Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw induces a double play out of Astro catcher Humberto Quintero to close out the Houston fifth inning. Photo Credit - J.C. Ayvazi
Dallas native Clayton Kershaw stepped up to prevent the Los Angeles Dodgers from losing their third consecutive game, keeping the Boys in Blue season-long streak of not losing more than two straight games intact, as he dominated the Houston Astros and led his team to a 5-2 victory.
Kershaw has not lost in his last seven outings, winning five times in that span and recording a 0.63 ERA. On top of that, the Dodgers have won all seven of Kershaw’s previous starts.
The victory also served as a fine present for Dodger manager Joe Torre, who was celebrating his 69th birthday. Torre’s teams have won the last five games played on his birthday, though Joe was quick to mention the fact he had not done so well prior to that. Since most of those games were during his Yankee tenure, Dodger fans can’t get too broken up over that fact.
By The Numbers
Kershaw made the 40th start of his career, dominating to such a degree that after the game a reporter suggested it was Kershaw’s best effort of his career. Clayton wasn’t so sure about that theory, but did admit to being very satisfied with his effort.
In advancing his record to 8-5, Kershaw toiled for seven innings, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out five. Of his 103 pitches, 66 were strikes. In five of his seven innings, Kershaw faced only three batters, aided by a double play in the fifth which erased his walk to Chris Coste.
Kick Save and a Beauty
In the sixth inning, Kershaw used an unusual defensive maneuver to retire his opposing number, Houston starter Mike Hampton.
After Hampton hit a comebacker to the mound, an off balance Kershaw stuck out his left foot to deflect the ball. As the ball bounced back in front of him, Clayton pounced on it and threw to first to retire Hampton.
In the post game gathering in Torre’s office, Joe brought up the name of former Angel starter Jack Lazorko, who was fairly adept with the maneuver. Torre had worked as an Angel broadcaster and had the chance to see Lazorko make that type of play a few time.
Torre also compared the play to a hockey goalie, which is appropriate considering prior to tomorrow’s game, the Los Angeles Kings will have a few players participating in the pregame activities.
Considering Kershaw’s Texas upbringing, I asked him if he had played soccer growing up. Clayton found the question amusing, and said while he had participated as a kid, he stopped playing in the fifth grade.
The Dodgers got out to an early lead, with lead off hitter Rafael Furcal ripping a single to left, followed by a gift triple when Astro left fielder Carlos Lee misplayed a line drive off the bat of Orlando Hudson. Later that inning, Matt Kemp singled home Hudson to give Kershaw an early two run cushion.
And Now For Something Completely Different
The Dodger lineup had an unusual twist, as Torre had Kershaw hit eighth and Juan Pierre in the nine hole. The theory to this strategy lies in stacking three speedsters in front of Manny Ramirez. It also has the effect of giving the team two leadoff hitters hitting back to back without dropping Hudson in the lineup and keeping Manny batting third.
The results in this game were mixed, as Pierre went hitless but Hudson was 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. Furcal was 1-for-4 and scored once while Manny was also 1-for-4, drilling a double down the left field line during the sixth inning uprising which gave the Dodgers their margin of victory.
Houston’s Hampton suffered a major brain cramp in the sixth inning, which gifted a run to the Dodgers and triggered his removal from the game.
The amusing blooper took place after Mark Loretta had singled home Casey Blake for the Dodger’s second run of the inning, with Blake beating a weak throw from left fielder Lee.
After taking the ball from catcher Humberto Quintero, Hampton attempted to slam the ball into his glove, but whiffed on the attempt. The ball rolled all the way to the Houston dugout, allowing the alert Loretta to take off for second right away, and the surprised Kemp sprinted home with the Dodgers fifth and final run of the game.
After stepping on the plate, Kemp pointed to Loretta, acknowledging his heads up play that let Kemp know Houston had left the back door open.
Return of the Closer
The Dodgers were very happy with the sight of closer Jonathan Broxton earning his 21st save of the season, even if there were some twists and turns before it was all over.
Miguel Tejada led off the ninth with a walk and Lee followed with an infield single. Hunter Pence struck out swinging, as did Chris Coste.
Houston sent Lance Berkman up to pinch hit for Jason Michaels and a carefully working Broxton walked Berkman on four straight. Pudge Rodriguez was called on to hit for the pitcher Alberto Arias. After starting Pudge with two balls, Broxton came back to get the future Hall-Of-Famer swinging to put the game into the refrigerator.
Striking out the side, the final one with the bases loaded, was a bit more of a high wire act than Torre might have wished for, but Broxton did secure the victory and reported no pain in the troublesome toe that has bothered him for almost a month.
