Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dodgers finally wake up in Baltimore

After going a full week playing some horrific baseball, the Dodgers battled back from a three-run deficit in the fifth to salvage the weekend series.

With Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp flip-flopping spots in the order, each man drove in runs in the fifth, which came right after a huge two-run single from Mark Ellis.  The pitching took it from there by shutting down the Orioles in a 7-4 win.  Mercifully, the six-game losing streak is over.

Before the game even started, things went from bad to worse for the Dodgers with news that Chad Billingsley is back on the 15-day DL with elbow pain.  And for a guy who didn't want Tommy John surgery this past offseason, it's pretty scary news.  We'll all wait and see what this eventually means.

In his place was Stephen Fife, who pitched pretty well in a few starts last season.  That didn't seem to matter as the Orioles plated three in the first.  Nate McClouth singled leading off, went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Nick Markakis's RBI single.  With the bases loaded and two down, J.J. Hardy hit a two-run single to right, and it was 3-0.

Jake Arrieta started for the O's, and the book on him is that he has great stuff, but can be his own worst enemy.  He looked really good through four innings, with his only blemish a sac-fly RBI by Mark Ellis in the third to score A.J. Ellis.  Adam Jones smashed a solo shot in the bottom half to make it 4-1.

Don Mattingly was interviewed on the TBS broadcast in between one of the early innings, and he told everyone that "the big hit will come."  It looked like a joke at first considering this team was practically the worst in the majors at getting big hits.  Then the fifth inning came, and Dodger fans were actually given a reason to smile.

Arrieta helped out big time with this, as he loaded the bases on walks to Skip Schumaker and Carl Crawford, and by beaning Justin Sellers.  Mark Ellis then did the unthinkable - he got a hit with the bases loaded!  Seriously, a Dodger player did do that.  His two run single cut the deficit to 4-3.

Buck Showalter then called upon T.J. McFarland, and Gonzalez immediately laced an RBI double to make it 4-4.  We all know how lousy Kemp has done this year, but he delivered in this spot with an RBI single, and the Dodgers suddenly had a 5-4 lead.

Fife was allowed to start the fifth, and got Manny Machado to ground into a double play.  It's a shame he then gave up a single to Markakis, because that brought the hook and a chance for the win.  J.P. Howell relieved and Adam Jones singled, but the mighty Chris Davis struck out to end the inning.

Other members of the bullpen took over from there as the offense tacked on a couple more.  Matt Guerrier pitched a scoreless sixth, and Kemp started a rally in the seventh.  He showed his all-around game with a leadoff single and steal of second, with some help from a bouncing throw from Matt Wieters.  A clutch opposite field single by A.J. Ellis allowed Kemp to score on a great slide at home for the 6-4 advantage.

Paco Rodriguez got three straight groundouts in the seventh, and Kenley Jansen worked around a one-out double by Davis to escape the eighth unharmed.  A sac-fly RBI by Jerry Hairston added one more in the ninth, and Brandon League collected his fifth save in as many chances.

I criticized Mattingly's handling of the bullpen in the first game on Saturday when he yanked Jansen way too early.  I'll give him credit here for moving Kemp out of the three-hole and moving Gonzalez up.  Both men responded very well, as Gonzo went 2-for-4 with a run, RBI, and walk; Kemp went 3-for-5 with a run, RBI, and two steals.  For once both guys were clicking, and the middle of the order did lots of damage.

Let's also give both Ellis boys plenty of credit.  Mark was the one who got the floodgates to open in the fifth, as the entire offense seemed to exhale once he scored two with a bases loaded single.  A.J. has quietly hit .320 this season, and he reached base three times with an RBI.

Fife was put in a very tough spot, and if you take away the shaky first inning, actually pitched pretty well.  He lasted 4 2/3 innings for seven hits, four runs, one walk, and five strikeouts.  With the Dodgers' starting pitchers falling like flies, it was good to see him shake off the bad start.  It wasn't the prettiest of lines, but it's nice to see the offense bail him out for a change.

Let's see where this win takes the Dodgers from here.  Ron Darling correctly pointed out when they took the lead that they this was a must win since Monday is an off day and Clayton Kershaw opens the Mets' series on Tuesday.  Now they have a little bit of momentum going into New York.  And it beats the heck out of waiting a couple of days to break a seven-game skid.

Plus, Matt Harvey pitches on Wednesday.  Good luck beating that guy!

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