Sunday, May 20, 2012
3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 6, Cardinals 5
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- Scott Van Slyke, the rookie outfielder whom the Los Angeles Dodgers promoted to the majors for the first time less than two weeks ago, picked the perfect situation for his first big league homer on Sunday night, a three-run, pinch-hit blast off St. Louis Cardinals reliever Mark Rzepczynski in the seventh inning that gave the Dodgers a 6-5 victory before 44,005 at Dodger Stadium and a three-game sweep of the defending World Series champions.
Van Slyke took three balls from Rzepczynski and, in a curious but gutsy decision by manager Don Mattingly, was given the green light on 3-0. Van Slyke then hit a changeup from Rzepczynski over the wall in left-center, erasing what was left of what had been a three-run deficit just an inning earlier.
Van Slyke now needs just 163 more home runs to match the total his father, three-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove outfielder Andy Van Slyke, hit during a 13-year career in the majors. The elder Van Slyke came up with the Cardinals in 1983 and raised his family in the St. Louis area, which is still home to the younger Van Slyke.
The Dodgers recalled Van Slyke, who was added to the 40-man roster last winter, when outfielder Juan Rivera went onto the 15-day disabled list May 9 with a left-hamstring strain. Since then, he is hitting .333 (3-for-9) with six RBIs.
Following another rough start by Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers got three perfect innings from relievers Javy Guerra (2-3), Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen (who earned his fifth save).
The Dodgers, who have baseball's best record at 28-13, increased their lead in the National League West to seven games over the second-place San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers begin a three-game series at Arizona on Monday night.
Escape artist. After walking Daniel Descalso to load the bases with nobody out in the third, Chad Billingsley uncharacteristically bore down and pitched out of it, striking out Kyle Lohse and then getting Rafael Furcal to ground into a home-to-first double play. That began a string of eight consecutive batters retired by Billingsley, a streak that wouldn't end until Descalso led off the fifth with a single, leading to a three-run inning.
Glove work. With Cardinals rookie Matt Adams at the plate in the fourth and looking to begin his big league career 2-for-2 after lining the first pitch he saw for a single in the second, Dodgers first baseman James Loney made another of his defensive gems to take a hit away from Adams, diving to his right to snare the ball and then feeding Billingsley for the inning-ending out at first.
Righting himself. In his sixth appearance since being removed from the closer's role, Javy Guerra continued to show improvement, pitching a perfect seventh inning against the heart of the Cardinals' lineup: Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and David Freese. In those five appearances, Guerra has pitched 5 1/3 innings without giving up a run, although he has given up three hits and three walks.
Creating his own problems. Billingsley suffered defensive lapses on consecutive plays in what became a pivotal, three-run fifth for the Cardinals. First, with Lohse trying to bunt Descalso into scoring position, Billingsley picked up the ball, looked at second and, despite appearing to have plenty of time to get Descalso, opted to throw to first. Then, Furcal hit a grounder to Loney's right that Loney snared. Billingsley seemed to get there in time to get Furcal, but his footwork was off and he missed the bag after taking the feed from Loney. Billingsley was charged with an error.
Missed chances. The Dodgers loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth and came away with only one run, Loney bringing it home when he grounded into a double play -- the second time in the game the Dodgers hit into a double play with a runner in scoring position -- before A.J. Ellis struck out to end the threat.
Anti-climactic. That solar eclipse never amounted to much. There was a time during the early innings when it appeared you were looking through sunglasses, but unless you actually walked out into the parking lot during the game -- and who wants to mess with that? -- you never got any real sense that an eclipse was going on and, if you didn't already know it you never would have suspected.