But the competitiveness and intensity that pushed him from undrafted free agent and independent league player to All-Star closer still percolates, even if he's no longer the bullpen's go-to reliever.

Does he miss closing?

"Yeah and no," Sherrill said. "Yeah, I miss being the guy."

Then he smiled and said, "But I am kind of the second guy."

He said he is content knowing that, as the primary eighth-inning setup man, he is a crucial part of a playoff team and a big reason the Dodgers won the NL West and made it to the postseason.

In his first appearance with the Dodgers on July 31, he struck out the side. He allowed just one run in August and only one more in September, posting a 0.65 ERA in 27 2/3 regular-season innings as a Dodger. He also picked up a win and pitched in all three games of the NL Division Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"We knew he was tough as nails and he could either close or set up," Dodgers bullpen coach Ken Howell said. "That's never been a question, his toughness. We thought he was the right kind of guy with the right features to help us out."

As July's nonwaiver trade deadline approached, the Dodgers were looking at acquiring big-name starters such as former Cy Young Award winners Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. They didn't land either, but Dodgers manager Joe Torre said that adding Sherrill "could have been the most important acquisition we could make."

To obtain Sherrill, the Dodgers had to give up 22-year-old switch-hitter Josh Bell, who projects as the Orioles' third baseman of the future, as well as pitching prospect Steve Johnson. They believed it was worth it.

"I just felt that we really didn't have any setup guy," Torre said. "We kept sharing that responsibility with a lot of inexperienced people. So just the fact that you have a closer who was willing to be something other than a closer, really, as far as I'm concerned, made us whole down there."

After the trade was made, Torre called Sherrill and said he would try to get him some save opportunities as the season progressed, even though the Dodgers had Broxton. Sherrill responded in a curious way for a player with 55 career saves heading into the deal.

"I said, 'I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job, but I don't care [about closing],' " Sherrill told Torre. "I just want to win."

Although he is no longer the closer, Sherrill still has a closer's mentality, which includes a short memory of poor performances. That's why Torre said he had no concern about putting the husky left-hander into a key situation Monday after his rough outing.

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