Saturday, June 26, 2010
Updated: June 27, 8:02 PM ET
Dodgers feeling good about offense
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- It was one win in a long season, just another date on baseball's seemingly endless calendar. But for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Saturday's game, a 9-4 triumph over the vaunted New York Yankees before a sellout crowd of 56,000 at Dodger Stadium, might have carried more meaning than any of their 39 previous victories this season.
First, for a team that had precious little reason to feel good about itself after another annual free fall through the interleague portion of its schedule, the Dodgers now know they are capable not only of beating a team like the Yankees, but of beating them convincingly.
Second, the Dodgers now have a chance to take that a step further by possibly taking a series from the Yankees, and they have their budding ace, left-hander Clayton Kershaw, ready to go in Sunday evening's rubber match against indomitable veteran lefty Andy Pettitte.
And finally, completely apart from who their opponent happened to be, the Dodgers provided a little more evidence, to everyone watching but mostly to themselves, that their struggling offense just might finally be getting on a roll. They scored at least nine runs for the second time in their past three games.
Still, the best may be yet to come.
"I don't think we're on our game yet offensively," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
They certainly did an uncanny impersonation of an offense that was clicking from top to bottom, with a few exceptions. Despite staking the Yankees to a 3-0 lead on Mark Teixeira's first-inning home run before Hiroki Kuroda (7-5) could record a single out, the Dodgers stormed back against A.J. Burnett, taking advantage of six walks against the struggling right-hander and knocking him out two batters into the fourth inning.
By that time, the Dodgers already led 5-4, a lead they would push to 7-4 that inning.
The Dodgers (40-34) basically singled the Yankees to death, with only three of their 11 hits going for extra bases. The key blows were a two-run single by James Loney in the third, and a run-scoring single by Loney and RBI double by Casey Blake in the fourth.
Rafael Furcal had three hits and scored after each one. Loney and Andre Ethier had two hits apiece, Loney driving in four runs and Ethier scoring twice.
For the third-place Dodgers, who remained four games behind division-leading San Diego in the National League West, it all added up to a cathartic victory over an opponent of monumental proportions, and on national television no less.
"It's important because they are the world champs and they are dangerous," Torre said. "I think every team we are facing right now is somebody we have to measure ourselves against. It certainly doesn't hurt your confidence when you go out and beat this ballclub."
By the numbers
51 -- RBIs for Loney, six more than any other Dodgers player, despite the fact he has hit just five home runs. Two-thirds of Loney's 84 hits this season have been singles. But Loney is hitting .357 (30-for-84) this season with runners in scoring position, a feat for which he gives most of the credit to his teammates.
"Your RBI total is more about hitting with men in scoring position or with men on base," Loney said. "If guys are getting on base and I happen to be coming up in that situation, that's something your teammates produce for you."
Torre said Loney deserves a great deal of the credit for himself, especially given that he doesn't hit a lot of home runs.
"To me, I think it's tougher to hit a single with a man on second base than a home run with nobody on because the pitcher is bearing down to make sure you don't get a hit," Torre said. "James doesn't say a whole lot, and sometimes he takes some ugly swings. But when he is out there playing the game in tight situations, he doesn't change his demeanor. He just looks at it as showing up to work."
It has been an emotional week for Rafael Furcal, whose father died a few days ago, just three weeks after being kicked in the chest by a horse he was trying to shoe in the Dominican Republic. Furcal left the team for almost a week and said being back on the field has been therapeutic for him since he returned Wednesday night.
On Saturday, Furcal did what a leadoff man is supposed to do, getting on base three times and scoring three runs.
With the Dodgers already facing a 3-0 deficit, Furcal led off the first inning by going the other way with a Burnett fastball and lining a single through the left side, kicking off a two-run rally that got the Dodgers right back into the game.
In the fourth, with the Dodgers leading 5-4, Furcal began the inning by dropping a perfect bunt toward third base. Alex Rodriguez was playing deep and had no chance to get Furcal. Furcal then stole second, his 11th of the season, and eventually scored on a base hit by Loney to make it 6-4.
