Dodgers overcome a wobbly start


LOS ANGELES -- Every once in a while, a major league game begins, and one of the teams doesn't look ready.

The Los Angeles Dodgers had one of those nights Friday -- and it's probably no coincidence they spent Thursday night in the air, flying home from St. Louis -- but these days, nothing bad seems to stick to them.

The Dodgers closed furiously, scoring all of their runs in the final three innings, including four in the ninth off Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney, who -- at least for one night -- didn't shoot off any imaginary arrows.

In fact, it was his errant throw into center field on Jerry Hairston Jr.'s comebacker that sent home the winning run and delivered a 7-6 Dodgers' victory after they had faced a 6-0 deficit.

As long as the slow starts don't happen repeatedly in the next couple of months, the Dodgers probably don't have much to worry about. But this was a doozy.

In the second and third innings, the Dodgers seemed to be playing to the theme song from "The Benny Hill Show." Hairston and Yasiel Puig both lost pop ups in the twilight. Nick Punto flubbed a routine grounder to shortstop. Puig airmailed cutoff men left and right, seemingly firing at will and allowing runners to take extra bases.

Meanwhile, for most of the game, the Rays played their usual stalwart defense, Evan Longoria's wayward seventh-inning throw their first error in two weeks.

But the Dodgers withstood all their early foibles, rallying once Tampa ace David Price was out of the game. Price did a demolition job on the Dodgers' bat rack, shattering bats left and right. Price pitched to the game, dominating early and protecting a big lead late by throwing strikes.

The Dodgers kept their NL West lead at 5 1/2 games over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The game took three hours, 50 minutes to complete and the Dodgers were forced to cancel their postgame fireworks show because of curfew limitations.

The Dodgers will get their chance at a sweep when they send their Cy Young winners, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw out to the mound over the next two days.

A somewhat vexing problem was a step backward from No. 5 starter Chris Capuano, who was out of the game by the fifth inning. Capuano had pitched into the seventh inning without giving up a run in each of his two previous outings, but this was a return to earlier form. He gave up 10 hits and five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.

This series -- though it's an odd matchup of teams that rarely cross paths -- has some comparative value. The Dodgers and Rays started slowly, but have each hit their stride since June, cutting their way through the standings.

The Dodgers have gone 35-8 since June 22. The Rays have the second-best record in that span, going 28-12.

Maybe this is a preview of the World Series. Who knows? If so, the Dodgers can only hope they get off to a faster start in October than they did in August, but they'll gladly take the finish.