Aside from the fundamental desire for the Dodgers to win and not lose, I had two hopes for tonight’s game:
- The offense not get shut out.
- Chad Billingsley not get hammered
In the bottom of the second inning, it looked like each might take place. In the bottom of the ninth, it looked like neither would.
Instead, Dodger fans were left with a third outcome – a grim-faced, walkoff loss. George Kotteras’ pinch-hit, two-run double off Javy Guerra gave the Milwaukee Brewers a 5-4 victory, the Dodgers’ second loss of the season.
One game after a triple play helped save Guerra’s bacon in the ninth inning against San Diego, no such rescue arrived. He gave up a leadoff single to Corey Hart and stolen base to pinch-runner Carlos Gomez, then walked Mat Gamel. Jonathan Lucroy struck out after failing to bunt, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke made a fearless move, sending up Kotteras to pinch-hit for Cesar Izturis even though no other shortstop remained on his bench in the event of extra innings.
Guerra got the count to 2-2, but Kotteras launched one to right-center. Andre Ethier chased it down, but the relay home was just a half-second late to nail Gamel with the winning run.
The result spoiled the celebration that was all but set for Andre Ethier, who doubled and scored to tie the game 2-2 in the seventh inning, then hit a dramatic, opposite-field, two-out, two-run homer in the eighth off Francisco Rodriguez to rally Los Angeles from a 3-2 deficit and give the team its only lead.
For Dodger fans, riding that 9-1 season-opening wave, it was the latest in a month of exhilarations.
Kenley Jansen then retired the side in order on two strikeouts in the bottom of the eighth, before Guerra blew the third save of his career in 29 opportunities.
Still, I’ll have to call this a better alternative to the way the game unfolded at the outset. After the Dodgers had wasted a scoring opportunity in the first inning (because of Dee Gordon getting picked off by Brewers starter Yovanni Gallardo), Milwaukee hit for the cycle off Billingsley with its first eight platesmen, good for two quick runs.
However, Billingsley settled down, retiring his last 11 batters and finishing his third straight quality start to begin 2012, allowing five hits and no walks in six innings and 83 pitches. For the year, his ERA is 1.33, and he has allowed 13 hits, one walk and one hit batter in 20 1/3 innings.
It’s the absence of walks in the plural that is perhaps most exciting for Billingsley. Even when he gets in trouble, he has hardly backed down. His weakest moment tonight was throwing two balls to Izturis with a 1-2 count and a runner on third. Izturis then singled on a 3-2 pitch, driving in the Brewers’ second run. But that was the exception. Billingsley had the bad inning that he is (unfairly) notorious for, but he didn’t let it ruin him.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers withstood their own hitless streak – 10 in a row retired after Matt Kemp (1 for 4) doubled in the first to raise his batting average at that moment to .500 – and tied the game. In the fifth, Juan Rivera doubled, went to third on a James Loney single and scored when Rickie Weeks caught Juan Uribe’s pop-up but then dropped the ball before throwing home. In the seventh, Ethier and Loney hit the Dodgers’ fourth and fifth doubles to even the score, 2-2. (Loney, by the way, was thrown out on the basepaths in both innings.)
With two out and Uribe on second via fielder’s choice and wild pitch, A.J. Ellis was walked intentionally to get to Billingsley’s spot in the order. I basically agreed with Don Mattingly’s decision to hit for Billingsley, even though he was on a roll, although I’d feel a lot better about it if the Dodgers’ first hitter off the bench weren’t Adam Kennedy, who popped out.
But after Milwaukee squeezed home a go-ahead run off Matt Guerrier in the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers came back in the eighth, with Ethier (slugging .738 this year and now the National League RBI leader with 17) once again proving to Kemp that he doesn’t have to carry the offense by himself.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the bullpen didn’t deliver tonight, with the Guerr boys, Guerrier and Guerra, retiring only four batters as they allowed three runs.