Jay Gibbons holds stellar audition
Out of the majors since 2007, the Dodgers' outfielder belongs back in the league
HOUSTON -- One of the last things a manager expects after a victory, especially a desperately needed victory to snap a six-game losing streak, is to be second guessed. To make it worse, it was about something that happened more than a month ago.
But after watching Jay Gibbons almost singlehanded give the Los Angeles Dodgers a 4-2, 11-inning win over the Houston Astros before 31,010 on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, someone asked Joe Torre if he wishes the club had promoted Gibbons from Triple-A Albuquerque a little earlier -- or maybe a lot earlier -- than Aug. 8, the day the Dodgers finally cut ties with a seemingly washed-up Garret Anderson and brought up the sizzling Gibbons to be their primary left-handed pinch hitter.
"Sure, no question," Torre said. "It really wasn't that I doubted what (Gibbons) could give us. I was just waiting for Garret. I was just reluctant to give him up. I didn't want to. I saw some of Gibby in spring training, and he was hitting some balls on the button down there. Again, that isn't the regular season, but it was about not wanting to give up on Garret. It wasn't because we weren't believing what we were being told on Gibby."
No one will ever know what would have happened if the Dodgers hadn't waited so long. But the fact is, they did, and the other fact is that Gibbons entered this game as a pinch hitter and delivered a key RBI single in the sixth inning, stayed in to play left field, made a spectacular and possibly game-saving catch in the bottom of the 10th and then hit a game-winning, two-run homer off Astros rookie Fernando Abad in the 11th. Since having his contract purchased by the Dodgers, Gibbons is hitting .343 with four homers, 12 RBI and a .410 on-base percentage and is 4 for 15 with three RBI as a pinch hitter.
Before being released, Anderson batted .181 with two homers and 12 RBI, while Gibbons simultaneously was hitting .347 with 19 homers and 83 RBI at Albuquerque.
It would be a ridiculous reach to speculate whether Gibbons would have saved the Dodgers' season. He wouldn't have. Not when he would have been playing part-time on a team that still had Manny Ramirez to go with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in a fully stocked outfield, and given that Gibbons hadn't played in the majors since 2007 -- he has avoided speculating as to whether he was blackballed because of his appearance in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball -- it would have been a lot to ask of him to be an everyday guy, anyway.
But in 2011, when the Dodgers might have an opening in left field depending on what happens with the mutual option in Scott Podsednik's contract and when Gibbons will turn 34 in spring training, that might not be too much to ask of him at all.
"To be honest, that isn't even my goal," said Gibbons, a seven-year, major league veteran who swallowed his pride this spring and accepted an assignment to minor league camp just for the privelege of signing with the Dodgers. "My goal is to make a ballclub. I'm enjoying coming off the bench and getting the occasional start, but I'm just trying to make a ballclub, and right now, I have made one."
And on Friday, he made a big impact on a win that moved the fourth-place Dodgers (70-72) a little closer to the .500 mark and back to within 10 games of first in the National League West, where the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres are now tied.
With the Dodgers having forced Astros starter J.A. Happ from the game by pushing his pitch count to 102 after just five innings, with the Astros having tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth on Michael Bourn's two-out, RBI single off Hiroki Kuroda and with Kemp having just greeted righty reliever Wilton Lopez with a leadoff triple in the sixth, Gibbons stepped in to hit for Reed Johnson, a right-handed hitter who had started in left against Happ.
Gibbons yanked a single through the right side, bringing home Kemp to put the Dodgers back on top. The lead would be gone by the seventh, when Bourn delivered another two-out, RBI single off George Sherrill, but Gibbons would have another chance to play the hero.
Two such chances, in fact.
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In an era of quirky ballparks, the home of the Astros is among the quirkiest. In the bottom of the 10th, with the ever-shaky Octavio Dotel (3-3) having just entered the game for the Dodgers, Jason Michaels sent a towering drive toward left. Gibbons retreated into the cubby hole just to the right of the out-of-town scoreboard and just in front of the chainlink portion of the wall fronting the visiting bullpen -- a part of the wall that also happens to be recessed beneath a concourse about 20 feet above -- and wound up making a leaping catch to rob Michaels of at least a double.
That catch would loom even larger when Bourn followed with a drive almost to the same spot that Gibbons didn't catch, the speedy Bourn winding up on third with a one-out triple. Dotel came back to strike out Jeff Keppinger and Hunter Pence to escape the jam.
And then, after Kemp's leadoff single in the 11th against Abad, Gibbons drove a two-run homer into the Astros' bullpen, just beyond the 373-foot mark in right-center, to win it.
Gibbons dropped a ball that would have ended the game in the bottom of the 11th, a drive by Humberto Quintero that he lost in the lights that originally was ruled an error but later changed to a hit. But Dotel then struck out Angel Sanchez to finally polish off the Dodgers' first victory in exactly a week.
Gibbons, who has lived his entire life in the Los Angeles area but until now had played his entire major league career with the Baltimore Orioles, will be eligible for free agency in a few weeks. If nothing else, his performance figures to have gotten the attention not only of Dodgers officials, but of officials from other clubs, as well. Although he has no idea what the future holds and isn't even thinking about it right now, there is no questioning where Gibbons would like to be in 2011.
"If it's up to me, this would be the place," he said. "It would take me about three minutes to decide."
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First baseman Jaime Ortiz went 3 for 4 with a double, designated hitter Angelo Songco went 2 for 4 with a key RBI double to tie the game in the sixth inning, and shortstop Rafael Ynoa -- whose storybook season involves helping to save the life of an accident victim back in May -- hit a key home run to help the Dodgers' low Single-A Great Lakes affiliate beat Fort Wayne 6-4 in the third and deciding game of their first-round Midwest League playoff series. The Loons, who led all of minor league baseball with 90 regular-season victories, now move on to the second-round of the three-round playoffs, where they will play a best-of-three series with Lake County beginning on Saturday.
Meanwhile, center fielder Leon Landry, the Dodgers' third-round pick in this year's amateur draft out of Louisiana State University, hit a two-run single with one out in the top of the ninth to give advanced Rookie-level Odgen a 2-1 victory over Orem in the opener of their first-round Pioneer League playoff series. Logan Bawcom, the Dodgers' 17th-round pick out of the University of Texas-Arlington, got the win with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in which he struck out four, and 30th-rounder Shawn Tolleson out of Baylor University got the save with a scoreless bottom of the ninth in which Orem stranded the tying run on third.
The series moves to Ogden for Game 2 on Saturday.
Quote of the Day
"He played here for a long period of time, had some success and played in the postseason. I was in the weight room doing what I do, and there he was, working his tail off. Just the fact he has gotten back, which I didn't anticipate after he had back surgery this year, but he was determined to get back and play again before the season was over." -- Torre on his decision to start catcher Brad Ausmus in Sunday's series finale against the Astros, the last game Ausmus will play in the city where he spent 10 seasons and won all three of his Gold Gloves. Ausmus is retiring after this, his 17th season in the majors.
Dodgers right-hander John Ely (4-7, 4.63), a rookie who was recalled earlier this week as part of the September roster expansion, will make his first start in the majors since July 10, when he was torched for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Chicago Cubs and was sent back to Triple-A Albuquerque the following day. Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (11-12, 3.77) has been one of the league's best starting pitchers since the All-Star break, posting a 1.98 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 5:1.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.