Los Angeles Dodgers: Did Eighth-Inning Rally Light Championship Fire?
Last night, the Los Angeles offense finally contributed some late-inning success at the plate that sprung the Boys in Blue to a 5-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
For a club that went a Major League-best 56-32 in the first half of the season, the rally was a return to business as usual for manager Joe Torre and exactly what Dodger fans have been waiting to see for months.
The Dodgers showed championship-type resiliency after being stymied by Billy Buckner for the first seven innings of the contest.
They hit into five double plays against Buckner, tying a franchise high, and made it nearly impossible to score runs because anytime a runner was on base they were immediately stomped out by Arizona turning a pair.
Says Andre Ethier of Buckner’s outing, "Buckner played to our over-aggressiveness. Things didn't look good. Then we turned it around and strung some hits together."
The key play came in the eighth inning, with one out and Russell Martin on first base.
Juan Pierre legged out the sixth potential double play ball of the night that would have ended the inning and kept the Dodgers trailing 4-1, and perhaps killed any chance at a late-inning comeback.
The speedy Pierre, who forever will be kept in Dodger fans hearts for his stellar job done while filling in for Manny Ramirez during his 50-game suspension, reached base safely by no more than a half-step.
But that half-step sparked five straight two-out singles and a four-run outburst to secure a 5-4 win, the club’s fourth win in a row on the road and sixth in the last seven games away from Dodger Stadium.
Last night’s comeback win was the 36th of the season.
The team has gone just 27-25 in the second half of the season and the letdown has come largely because of a lack of hitting with runners in scoring position.
But did Pierre’s hustle play stomp out the bad feelings and release the demons?
Torre seems to think it’s at least a step in the right direction.
"To have that happen with five double plays, to score four runs in the eighth inning—I don't want to say it's a surprise, because we saw this a lot early in the year. Recently, we haven't been that club. I hope this is a good sign that we're back to that."
Ethier added a comment that points toward the fact that Torre himself is the glue that holds this team together and keeps them fighting until the final out.
"The old adage is what Joe preaches, which is to go out and play hard for the whole nine innings," said Ethier.
Now, no one has been more critical of Torre’s infamous bullpen mismanagement than I have been throughout the season, but Torre possesses a rare quality that very few professional coaches or managers can convey to a team full of millionaires and egos.
He can connect with players on a level that enacts trust from both parties: trust from Torre that his team will keep battling and never give up, and trust from the players that Torre is going to position them in the best situation possible for success.
The comeback win was so important because the offense as of recently has been the absolute downfall of this club, while the pitching staff looks poised to make a run deep into the postseason.
The pitching staff has gone 28 consecutive games allowing five or fewer runs, mounting the best ERA (2.65) in the Majors over that time. In fact, in 26 of those 28 games, the pitchers have surrendered four runs or fewer.
We all know that the St. Louis Cardinals have Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The San Francisco Giants have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Yet, the Dodgers lack a consistent 1-2 punch for the postseason.
But, unlike other sports, opposing pitchers have no effect on their competitor’s performance.
So does it matter that Chad Billingsley will have to match up with one of the big guns from the Cardinals?
Or that Randy Wolf may have to duel against last year’s Cy Young winner?
Not a bit.
This staff has shown the kind of resiliency that only champions possess.
Amid bringing in Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland to spell injuries to Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda, the starting rotation has emerged as a dominant force on this team.
Not to mention the bullpen, which holds a Major League-best 3.11 ERA, the lowest that mark has been since May 6 when it was 3.09.
If the late-innings heroics of last night can carry over throughout the remainder of the season, this team is going to be scary in the postseason.
Much has been made of Manny Ramirez’s struggles and how it has dragged down this team, and the concerns are justified. Ramirez is being paid to drive home runs and he simply isn’t doing that, as he has just 32 RBI in 58 games since returning from suspension.
But honestly, I don’t think they need the big bopper to win the pennant.
Matt Kemp, Ethier, and now James Loney are the go-to guys in the lineup and if they can keep rolling into October, then Manny could be the highest paid decoy in baseball history.
For example, the Diamondbacks elected to walk Manny Ramirez last night with the score 4-3 and runners on first and third to bring Loney to the plate.
Ramirez has just six hits in his last 34 at-bats with runners in scoring position, but D-Backs manager A.J. Hinch elected to go after Loney instead.
Loney, who is 11-for-29 in his past eight games after struggling mightily for the past month, promptly lined the game-tying single into left field.
Another game, another hero.
That was the mantra that kept this team winning in the first half of the season, and somehow that theme was lost from late-July until last night.
Ronnie Belliard has also been an important part of the offense since being acquired from the Washington Nationals on Aug. 30.
He has started four consecutive games at third place for the injured Casey Blake, and has picked up the slack for his idol, Ramirez, driving in seven runs in nine games with Los Angeles.
If you watch Belliard at the plate, his mannerisms and approach is very similar to Manny, but he has been taking the lead role as opposed to watching his boyhood idol do work at the dish.
Belliard followed Loney with an RBI single of his own that proved to be the game-winner.
Another promising sign is that Rafael Furcal has scored a run in five straight games for the first time this season; that is less a reflection of his personal success and more of an indicator that the big guns behind him are finally driving in runs.
With the way the pitchers are limiting opposing teams, if the Dodgers are starting to show that they can spread the RBI load to multiple players, that certainly shapes them to be a team destined for playoff success.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers
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