Anderson turns the boos into cheers
Veteran, who had been struggling this season, gets winning hit in 14-inning victory
LOS ANGELES -- To say Garret Anderson unleashed two months' worth of frustration with a single swing of the bat would be a bit of an exaggeration.
After all, it wasn't really that kind of a swing. It was a little flare that was almost caught, scraping a few blades of grass a fraction of a second before it wound up in the glove of a diving Chris Young, allowing Matt Kemp to scamper home with the winning run and making Anderson the hero in the Los Angeles Dodgers' third consecutive walkoff win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, 1-0 in 14 innings before 35,355 on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
But Anderson, who came into this rarest of starts in left field hitting only .156 for the season and then went hitless in five at-bats before his game-ending heroics, will take it.
Just as he took the boos he received from the home crowd after striking out with the potential winning run on second base way back in the 10th inning.
"I have heard that before," Anderson said. "It was well-deserved. I didn't get the job done. I don't mind hearing boos. I don't think I have been doing the things I'm capable of doing, so I'll take those boos."
In his first season with the Dodgers, first season as a role player and 17th season in the majors, Anderson -- a three-time All-Star who will turn 38 at the end of this month -- has been so bad offensively this season that he actually raised his average a point, to .157, by going 1-for-6. He has struck out 19 times in 88 plate appearances, and his on-base percentage is .182.
When a player of his advanced age and at this stage of his career gets off to such a disastrous start, there is, of course, an inevitable question people start asking, even if they only ask it when that player isn't around to hear it.
After the game, it was asked in manager Joe Torre's office.
"I think the at-bats are what I really look at moreso than the batting average," Torre said. "I don't think he is ready to throw in the towel."
Anderson isn't exactly the fiery type, one who is driven by emotion. You will never see him attack the bat rack the way, say, Andre Ethier has at times in the past. But Anderson did admit after the game his performance has bothered him to some extent, even if he doesn't show it outwardly.
"The only thing that wears on you is when you aren't performing well statistically," he said. "That bothers any player. But if you look at the percentages, all the pinch hitters in the National League go through this. You just have to try to take some positive things into the next day, whatever they may be."
Anderson has at least one positive thing he can take into Thursday night's opener of a big series with the sizzling Atlanta Braves, the same team for which he hit .268 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs last year in his first season with any team other than the Los Angeles Angels. His hit came with two outs and Kemp on third in the 14th inning and gave the Dodgers a three-game sweep over the sad-sack Diamondbacks, who have now lost 10 consecutive games and have failed to score in 31 consecutive innings.
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Barring something unforeseen, Anderson won't start again until at least Sunday, the next time the Dodgers have a day game after a night game and the next time Torre figures to rest Manny Ramirez. Even then, the start might go to Reed Johnson, the lone Dodgers position player who never got into Wednesday's marathon.
And therein lies Anderson's biggest obstacle: Of his 83 at-bats, 29 of them have come as a pinch hitter, a role in which he had just 57 career at-bats before this year.
"It's different," he said. "It's something I have never done before. I'm just trying to find my way and come away with something positive I can take with me every day."
The question has been asked at times this year, among fans and on the blogosphere, why the Dodgers choose to keep Anderson around. He is making a relatively modest $550,000, his lowest salary since 1996, so it wouldn't cost that much to simply send him on his way. And while it's true he is the team's only left-handed pinch-hitting specialist, another left-handed hitter and major league veteran, former Baltimore outfielder Jay Gibbons, went into Wednesday hitting .378 with eight homers and 39 RBIs for the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate.
But Dodgers officials insist the intangibles Anderson brings -- his experience and his leadership skills make him a respected presence in the clubhouse -- are sufficient to earn his keep, especially given the role he was signed to fill isn't exactly high profile.
And besides, is there really anyone you would rather have at the plate with a man on third and two outs in the bottom of the 14th inning with the opposing center fielder playing about half a step too deep?
"I'm enjoying it every day," Anderson said. "I have had bad times and good times in my career. I think you have seen if you have followed my career that I stay on kind of an even keel. That is what helps me deal with everything."
When reliever Travis Schlichting was called in from the bullpen to start the 10th inning, his first appearance since being recalled from Albuquerque for the first time this season Sunday, he had no idea he would need to pitch four innings and throw 60 pitches. He also had no idea he would be rewarded for all that with his first major league victory.
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Schlichting stranded runners in scoring position in the 12th and 14th.
"I felt great out there," Schlichting said. "I think last year, I was a little nervous coming up here for the first time. This year, I'm more relaxed."
Schlichting said he had gone as long as 3 2/3 innings in a single outing at Albuquerque this year.
"He just pitched his tail off," Torre said.
Torre used every reliever except Hong-Chih Kuo and Jeff Weaver, and Justin Miller also pitched two full innings. The Dodgers don't have another off-day until next Thursday, and Torre said after the game he wasn't sure whether he had enough relief pitching left after this game. Torre planned to meet with assistant general manager Kim Ng -- GM Ned Colletti was tied up in pre-draft meetings with the team's scouting staff -- to discuss whether a roster move is needed before Thursday night's game with Atlanta.
Rookie Carlos Monasterios is supposed to be holding down the fifth spot in the starting rotation only until knuckleballer Charlie Haeger comes off the disabled list, and Haeger is then supposed to hold it down only until Vicente Padilla comes off the DL. But if Monasterios keeps pitching this way, it's tough to imagine the job being taken away from him just to give it back to the inconsistent Haeger.
Monasterios shut out the Diamondbacks on two hits over five innings, and Torre said although Monasterios had reached his pre-determined 80-pitch limit, he would have been allowed to go longer if he hadn't developed a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Torre was non-committal on whether the blister would affect Monasterios for his next scheduled start on Monday against St. Louis.
In three starts this season, Monasterios is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA. He has a 1.87 ERA overall.
The Dodgers (31-22) will get their first look this season at the Braves, the team with whom they shared baseball's best record (20-8) in May. The Dodgers also will get their first look at Braves rookie sensation Jason Heyward. Hiroki Kuroda (5-3, 3.55) will pitch the opener of the four-game series for the Dodgers against right-hander Kris Medlen (2-1, 2.85). The Braves come to town on an eight-game winning streak that includes a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, vaulting them into first place in the NL East.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.