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Sunday, July 28, 2013
Winning this way might mean you're good

By Mark Saxon


LOS ANGELES -- This Los Angeles Dodgers surge is starting to feel a little more permanent than that word would imply.

When you can win a game in which your No. 5 starting pitcher takes the mound and your Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters together go 0-for-10 with nine strikeouts in the first nine innings, you might be pretty hot.

When you can win a game in which you strike out 20 times -- a first for a Dodgers team in the modern era (since 1900) -- you might be pretty hot.

Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig celebrates his no-doubt, walk-off homer in the 11th inning of a 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
You might even be pretty good.

Sunday's 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds ended with more Yasiel Puig razzle-dazzle, though it had been a while since Dodgers fans had seen it. He hit the second pitch he saw in the 11th inning about 15 rows into the left-field bleachers to end one of the most exasperating offensive games in Los Angeles history. It gave the Dodgers their biggest NL West division lead of the season over the Arizona Diamondbacks at 2 1/2 games.

As usual, with Puig taking center stage, it was brilliant, flashy and strange all at once. Puig not only flipped the bat and threw his hands in the air, he slid into home plate after circling the bases.

"Just when you think you've seen it all in this game, you see something new," Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano said.

It might have been a hot-dog move, but it was probably no more dangerous than the now-accepted practice of leaping onto home plate after a walk-off shot. Just ask Kendrys Morales, who fractured an ankle trying that move.

There were actually a few novelties from Sunday's game.

On the same day the Dodgers set a Los Angeles strikeout record (the wrong side of it), they also tied a Los Angeles record for the team's best 32-game stretch (26-6), equaling the 1977 World Series team.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was unaware his team had struck out so many times until he walked into the interview room after the game and was asked about it.

"You're kind of inning to inning trying to win a game. You're not really paying attention to how they're getting their outs, just that they're getting them," Mattingly said. "It's a good game for us from the standpoint of it's a close game, it's a tough game, it's a tough club.

"It's a game we hung in there and stole a series."

For perfectly justifiable reasons, Mattingly gets antsy when Capuano is still on the mound late in games. He pulled the veteran left-hander after Capuano had given up only three hits, and thrown 83 pitches, with two outs in the seventh inning. Joey Votto was at second base and right-handed hitter Todd Frazier was coming up.

Capuano has rarely gotten to that point in a game, having failed to pitch into the sixth inning in three of his previous four starts. The move worked. After walking the first man he faced, Ronald Belisario struck out Zack Cozart to end the inning.

It was another confident stride for the Dodgers' bullpen. Even as general manager Ned Colletti looks for one more arm, good things are happening. Demoted closer Brandon League, booed routinely at Dodger Stadium a few weeks ago, pitched two scoreless innings. In his past four games, League is 3-0, has thrown 6 2/3 scoreless innings and opponents are batting less than .150 off him.

It all would have been fine and dandy, and Capuano would have gotten a well-deserved win, except the Dodgers, facing young lefty Tony Cingrani for the first time, were utterly baffled.

Until the seventh inning, the only Dodger who reached base was Capuano, on his third-inning single up the middle. Cingrani struck out 11 hitters in seven innings.

L.A. might have had a threat in the seventh when Puig led off with a walk. But Puig's poor baserunning continued when Cingrani picked him off first base with the Dodgers' leading RBI man, Adrian Gonzalez, at the plate.

Puig not only atoned for that mistake hours later, he atoned for an entire lineup's foibles.