Saturday, May 26, 2012
3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 6, Astros 3
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- A.J. Ellis hit his first career walkoff home run, a three-run shot to left field off Houston Astros reliever Wilton Lopez with one out in the ninth, to lift the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 6-3 victory before 36,561 on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, helping the Dodgers avoid what would have been their first three-game losing streak of the season.
The Dodgers improved baseball's best record to 31-15 and pushed their lead in the National League West to a season-high 7 1/2 games over the second-place San Francisco Giants.
Streaking. Andre Ethier ran his current hitting streak to a season-high six games with a well-placed ground ball that just eluded diving Astros second baseman Jose Altuve in the first inning, then laced a double to the wall in left-center in the third. And then, in the eighth, Elian Herrera dropped a bloop single into shallow center, extending his hitting streak to eight games -- a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact Herrera was playing in his 10th major league game.
Working it. In the fourth -- an inning in which, coincidentally or otherwise, the Dodgers scored twice to take their first lead -- Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, second baseman Elian Herrera and left fielder Bobby Abreu combined to work Astros pitcher Bud Norris for 23 pitches in what became a 39-pitch frame for the Astros ace, pushing his pitch count to 106 by the end of that inning.
Bouncing back. Javy Guerra continued to shine since being removed from the closer role, pitching around a one-out double by Logan Schafer to complete a scoreless seventh inning. Since that fateful blown save on May 6 at Chicago, Guerra has now pitched nine scoreless innings, allowing six hits.
Hearing footsteps. Chad Billingsley continued a struggle that has been going on for, basically, all of May, most notably in a second inning in which he threw 31 pitches and issued a bases-loaded walk. That slump, which in typical Billingsley fashion has resulted from too many deep counts and too many pitches, has coincided with Nathan Eovaldi -- the de facto sixth starter in the Dodgers' pecking order -- pitching well at Double-A Chattanooga. It could be that team officials will start considering their options soon, although there really isn't an obvious opening for Billingsley in the bullpen. By the way, Billingsley eventually settled down and retired the final seven batters, but it marked the third time in his past four starts that he failed to go longer than five innings.
Rotten luck. After one of his typical at-bats in which he worked Norris for nine pitches and fouled off three of them on a full count, Ellis hit what appeared to be at least a game-tying double in the fourth. But Astros left fielder J.D. Martinez ran it down in spectacular fashion in left-center, basket-catching it just shy of the warning track. Martinez's momentum carried him hard into the wall, bringing out manager Brad Mills and a trainer, but Martinez ultimately stayed in the game.
Try, try again. For the second night in a row, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called upon Ivan De Jesus -- who entered the game with a lifetime major league average of .214 and exactly one career extra-base hit -- to pinch hit at a critical point in the game with both Jerry Sands and Scott Van Slyke were available off the bench. For the second night in a row, De Jesus failed to come through, this time grounding into an inning-ending force play. Go figure.