Afterward, I asked Broxton if the walk to Berkman was one of those unintentional intentional walks. He said it wasn’t, but he did not want to give him anything too good, given the power Berkman possesses. Pressing further, I asked if he was trying to hit the corners, to which Broxton replied, “I didn’t want to center cut and have him shoot me.”
You just gotta agree with that theory.
Schmidt's Signage Points to Monday
Dodger Manager Joe Torre could hardly contain his smile when he informed the media at his pregame dugout conference the starter for Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, the oft-injured Jason Schmidt.
Torre conceded Schmidt’s velocity is not what is once was, and it is a source of frustration for Jason. Given the years of experience Schmidt has accumulated, he will use some of tricks he has garnered to make up for the loss of raw power.
The reports are that Schmidt is responding well physically after his outings and is throwing about 100 pitches each outing. Torre said Schmidt is at the height of his physical well being during the time Joe has been with the Dodgers. Torre also decreed it is now time to see what Schmidt can do for the team.
In his last Triple-A outing for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Schmidt pitched five innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits and a walk. Six of the hits were singles and the other was a double. He struck out five Memphis Redbirds and 68 of his 103 pitches were strikes.
Albuquerque ended up blowing the lead Schmidt turned over to the pen and Jason’s 2-0 record remained unchanged. In six games, five of them starts, Schmidt’s ERA is 4.18 over 32.1 innings. He allowed 35 hits and seven walks, striking out 25 batters.
When I asked about Eric Stults, Torre said he is doing well at Triple-A Albuquerque, but is in line behind Schmidt. Stults won his outing on Friday against New Orleans as the Isotopes rolled to a 12-3 victory.
Stults threw six innings allowing three earned runs on eight hits and one walk. He stuck out five Zephyrs and of his 94 pitches, 61 were strikes.
Still the Best
The Dodger victory over Houston padded their slim lead over the Boston Red Sox for the majors’ best record. Los Angeles is now 57-34 while the Sox dropped to 55-35 after losing 6-2 in Toronto against the Blue Jays.
In looking at the NL West race, the San Francisco Giants were shutout in Pittsburgh, losing 2-0 to the Pirates. Thanks to the Bucco’s, Los Angeles was able to extend their divisional lead to seven and a half games over San Francisco.
Houston’s manager Cecil Cooper was ejected in the middle of the eighth inning, arguing after Jeff Keppinger was called out on a grounder to Hudson.
The O-Dog did not pick the ground ball up cleanly, and his throw to first actually did not arrive ahead of Keppinger. Still, umpire Casey Moser ruled the runner out on a bang-bang play.
Cooper disagreed in the extreme, dashing out to challenge Moser, and protect his player. After getting Keppinger away from the umpire, it took only a few words and gestures to prompt Moser to send him to the showers.
The call loomed large, as a safe call would have meant another run for Houston, and would have reduced the Dodger lead to only two runs.
Asked after the game about a luck factor, Torre immediately referred to a check swing that was not called a strike, a call that Torre strongly disagreed with. Thus, to Joe’s way of thinking, Keppinger should have already been called out and the missed call at first could be considered karmic retribution.
Houston’s Darin Erstad left the game after straining his left hamstring. Erstad entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and singled. He pulled up in pain when he reached first and was replaced by Michael Bourne, who stole second and made his way to third before the inning ended.
Enough of That Foolishness
The Dodger victory snapped a five game winning streak by the Astros at Dodger Stadium. The last Dodger home victory over Houston was on August 16th, 2007, when Derek Lowe defeated Wandy Rodriguez and the Astros 6-2, with Takashi Saito earning the save.
Odds and Ends
In a bizarre statistical line, Blake was intentionally walked twice and struck out twice in his four plate appearances. In the field, the Dodgers' third baseman gloved two line shots directly hit at him and started the fifth inning double-play on a grounder hit by Quintero.
Among the 48,298 who attended the game, comedian and high-quality character actor Fred Willard was spotted. When shown on the Dodger Diamond Vision scoreboard, the Dodger cap wearing Willard began to give signals as if he was coaching third base.
Prior to the start of the game, there were a number of music videos played on Diamond Vision, featuring artists such as Los Lobos and Black Eyed Peas. Then during the middle of the sixth inning, Robert Palmer’s video classic “Addicted To Love” ran, interspersed with various shots from the crowd. I was stuck by the thought of what the late Dodger owner Walter O’Malley would have thought of such entertainment being offered in the stadium he designed almost 50 years ago.
Dodger Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully dropped a bit of personal opinion into the game broadcast, commenting on the All-Star Game and how he is amazed that home field advantage in the Fall Classic could be decided by an exhibition game. A very salient point that, and one can only hope it is enough to shake Commissioner Bud Selig from his slumber and revert the rule to having home field alternate between the leagues.