Commentary

Dodgers reach high point vs. Rockies

L.A.'s best outing of the year hands Rockies ace first loss of the season

Updated: May 10, 2010, 5:47 PM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- It will be a few days, perhaps even a few weeks, before we know whether Sunday's game will have any long-term impact on what had previously been a star-crossed season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It could be a springboard, or it could be another false start. But to anyone who was in the clubhouse after this unlikeliest of victories, a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rockies before 40,718 at Dodger Stadium, it was clear that with five weeks of the season now gone, this was the high-water mark.

It wasn't just about the fact Clayton Kershaw delivered arguably the best -- and certainly the timeliest -- performance of his career, shutting out the Rockies on two hits over eight dazzling innings. It wasn't just about the fact the Dodgers took two of three in their first meeting of the season against the National League West's other reigning playoff team.

It was mostly about the fact the Dodgers found a way to do something no other team had done this season, which was to beat Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, who quite possibly has been baseball's best starting pitcher to this point in the season.

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw's breakout game of this season couldn't have come at a better time. He shut out the Rockies with their ace Udalbo Jimenez on the mound.
And the best part is, there was nothing about Jimenez's own performance that was subpar or out of character. He held the Dodgers to a run on two hits over seven innings, including no hits in six of those innings. He probably would have pitched the eighth if the Rockies hadn't needed a pinch hitter. Viewed in a vacuum, Jimenez was nothing short of dominating.

But the two hits the Dodgers did get off him were perfectly timed, and perfectly placed. And that was the ballgame.

Leading off the third inning, Blake DeWitt's bloop hit into right field, near the line, basically died in the grass. Although Rockies right fielder Ryan Spilborghs got to it quickly, DeWitt never broke stride around first and slid into second as Spilborghs' throw came in about a foot off line. Jamey Carroll followed with a comebacker that Jimenez reached for but was able to only deflect it in the general direction of second baseman Clint Barmes. Barmes dove for it, but deflected it as well, far enough and slow enough into right field that DeWitt was able to scamper home with the only run the Dodgers would need.

"The ball hit off his glove, and once it hit off his glove, the ball got redirected to where Barmey couldn't get to it," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "And that is all that happened. We [could] have an out at third base and a runner at first."

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. But the Dodgers did.

They ended up getting another run on Russell Martin's two-out homer off Matt Daley in the eighth. It was the third homer of the year for the Dodgers catcher.

Jimenez came in 6-0 with a 0.87 ERA. He is still 6-1 with a 0.93 ERA.

But on this particular day, Kershaw was better than the league's best pitcher. The promising left-hander got into his usual bit of first-inning trouble, including walking two batters to load the bases with two outs. But he got Ian Stewart to take a called third strike and never looked back. Both of the hits Kershaw gave up were in the infield, one of them a bunt. He retired the final nine batters, had another stretch of nine consecutive batters retired from the first through the fourth and faced the minimum after Stewart's infield single with two outs in the fourth.

Kershaw even erased his only post-first-inning walk by picking off Eric Young at first base. Kershaw struck out nine, three coming against Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who isn't having a vintage season by any means.

Perhaps most importantly, Kershaw did all this in his first start after getting knocked out in the second inning on Tuesday, when he was torched for seven runs against Milwaukee.

Kershaw, who has no career shutouts or complete games, wanted to go back out for the ninth. He has thrown 117 pitches through eight innings, so Garret Anderson was sent to pinch hit for him.

"He said, 'I have one more in me,'" Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "I told him, 'I'm sure you do.' And then I said, 'Nice job.' This kid is special."

A special pitcher. And just maybe, a special afternoon for the Dodgers.

By the Numbers

For all their troubles this season, the Dodgers -- who remain in fourth place, five games back in the standings -- are 6-3 against NL West opponents, having taken two of three from Arizona, San Francisco and Colorado, all at home. Last year, the Dodgers were 46-26 against the West and just 49-41 against all other teams on their way to winning the division by a mere three games over the Rockies. Given that every game against a divisional opponent effectively counts as two games in the standings -- every win is also a loss for the other team, and vice versa -- that would seem to suggest the Dodgers aren't in the dire straits that they appear to be. Due to a quirk in the schedule, the Dodgers have played just nine of their first 31 games within the division.

Trends

Martin's home run in the eighth inning could be a good sign -- or it could be a bad sign. His previous homer had come in the fifth inning on April 28 at New York. After that, he had one hit in his next 21 at-bats, an infield single at that, with six strikeouts. Since breaking out of that skid with two hits on Wednesday night against Milwaukee, Martin is now 6-for-20 (.300) through the home run, which, just like the one he hit off the Mets' John Maine at Citi Field, was pulled to straightaway left field. Martin has a tendency to get pull-happy -- and a home run to straightaway left field would seem to feed into that -- and those are the times when he seems to fall into hitting slumps.

Quote of the Day

"His stuff was good. The fastball was pretty good. That was all I saw. That was all he needed." -- Kershaw, when asked what it was like to face Jimenez. In two at-bats against the Rockies right-hander, Kershaw, who is now hitless in 10 at-bats for the season, popped into a double play on a bunt attempt and took a called third strike.

Looking Ahead

The Dodgers open a three-game series at Arizona on Monday night, kicking off a critical, six-game trip against NL West opponents that will include a set in San Diego next weekend. Chad Billingsley (2-2, 5.06) will take the mound for the Dodgers against veteran right-hander Rodrigo Lopez (1-1, 4.14). Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew is hitting .410 (16-for-39) for his career against Billingsley.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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