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By Jon Weisman
Charlie Culberson was a longshot to make the Dodgers could be optioned on any given day — unless the Dodgers keep piling up injured bodies in front of him.
But Dodger fans won’t soon forget him after he almost single-handedly rescued the team from a third straight loss to the Giants.
Forced into left field for the first time in any professional game since 2013, Culberson made a dazzling catch to help Clayton Kershaw complete his eighth inning of work. Then in the 10th, with the Dodgers having one of those days at the plate with runners in scoring position, Culberson laced a double down the right-field line to drive home Corey Seager the winning run in a 3-2 victory.
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Culberson, who also made a sweet play at his original position, shortstop, went 2 for 5 in the game (recapped by MLB.com). He had one of two Dodger hits in 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers were hitting .440/.455/.680 with RISP before today.
Just to make it interesting, Culberson was a first-round draft choice of the Giants in 2007.
And so, the Dodgers showed that they weren’t the only team that could scratch out an improbable victory at AT&T Park. They were one out away from defeat in the ninth, when they got one-out singles from Chase Utley and Yasiel Puig off Santiago Casilla, before Justin Turner was hit with a pitch to load the bases. Adrian Gonzalez then hit a potential game-ending, double-play grounder that second baseman Kelby Tomlinson bobbled, allowing Utley to score to tie the game.
That turned Clayton Kershaw’s day from one of frustration to a mere quirk.
Before today’s rain-delayed start, Kershaw had only given up one home run to a No. 9 hitter in his career: Madison Bumgarner in 2015. This time around, Bumgarner batted eighth today against Kershaw, with backup shortstop Ehire Adrianza batting ninth. Somehow, both of them homered off Kershaw, marring an otherwise strong performance by the Dodger lefty.
It was the 16th time in 244 career starts that Kershaw allowed at least two homers in a game. His career-high is three, on two occasions.
Kershaw outlasted Bumgarner on the mound, going eight innings on only 91 pitches and allowing only two other hits, plus a walk, while striking out five. In the first two games of this series, the Giants have four homers and three singles against Dodger pitching.
Injuries and oddities wreaked havoc with the Dodger bench in a game in which only two players, Puig and Gonzalez, played the same position from start to finish.
- Utley pinch-hit for Kiké Hernandez after Bumgarner left the game, then played second base and later third.
- Joc Pederson pinch-ran for an injured Scott Van Slyke, then left when Dave Roberts inserted Austin Barnes as a pinch-hitter.
- Barnes stayed in the game to play catcher after A.J. Ellis was replaced by pinch-hitter Seager.
- Micah Johnson, who didn’t even reach San Francisco from Nashville until the seventh inning, pinch-hit for Kershaw in the ninth and added the Dodgers’ first sacrifice of the season in the 10th.
By the end of the game, Kenta Maeda was the next pinch-hitter in line for the Dodgers, and converted third baseman Pedro Baez was the best remaining defensive player.