Billingsley won't break from routine
Right-hander treats first playoff start like any other outing
CHICAGO -- When he arrives at Wrigley Field on Thursday, Chad Billingsley will grab a bite to eat, watch about 30 minutes of video on the Cubs, maybe ride the exercise bike for 10 minutes or so and then do some stretching.
In short, it will be just a typical game day for the Dodgers starter.
Except this is not just another game -- it's Game 2 of the National League Division Series in prime time at 6:30 p.m. PT on TBS.
"I mean, it's going to be a little different, just the playoff atmosphere," Billingsley said. "I'm not really thinking too much about it. Just go out there and concentrate on my game."
In other words, look for that low 90's fastball and big curveball that allowed the 24-year-old to go 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA in 32 starts for the Dodgers this year.
The wins led the staff, while the ERA was the lowest among the Los Angeles starters, so he easily could have been chosen to start Game 1 for the Dodgers. Instead, manager Joe Torre decided to go with Derek Lowe because of his postseason experience, as well as the fact that he could be more easily brought back on short rest.
The Dodgers grabbed Game 1 of the series, 7-2, Wednesday night, which should take some of the pressure off Billingsley, but he said that was not the case.
"I'm telling you, I just have to approach this like any other start," he said. "If you get out of that and try to do something different, that's when you have problems."
Given all the attention being paid to the Cubs' 100-year championship drought in this city and the fact that their offense came up empty against the Dodgers in Game 1, much like it did when the D-backs swept them last year, there could be some serious pressing going on in the Chicago dugout.
"Let's hope we get better with it," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of his offense. "We need to swing the bats, no question."
GAME 2: JUST THE FACTS
|Dodgers starter: RHP Chad Billingsley|
|2008: 16-10, 3.14 ERA|
|2008 on road: 6-6, 3.33 ERA|
|2008 vs. Cubs: 0-1, 4.91 ERA|
|Career vs. Cubs: 1-1, 3.60 ERA|
|Career postseason: 0-0, 0.00 (two relief appearances)|
|Cubs starter: RHP Carlos Zambrano|
|2008: 14-6, 3.91 ERA|
|2008 at home: 7-2, 3.77 ERA|
|2008 vs. Dodgers: 0-1, 4.91 ERA|
|Career vs. Dodgers: 2-3, 3.75 ERA|
|Career postseason: 0-1, 4.37 ERA (four starts)|
|Dodgers lead series, 1-0. The team that has won Game 1 of an NLDS is 23-3 in those series.|
|Game 1: Dodgers 7, Cubs 2|
|Did You Know? The Dodgers' win in Game 1 gave them the all-time head-to-head series lead over the Cubs 1,013-1,012.|
Billingsley is not devoid of postseason experience. He made two relief appearances and worked a pair of scoreless innings in the 2006 NLDS, in which the Dodgers were swept by the Mets.
"In '06, it was a little bit different coming out of the bullpen," Billingsley said. "I was just kind of there in the moment, didn't really know what to expect. This year, it's going to be a little bit different."
Despite that, Billingsley will try to keep to his same routine. However, his is far less rigid than a lot of players.
"If I don't stay within that routine, it's not a big deal," he said. "I don't really try and concentrate on that because if something happens within that routine or superstitions, you maybe get into your own head. I just kind of stay focused and that's pretty much what I do. I'm not superstitious as far as not stepping on the line or putting your shoes on a certain way."
Billingsley faced the Cubs twice this year, including a May 26 game at Wrigley, where he allowed two runs and struck out seven over six innings. Despite the solid outing, he took the loss, 3-1.
That was his lone appearance at Wrigley in his two-plus-year career, and it could come in handy Thursday.
"I think it helped that he pitched here early," Torre said.
Billingsley will be matched up against Carlos Zambrano -- who tossed a no-hitter in his third-to-last start of the regular season -- and when he's on can dominate a game. Billingsley knows that might leave him little margin for error, but he also pointed out that Zambrano is a threat at the plate as well, having hit .337 with four homers this year.
"It's not just his pitching, he's hit about .300," Billingsley said. "He's a great pitcher and he's thrown well against us. It could be 1-0 or it could be a five, seven-run game. You just never know. It's the postseason. It's whoever has the better day."
A determining factor about how much offense there will be could be whether the wind is blowing in or out at Wrigley. Billingsley will take note of which way the flags are blowing but try not to obsess about it.
"I'm going to glance up there, maybe change the way I pitch if it's blowing in or out," he said. "If it's blowing out, you've got to really make sure you keep the ball down in the zone. If it's blowing in, you can have a little bit more room for mistakes."
Billingsley has picked the brains of veteran teammates such as Greg Maddux, who has plenty of experience both in Wrigley and the postseason, to get a feel for how to treat a playoff start.
"From what guys I've talked to and what they've said, you approach it as any other start," he said. "You don't want to go out there and do too much. You really want to try to stay within your game."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.