LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers, for once, didn't look like a collection of talented players. They looked like a team.
With a strong pitching performance from newcomer Josh Beckett and a key home run from longtime Dodger Andre Ethier, they defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1 Saturday night to keep their playoff hopes alive and well.
The Dodgers remained 4 1/2 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants and just 1 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot.
Beckett forth. Beckett may have had a 5.23 ERA with the Boston Red Sox, but the Dodgers are counting on him big-time. Manager Don Mattingly hinted before the game that Beckett is the team's No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw. That's exactly what Beckett looked like Saturday, striking out nine Diamondbacks and carrying the ball into the seventh inning. It was Beckett's best outing in more than a month. The move should be good for him, not only because he has a chance to win but because he no longer has to face the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, his last four opponents before the trade.
Big swing. Ethier's opposite-field home run off Matt Albers in the sixth inning felt like the Dodgers' biggest hit in weeks, maybe months. The offense has been stuck on bad, young lefty Tyler Skaggs had pitched a strong game for Arizona and the Dodgers would have lost ground with a loss. Ethier fell behind, fought back to a 3-and-2 count and stayed back to stroke the ball over the wall in left-center. He's been absurdly streaky lately, but mostly good.
Pocket rocket. The eighth inning was exactly why the Dodgers traded for Shane Victorino. He walked and broke quickly for second base. The catcher, Miguel Montero, rushed his throw, it trickled into center field and Victorino made it to third with nobody out. Perfect table setting for the Dodgers' big bats. The only problem is those guys aren't producing right now (see below). Desperate to score a key insurance run, Victorino broke for home on Matt Kemp's medium-deep fly ball and put a wicked hit on catcher Montero, but he held on.
Big chill. The Dodgers probably aren't going to get going offensively until Adrian Gonzalez emerges from this funk. He drove a ball to left-center field that probably would have been a double at Fenway Park and it was a routine fly out at Dodger Stadium. Those kinds of things can get in your head. Gonzalez was the centerpiece of the largest deal in baseball history, financially speaking. He must be feeling some pressure. So far, he's batting .182 as a Dodger.
Buzz-proof. It's a holiday weekend, the Dodgers let people bring their dogs to the game and they still drew only 35,992 fans (and 537 dogs). Five sections of the upper deck down the left-field line were completely empty. The Dodgers haven't exactly gotten the bounce from last weekend's trade they were looking for. You can't blame the fans, considering the Dodgers had gone 7-14 in their latest home games, but this pennant race isn't exactly being played out in an electric environment so far.
The Strand. Neither Gonzalez nor Matt Kemp could hit the ball deep enough to score Victorino in the eighth. Kemp nearly did, hitting it to medium right field, but Montero blocked the plate and held on after a collision with Victorino to complete the 9-2 double play. The Dodgers have to get that run in. Arizona had the infield in, so Gonzalez was set up to succeed.