Finally, with Russell Martin on second and two outs in the seventh, Furcal ripped a single to right field against former teammate Chan Ho Park. When Nick Swisher came up throwing in an attempt to get Martin at the plate, Furcal alertly kept on running to second, and when Swisher's throw short-hopped catcher Francisco Cervelli and skipped to the backstop, Furcal moved into third on the error.
Matt Kemp followed with a double, scoring Furcal with the game's final run.
Beginning June 4, when Furcal snapped an 0-for-11 streak with a second-inning triple off Atlanta's Kenshin Kawakami, he has batted .343 (23-for-67) with four doubles, two triples and his only two home runs of the season. He also has struck out just eight times in 72 plate appearances during that span.
"I have been feeling pretty good the whole year," Furcal said. "My first game back [off the bereavement list] was a little bit disappointing, and it might have been too much for me [emotionally]. I know how much my father loved baseball. I know if he were still alive, he would want me to keep playing every day."
Furcal then provided the perfect ending to an afternoon that had stretched well into the evening -- the nine-inning game ran three hours and 49 minutes. With the Dodgers leading by five runs, a man on second and two outs in the ninth, Furcal went into a full dive behind the bag to take a hit away from Robinson Cano, the major leagues' leading hitter. Furcal scrambled to his feet and threw out Cano by a half-step, igniting a sellout crowd that had mostly stuck around to the end.
"That's just instinct," Furcal said of his decision to go all-out at the end of a lopsided game. "I try to catch everything close to me, especially with a runner on second base. I don't want that run to score, especially when you're playing a team like the Yankees. You can't give them any chances."
Three different Dodgers pitchers -- Kuroda in the fourth, Hong-Chih Kuo in the sixth and Jonathan Broxton in the eighth -- struck out Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in key situations with men on base.
With the Dodgers leading 5-4 in the fourth, Kuroda got Jeter on three pitches, getting him to chase a splitter to end the inning and strand two runners in scoring position.
After Kuroda walked pitch hitter Colin Curtis to put runners on first and second with one out and the Dodgers leading 7-4 in the sixth, Torre brought in the left-handed Kuo, who has been more-or-less dominating all season. Still, Kuo seemed a curious choice against the righty-hitting Jeter, who entered the day hitting 73 points higher (.330) against lefties.
Kuo threw three consecutive fastballs to get ahead 1-and-2, then got Jeter to chase a slider in the dirt for the second out. Curtis Granderson flied to right to end the inning, and Kuo set the Yankees down in order in the seventh, getting Cano to bounce back to the mound for the final out. With Kuo having retired Granderson and Kuo as part of his perfect 1 2/3-inning effort, left-handed batters are now 0-for-26 against him for the season.
Finally, with the Dodgers leading 9-4 and Yankees runners on first and second with one out in the eighth, Torre brought in Broxton for a four-out save.
"I didn't want to bring him in for four outs," Torre said. "But that game could have gotten crazy in a hurry, especially with the hitters they have at that part of the order. It was just something I had to do. If Broxton had pitched [Friday], I couldn't have done it. But a three-run homer right there, and all of a sudden you're looking at a two-run ballgame."
Torre didn't have to worry about that. Broxton got Jeter to swing and miss at one pitch and foul off two others before getting him to foul tip a slider into Martin's glove, ending the inning and the last real threat the Yankees would mount.
Reliever Cory Wade, who has been on the disabled list all season after undergoing right-shoulder surgery in spring training, made his first official rehabilitation start for high Single-A Inland Empire on Saturday night at High Desert, pitching one inning and giving up a run on three hits. Wade already had made two one-inning appearances for the Dodgers' Arizona Rookie League affiliate, but those starts didn't count as part of his rehab.
The series finale -- and, much to the relief of the beleaguered Dodgers, their final interleague game of the season -- features a riveting pitching matchup between Kershaw (7-4, 3.24), a left-hander whose career is on the rise, and Pettitte (9-2, 2.48), another lefty who is in the twilight of his career but still as dominating as ever. The game will be played in the 5 p.m. twilight of Dodger Stadium, so given the pitchers involved and the inevitable shadows, don't expect many runs to be scored in the early innings.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.