Commentary

Dodgers need every reliever in victory

Loney wins it, but the bullpen's strong effort is what sets up the game-winner vs. Mets

Updated: July 25, 2010, 12:02 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- There were a lot of factors leading up to James Loney's first walk-off home run Saturday, a no-doubt drive to right-center field off Oliver Perez that gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a 3-2 victory over the New York Mets before 43,506 at Dodger Stadium and brought an end to a 13-inning marathon that was threatening to drag into the evening.

The biggest and least likely factor was this: The Dodgers' patchwork bullpen rose to the occasion in a way no one could have anticipated given the way it had been performing of late.

The Dodgers are carrying a highly unusual 13-man pitching staff, at the expense of a bench player, simply because their bullpen has been so unreliable since the All-Star break. On an afternoon when rookie right-hander Carlos Monasterios was limited to five innings even though he hadn't given up a run because it was his first start in more than a month, Dodgers manager Joe Torre would need every one of the eight relievers he had at his disposal.

After James McDonald was charged with two runs in the sixth, the second on a tying single by Jose Reyes off Jack Taschner after McDonald had been lifted, six pitchers would combine to hold the Mets hitless the rest of the way. The Mets would manage only two baserunners during that stretch, both of them drawing walks against closer Jonathan Broxton in a ninth inning when the Mets couldn't score anyway.

This was the same bullpen, mind you, that came in with a combined 6.85 ERA in the Dodgers' first nine games of the second half.

[+] EnlargeHong-Chih Kuo
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesHong-Chih Kuo pitched a perfect eighth inning as part of a standout performance by the Dodgers' bullpen Saturday.

After those shaky performances by McDonald and Taschner, Travis Schlichting came in and got out of the jam by throwing exactly one pitch, which Luis Castillo hit for a double-play grounder to end the sixth, stranding two runners in scoring position and keeping the score tied.

Kenley Jansen, the converted catcher who was called up Friday for the first time, then made his major league debut with a perfect seventh, striking out the first two batters he faced. Hong-Chih Kuo then turned in a perfect eighth, including a popup by Ike Davis to start the inning that left left-handed batters a combined 0-for-34 against Kuo this season.

Broxton then survived a harrowing ninth, ending it by striking out David Wright with runners on second and third, and sailed through a perfect 10th. Jeff Weaver then pitched two perfect innings, getting the game to the 13th.

And then, finally, after the Dodgers blew a first-and-third, none-out opportunity in their half of the 12th, the embattled George Sherrill came on and retired the Mets in order in the 13th, putting himself in position for the win when Loney hit his homer.

Sherrill (1-1), the former All-Star closer who entered the day with a 7.48 ERA in 38 appearances, said he finally might have found his proper mechanics, which he had been grasping for since the start of spring training.

"I was trying to keep my shoulder [back] instead of bringing it with me," Sherrill said. "I just needed to get in there as many times as I could to get it figured out. I was sick of telling [the media] I had it figured out. Hopefully, this time I really do."

The irony for the Dodgers (52-46) -- who leapfrogged the Colorado Rockies into third place in the National League West but remained six games behind division-leading San Diego -- is that even with a 13-man staff, this 13-inning game might have left their bullpen a bit short-handed for Sunday's series finale with the Mets.

Broxton, who just can't seem to get a normal-length outing these days, threw 28 pitches and probably won't be available. Weaver threw only 17, so he might be available. And although Kuo threw only 13, Torre still hasn't used him on consecutive days.

But the Dodgers do have Clayton Kershaw scheduled to start. And for a pitcher who has had an occasional tendency to let his pitch count get out of control, his most important task Sunday will be to give the club as many innings as he can.

"You won't see our bullpen early for sure or in the middle for sure," Torre said. "He's got to get us through, and he certainly can't use a lot of pitches early."

Key performance

Jansen said on the advice of his teammates, he never looked into the stands. Not even when the fans behind the Dodgers' dugout were giving him a standing ovation as he walked off the field after his memorable debut.

"Actually, to be honest, I didn't feel I was nervous at all," Jansen said. "All the players had told me to just go do it, to not look into the crowd at all but just look at home plate. So that's what I did, and I think that really helped me."

Jansen, 22, began his major league career by striking out Angel Pagan on three pitches. After falling behind 2-1 to Wright, he got the Mets' third baseman to swing and miss at two consecutive fastballs. And then, finally, he got Carlos Beltran to ground to short on a 3-2 fastball clocked at 96 mph.

In fact, several of Jansen's pitches were in the 96-98 mph range, each one drawing gasps from a crowd that could only stand and cheer as he left the field.

"Seriously, I didn't see that," Jansen said. "I just walked back to the dugout with my hat down. Then I sat down and enjoyed watching the rest of the game."

Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt enjoyed watching Jansen.

"I thought he was great," Torre said. "He was very calm for his first time out there. That was pretty impressive, especially against the middle part of their order."

Scene and heard

Loney had delivered a walk-off hit in his career, even a walk-off walk. But he had never delivered a walk-off homer until he lit into a 1-0 fastball from Oliver Perez and drove it just over the wall in right-center.

"I had to hit it out, because I knew Casey Blake was hitting behind me," Loney said, as he and the Dodgers' third baseman exchanged good-natured barbs in the clubhouse.

But seriously, folks.

"I was just looking for something I could drive," Loney said. "I felt that one pretty good. If that one didn't go out, I wouldn't have known what was going on."

Before the home run, Loney was hitting only .136 (3-for-22) through the first six games of this seven-game homestand. The home run was his seventh of the season but only his second off a left-handed pitcher. Loney had been hitting .236 (25-for-106) against lefties.

Quote of the day

"You." -- Torre, when asked by a reporter who would have pitched after Sherrill, the eighth reliever used by the Dodgers and the last man in the bullpen. Torre said he planned to leave Sherrill in the game for as long as it took for the game to end.

By the way, the nine pitchers used by the Dodgers tied a franchise record set four times previously, most recently Sept. 15, 1997.

Torre did say that Monasterios, who came out of the bullpen to make his first start in more than a month and delivered five shutout innings before being lifted because he had reached his prescribed pitch limit of 80, probably will get another start the next time the fifth spot in the rotation comes up.

With the Dodgers off Monday, Torre could wait until as late as Saturday at San Francisco before using a fifth starter, meaning Monasterios might be available out of the bullpen on certain days in between. But that day also is the trading deadline, so there is a possibility the Dodgers could acquire another starter by then.

Looking ahead

Kershaw (9-5, 3.15) has given up nine runs (six earned) and 12 hits over 10 1/3 innings in his two post-All-Star break starts. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (6-4, 2.73) will be facing the Dodgers for the first time. He has lost each of his past three starts despite giving up only eight runs (seven earned) over 20 2/3 innings.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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