Dodgers Walk Off Again
When the calendar struck September 1, the Dodgers took on a look of a different team. They still have problems getting hits early in the game, however all of a sudden they can pull a game out of the hat. For the third straight game, the Dodgers won a one-run game and came from behind for a second straight game. This time it was the San Diego Padres who were the victims 4-3 in 11 innings.
"That was fun," manager Don Mattingly said after the game seemingly unfazed by heart-racing game.
It seemed destined that the game would be a loss of the Dodgers. For one, they had won in the two games I did not attend over the weekend. And right before first pitch, the San Francisco Giants came from behind to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-8 in 10 innings to take a momentary five-game division lead over the Dodgers.
Then the first pitch was made, and it seemed I brought the bad luck back. Dodgers starter Joe Blanton gave up a two-run homer to Chase Headley in the first inning.
All the Dodgers could muster through the first five innings against Padres starter Andrew Werner were four hits were two by Luis Cruz, batting .330 since August 1, and two by Mark Ellis, the second by Ellis a single that scored Cruz from second base in the fifth inning.
Hanley Ramirez tied the game with a solo homer to straight centerfield in the sixth inning, but a combination of Blanton and relievers Randy Choate and Ronald Belisario allowed the go-ahead run to score in seventh.
But sometimes there are moments in a baseball game when a team is on the edge of either winning or losing. For the Dodgers that moment came in the eighth inning.
Trailing 3-2 after Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-out single off of left-handed specialist Tommy Layne, up came Matt Kemp. What remained of the 33,540 Dodger Stadium crowd stood on their feet as Padres manager Bud Black brought in right-handed reliever Luke Gregorson.
Each successive pitch brought more tension amplifying the noise from the crowd. Kemp had worked the count full. On the sixth pitch Kemp hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Everth Cabrera. Kemp sprinted down the line to try and beat Cabrera's throw to first baseman Yonder Alonso. The crowd crescendoed, cheering on Kemp.
The ball arrived a half-step before Kemp did. The crowd booed the out call by first base umpire Tim Timmons, but the replays confirmed the call.
The Dodgers still trailed the Padres 3-2, and with three outs remaining it looked crystal clear the night would end up in a loss.
All signs pointed to another Dodger loss except it didn't happen.
For some reason Black left Gregorson in to face the left-handed Andre Ethier. Ethier responded by hitting a 399-foot home run to right-centerfield that sent the game to extra innings.
And a two-out rally in the 11th started by Ethier with a single ended with A.J. Ellis lining a single to right field.
The Dodgers look impervious to pressure, a team whose confidence is sky high.
"It's September now," Ellis said. "It's time to go. We're just going to play as hard as we can. As long as we take care of business on our end, it doesn't matter what the other teams do if they win or lose. We'll be happy at the month because we're going to pour it all out there on the field."
"I think that feeling of knowing we can win these games late is starting to be fortified," Ethier said. "Sometimes you lose that confidence. When you start doing it and everyone gains that confidence, it definitely help."
But there is Mattingly, the voice of reason.
"It's all day-to-day now," Mattingly said trying to temper expectations. "No time to feel great about tonight and count on momentum. You've just go to take the momentum and win tomorrow."
Randy Choate left the game after trying to field a grounder with his bare hand. "It hurt on impact, but it felt all right after that," he said. He did not have x-rays taken.
Luis Cruz had a season-high four hits. "It just shows you about perserverance," Mattingly said about his impact third baseman.
The Dodgers remain 4 1/2 games behind the Giants in the NL West and are 1/2 game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final wild card spot in the NL.