Waynesboro native steps into spotlight

If the Dodgers win the NL pennant, the man delivering the decisive pitch might be 24-year-old Burke County alum Jonathan Broxton.

 

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound pitcher from Waynesboro, Ga., took over the closer role for the NL West champ s as they the opened the National League Championship Series on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Phillies. "Ox" earned the job by clinching the sweep of the Chicago Cubs last week.

"Now, I want to get a World Series clincher, too," Broxton told reporters on Saturday after getting his first taste of postseason heroics.

The step up in stage won't change the dynamic in his parents' living room, where Randy and Essie Broxton will be adhering to their usual superstitions and nail-biting when their son takes the mound.

"When he does pitch, I'm a nervous wreck irregardless of what game it is," his father said.

Broxton's family all over Waynesboro can usually be found burning the late-night oil watching the Dodgers play 162 nights a year. His higher-profile role and the recent circumstances around it don't matter to Broxton's most-loyal fans.

"To him, it never was important to be a closer," said Randy Broxton. "It was just an opportunity to play baseball, and whatever fell into place would be fine with him."

Broxton inherited the temporary closer role when Takashi Saito went on the disabled list after the All-Star break. When Saito returned before the postseason, Dodgers manager Joe Torre adhered to the adage that a star player can't lose his job because of injury and reinstated Saito as closer .

Trouble is, Saito's delivery was less than stellar in failing to get a single Cubs batter out in Game 2 . Broxton changed his manager's mind by becoming a dominant ninth-inning force .

While Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt has spoken of the "good problem" of having two closers, Broxton assumed sole proprietorship after the Dodgers left Saito off the NLCS roster, citing a sore elbow.

Broxton pitched a scoreless inning in all three Dodger wins against the Cubs, extending a streak of appearances without yielding an earned run to 14w innings, dating back to August. His big moment came in Game 3, when he was called upon with two outs in the eighth inning of a 3-1 game with a runner on first. Broxton blew away Mark DeRosa with a strikeout and went back in for a one-two-three ninth, striking out Alfonso Soriano to close the first playoff series win for the Dodgers since 1988. He stoked up the home crowd with his consistent 97- to 99-mph strikes.

"Broxton was phenomenal tonight," Torre said after capping the sweep of the Cubs. "He came in there and just completely shut them down."

Catcher Russell Martin was even more effusive in his praise , telling the Los Angeles Times, "that's the best I've ever seen Broxton pitch."

Broxton - as unassuming off the mound as he is imposing on it - came the closest he's come to gushing while talking to reporters after the win.

"I wanted it; I wanted it a lot," he said of having the ball in his hand with the game on the line. "It's awesome they had confidence putting me in there and going out there to get four outs. It was just fun."

The excitement was felt back in Waynesboro .

"I think we wound down about 3:30 that morning as well," his father said. "I could tell his adrenaline was pumping. He doesn't usually show too much emotion, but after that he was definitely pumped up."

It's a long way from where he was in August, when the Dodgers suffered an eight-game losing streak and Broxton was struggling with a flaw in his mechanics that served up three losses and two blown saves in a 16-day span. He ironed out the problem with bullpen catcher Tanyon Sturtze and got a pep talk from Torre. The former Yankees manager explained how preeminent closer Mariano Rivera was uncomfortable when he made the transition from set-up man to Yankees closer in 1997, but he eventually became a dominant stopper. Broxton had to make the leap with a midseason battlefield promotion.

"It's a human thing that you have to grow into, and the fact this thing was thrust upon this kid ... during the season, it's a consistency that he hasn't been able to come up with," Torre said in August. "I think the role he can handle, but he's just going to have to find that mental approach."

Broxton obviously has found whatever it is. He went 3-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 70 appearances this season, saving 14 of 17 opportunities. His 88 strikeouts in 69 innings translates to 11.4 per nine.

A business trip by his father to Canada is preventing Broxton's parents from attending the NLCS - at least the beginning of it. Randy Broxton doesn't want it to return to Philadelphia for Games 6 or 7, even if that would mean he could attend in person.

"I'm hoping this thing will end before I get back," he said. "I'd like to see it go about four games and that's it. I don't know if I can stand much more than that."

If Broxton and the Dodgers make it to the World Series, that will change.

"We're going to be packing some bags and going," his father said.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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