In the immediate aftermath of the latest walkoff hit by Andre Ethier that ended the latest marathon between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night, it wasn't exactly clear why Ethier had been presented with such an opportunity.
All that was clear was that for whatever reason, Arizona manager A.J. Hinch had allowed reliever Blaine Boyer to pitch to Ethier, and Ethier had responded with a drive over the head of center fielder Chris Young that brought Blake DeWitt jogging home with the winning run, giving the Dodgers a 6-5 victory over the Diamondbacks before 39,697 at Dodger Stadium.
"I guess each manager has their own rhyme or reason for what they do," Ethier said. "But it was good for me that they wanted to come after me in that situation."
It was good for the Dodgers, too. In fact, it is almost always good for the Dodgers when teams come after Ethier in potential walkoff situations. This was the 10th walkoff hit of Ethier's career, all of them having come in the past three seasons. According to the web site MikeMav.com, that ties Ethier with Steve Garvey for sixth place on the Dodgers' list since the team moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958. Only Dusty Baker (14), Manny Mota (12), Ron Cey (11) and Davey Lopes (11) have more.
In this case, the situation was textbook for an intentional walk. DeWitt had started the inning with a sharp single through the right side, and Rafael Furcal had bunted him over. At that point, Hinch did order Boyer to walk Matt Kemp, partly because Kemp was 5 for 14 with three home runs and six RBI in the series to that point and partly to set up a possible inning-ending double play.
When Boyer's first pitch to Ethier then skipped past catcher John Hester for a passed ball, allowing DeWitt and Kemp to move up and thus opening up first base, the easy assumption was that Hinch would put Ethier on and take his chances with Manny Ramirez. Regardless of who the participants are, that is what managers almost always do in that situation, because it keeps the double play in order and also creates a force at any base.
It also would have created a righty-righty matchup between Boyer and Ramirez.
But for whatever reason, Hinch ignored all that and threw convention out the window -- only to have it blown right back in through the window and right into his face.
"When you have that guy Manny on deck, that gets your attention," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "I'm not sure what I would have done in that situation. Manny has been swinging the bat pretty well, too."
As it turned out, Ramirez didn't have to swing it on this occasion. Ethier delivered -- yet again -- and the Dodgers (4-5) finally had their first series victory of the young season in a three-game set that took a total of 12 hours, 21 minutes to complete.
With the Dodgers trailing by a pair going to the bottom of the ninth, the Diamondbacks made two colossal mistakes. First, closer Chad Qualls started the inning by walking Rafael Furcal on five pitches. Then, with Furcal having scored but with two outs and runners at first and second, Casey Blake hit a slow bouncer to short. Stephen Drew fielded it on the run with no time to spare and, without planting, unleashed a rainbow that flew over the Arizona dugout and into the stands, allowing Manny Ramirez to come all the way home from second with the tying run and sticking Qualls with his second blown save in two nights.
Quote of the Day
"I wish I could be in that situation every at-bat. I think it goes back to my dad and my coaches who always used to tell me to stay in the moment." -- Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier on his penchant for delivering walkoff hits.
The Dodgers continued to play horrific defense. Matt Kemp lost a ball in the lights, or the sky, or something, in the second inning, resulting in a double for Chris Young on what should have been a routine fly ball, and Young wound up scoring the game's first run. Rafael Furcal made a great diving play later in the inning, then scrambled to his feet and threw the ball into the Diamondbacks dugout, resulting in an unearned run. And in the ninth, with runners on the corners and one out, Casey Blake booted what might have been an inning-ending double-play grounder from Tony Abreu, letting in what would have been a critical Diamondbacks insurance run if the Dodgers hadn't rallied in the bottom of the inning.
Lost in the Shuffle
Hiroki Kuroda wasn't spectacular, and he certainly wasn't as good as he was in his first start of the season on Friday night at Florida. The Diamondbacks got to him for 10 hits over seven innings. But on a night when the Dodgers desperately needed it after using seven relievers in Wednesday's 11-inning marathon, Kuroda managed to get through seven innings, and he is still the only Dodgers starter to go that deep into any game this season. Once again, he did it by attacking the strike zone and keeping his pitch count down. Kuroda struck out seven and didn't walk a batter. He has yet to issue an unintentional walk this season.
By the Numbers
3--times in Matt Kemp's five big-league seasons in which he has homered in three consecutive games, the third time coming when he slammed a two-run shot off Arizona reliever Aaron Heilman to tie the game just after Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch removed Dan Haren with one out in the seventh. Kemp homered in four consecutive games last season from Aug. 29-Sept. 4. His other three-game homer streak was from June 1-3, 2006.
Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo made the first of what are expected to be two rehabilitation appearances for high Single-A Inland Empire on Thursday night, pitching a perfect first inning against Modesto. Kuo struck out the first two batters, then ended the inning by getting a fly ball to center. Kuo has been on the 15-day disabled list all season with left-elbow soreness. Barring a setback, he is expected to be activated at the start of a nine-game trip that begins Tuesday at Cincinnati.
The Dodgers open a three-game series with first-place San Francisco on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Vicente Padilla (0-1, 11.42), who began the season with two bad starts, will try to right himself against the Giants and right-hander Todd Wellemeyer (0-1, 5.68). With the Giants having started quickly, the Dodgers having started slowly and Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito waiting to pitch on Saturday and Sunday, the series opener would seem to be a critical game for the Dodgers.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.