Monday, July 30, 2012

The Dodgers' big weekend

The Los Angeles Dodgers headed into this past weekend's series with the Giants in bad shape. They had just lost three of four to the Cardinals and were forced to give Stephen Fife an emergency start to start the series in San Francisco against Cain on Friday. Already three games back after a terrible June and a mediocre July, the Giants could have built a commanding lead. The three game series would feature the Giants' best two pitchers in Cain and Vogelsong. Fife would be followed by Chad Billingsley who had been an enigma all season and then Clayton Kershaw who had struggled in his last couple of outings. No, things did not look promising for the Dodgers.

Fife, a twenty-five year old former third-round draft pick, had been a winner his last two seasons in the minors. But his stats there were not overwhelming. His walk rate was a bit too high, his strikeout rate a bit too low and his hits per nine not encouraging. And the Giants scored a second inning run to take a 1-0 lead in that first game of the series. Fife was fortunate it was not more. Two singles wrapped around a walk led to only one run scored on a ground out and then Theriot hit a hard liner that James Loney snared in a nice play to keep it at one run.

Meanwhile, Cain was cruising along through the first four innings. He retired the side in order in the first, worked around a two-out single in the second and singles in each of the third and fourth innings. It seemed a typical Cain game and a long day for the Dodgers. Cain then got the first two outs in the fifth. And then a little magic happened.

Stephen Fife began his minor league career as a member of the Red Sox' organization. As such, he never had to hit in his first three years in the minors. The Red Sox then included Fife in the Bedard trade and Fife had shown no innate ability to hit while in the Dodgers' system as his .369 OPS as a batter attests. Throw all that out the window as he recorded his first major league hit against a great pitcher like Cain and it was a double to boot.

Fife would score on another double by Hairston, who himself scored on a single by Ellis and Fife and the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead. They would stretch the lead to 3-1 with a sixth inning single by Loney to score Andre Ethier.

Stephen Fife would go on to pitch six and a third innings and only allowed the one run. He only struck out two and walked three, but he left the Dodgers in good shape, which was a surprise all on its own. But Fife would not get the victory as Ronald Belisario blew the lead in the eighth as he gave up three hits and two runs. The game seemed to tip in the favor of the Giants as it headed into extra innings.

In the top of the tenth, the Giants had Romo on the mound, one of the most effective relief pitchers on the planet. Romo got the first two outs in the inning with ground outs. But then he walked Ethier. Hanley Ramirez had recently come over from the Marlins in a big, though much debated trade. Ramirez had been zero for four in the game to that point. Romo hung a slider, something he almost never does, and Ramirez blasted it for a two-run homer to give the Dodgers a two run lead.

Kenly Jansen made it interesting in the bottom of the tenth with two hits allowed, but he struck out two and held on. The Dodgers had improbably taken the first game of the series.

Chad Billingsley would start the second game against Zito. Zito had accumulated a surprisingly effective season up until that point. Billingsley, however, had been somewhat of a disappointment. Billingsley had lost five straight after losing his last three starts in June and his first two in July. He was then shut down for a couple of weeks and his record stood at, 4-9.

But Billingsley came back with a good game against the Cardinals in the only game the Dodgers won in that series and he was terrific on Saturday. He gave up no Giant runs while the Dodgers jumped all over Zito and two relievers to roll to a 10-0 win and pulled within a game of the Giants.

Clayton Kershaw finished the Giants off with a dominating complete game shutout and the Dodgers chipped away at Vogelsong and took the last game, 4-0. The sweep--in San Francisco--tied the Dodgers with the Giants in the standings.

The Dodgers, after a big start to the season had built a huge lead in the standings only to see it whither away. Coming into this series down three games in the standings to the Giants, two losses would have really set them back. Instead, the Dodgers are back from the zombie-dead and are tied in the standings with those Giants. The Dodgers are back and this is going to be an exciting run down to the finish line.

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