Billingsley gives Dodgers shot in arm
Pitcher stays even-keeled after throwing a complete-game shutout to beat Giants
The Dodgers' song of choice, DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win," still might not be the most appropriate tune for a team just ending a six-game losing streak (tying the longest of the season), but no one singing along in the clubhouse seemed to mind after the team won for the first time in 10 days.
That they did so while getting a complete game from a starting pitcher for the first time since May 9, 2009, made the win even sweeter considering the new and often mind-boggling ways the Dodgers have lost games late this season.
Chad Billingsley pitched his second career shutout and third complete game, tossing a five-hitter to help the Dodgers avoid a three-game sweep to the Giants and keep them within six games of the first place San Diego Padres in the NL West.
After the game, both Billingsley and Don Mattingly, who filled in as manager for Joe Torre -- Torre was serving a one-game suspension for his role in Tuesday night's incident in which Clayton Kershaw hit Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand with a pitch -- didn't quite know how to take the win.
Mattingly, sitting in Torre's office and careful not to touch the mementos and pictures around him, said his first win as a manager didn't mean anything more to him than a win as the team's hitting coach. Meanwhile, Billingsley looked as if he had lost the game as he offered up short answers and shoulder shrugs to reporters afterward.
"It was a much-needed win and Chad was great tonight," Mattingly said. "We needed to get that rock going in the other direction. When you get pitching like that it's pretty easy I guess. It was one of those games that was pretty shaky, 1-0 going into the eighth inning, but it feels good to win."
It was the type of game the Dodgers have routinely found a way to lose this season, but somehow found a way to win by sticking with a pitcher who may have finally come into his own. Billingsley on Wednesday pitched the way the Dodgers had always hoped he would and have seen glimpses of at times. It wasn't his most dominant performance, but it was certainly one of his most efficient. He struck out only three batters but got 16 groundouts as the Giants went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
In between his shoulder shrugs and barely audible one-sentence responses, Billingsley admitted he wanted to get the complete game even if it meant throwing 125 pitches, the most by a Dodgers pitcher since Jeff Weaver threw 126 on Sept. 27, 2005.
"The innings were going easy and talking to [Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] I felt like it was his game," Mattingly said. "We talked about his pitch count a little bit and he had a short outing last time and was getting the next couple days off so I thought we could extend him a little bit."
Honeycutt was all smiles after the game as he walked into the clubhouse and talked to Billingsley. He had pulled the 25-year-old righty aside after he was lit up in an 11-9 loss to Cincinnati in his third start of the season. After the loss he told reporters he felt he was making quality pitches, and when Honeycutt read those quotes, he bluntly told him he wasn't and needed to make adjustments. Since then, Honeycutt has worked with him on his rotation and release and believes he's where he needs to be now.
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"Bills was locked in early on and we didn't have much conversation right from the start," Honeycutt said. "He was on a mission. He battled hard. There was a couple times when they got a man on second and that's when he stopped it. We felt it was going to be a close game and Chad pitched a great game for us, which we needed."
Billingsley said he didn't have to ask to remain in the game and Mattingly said he didn't think about taking him out as he watched him maneuver through each inning fairly effortlessly.
"It was my game," Billingsley said. "I was in a zone tonight."
While Mattingly said he looked forward to returning to his role as the Dodgers' hitting coach Thursday and welcoming Torre back to the dugout, he felt the Dodgers' win in his managerial debut might be the spark that ignites what has been a stagnant and lost group since the All-Star break.
"This is what we needed and hopefully this is something that will get us going in the other direction. Things can change quickly," he said. "It's tough to come into the locker room every night when you're losing and you're losing ground. In the second half is when you want to be playing well. It's a good move for our ballclub and we just have to keep it going now."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.