Saturday, April 28, 2012
3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 4, Nationals 3
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers capitalized on three ninth-inning wild pitches by Washington Nationals closer Henry Rodriguez on Saturday night and staged a two-run, game-tying rally, then got a walk-off homer from Matt Kemp leading off the 10th to take a 4-3 victory before a sellout crowd of 54,242 at Dodger Stadium.
That ninth-inning rally included a key RBI double by Juan Uribe after Mark Ellis and James Loney began the inning with back-to-back singles.
With the win, the Dodgers (15-6) overtook the Nationals for the best record in the National League and pushed their lead in the NL West to four games over the San Francisco Giants.
Ace in the hole. Jerry Hairston, starting at second base in place of Ellis for just the second time this season, turned his back to the infield and ran full-speed into shallow right in desperate pursuit of a looping liner by Ian Desmond in the third, a ball that looked like it would fall for a sure RBI single with Wilson Ramos running off second. But at the last possible second, Hairston dived headlong away from the plate and made the catch, then got up and threw from his knees to double off Ramos, who was so far off the bag that he didn't even make a serious attempt to get back. That ended the inning and kept the game scoreless.
Dealing. On an evening when he figured to have absolutely no margin for error with Stephen Strasburg pitching for the other side, Chad Billingsley was almost as dominating and every bit as stingy through the early going, and that included pitching around a leadoff double by Strasburg in the sixth. By the time Billingsley got out of that mess -- two good defensive plays by Loney at first, the second one pulling down a high throw from Uribe to get Jayson Werth by a step -- he had tossed six goose-eggs, allowed just three hits and been uncharacteristically efficient, throwing just 78 pitches. Alas, it all came crashing down for Billingsley in the seventh, when Adam LaRoche took him deep to begin the inning. The Dodgers tied it in the bottom half, saving Billingsley from the loss.
Got his number. A.J. Ellis had two hits off Strasburg, including a tying single through the left side of the infield with one out in the seventh that brought Hairston home from second -- but just barely. The highly hyped Bryce Harper, making his major league debut, fired an absolute laser from left field that beat Hairston to the plate by three steps, but Ramos snowconed the ball in his mitt and never quite corralled it. It flew out of his mitt as he tried to make a sweep tag, and Hairston touched the plate with his hand.
Set what table? Dee Gordon continued to struggle in the leadoff spot, just a few hours after manager Don Mattingly said he saw no reason to drop Gordon lower in the order. Gordon grounded out in each of his first two at-bats, and although he hit the ball with authority his third time up, he unfortunately lined a bullet directly at the glove of Strasburg, who snared it to end the fifth. Gordon then grounded back to the mound for the second time in the game in the eighth off reliever Tyler Clippard. Gordon struck out in the ninth, and although he reached on a wild pitch, that capped an 0-for-5 evening for the fleet shortstop.
Move what runner? Billingsley failed to get a bunt down after a one-out single by A.J. Ellis in the fifth gave the Dodgers a rare chance to potentially break through against Strasburg -- not that it was a really big chance, given that the struggling Gordon was on deck. Still, he wound up bunting foul for strike three, and Gordon lined out sharply to Strasburg, keeping the game scoreless through five.
Off night. Kemp and Andre Ethier are having great seasons, but neither of them had a great night before Kemp's walk-off homer, the Dodgers' one-two offensive punch combining to go 0-for-7 with five strikeouts in regulation -- including a critical strikeout by Ethier against Clippard to end the bottom of the eighth after Kemp, who had walked, stole second, leaving the score tied.