When playing the Padres in San Diego, the Dodgers have hardly ever had the chance to say they got the best of Tony Gwynn, but tonight, thanks to Matt Kemp, they did. Kemp hit a towering two-run home run to dead center field in the top of the seventh, just off the webbing of Tony Gwynn, Jr.'s glove to give the Dodgers the lead and a 4-3 win over the Padres in the series opener at Petco Park.
The game was good, the crowd was pumped, and Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts summed up the mood perfectly:
I know it's crazy, but this game has a slight October feel for me. Well, maybe not October, but maybe September
There was no more exciting moment than in the bottom of the seventh, when Hong-Chih Kuo was brought in to face Adrian Gonzalez in a battle of lefties with two outs and David Eckstein on first. The nine pitches were more like a confrontation than an at-bat, and Kuo preserved the one-run lead with a slider away that struck Gonzalez out.
Kuo was left in to pitch the eighth inning, and pitched a scoreless frame, a rare feat given his injury history. The Dodgers rarely have Kuo even warm up without using him, not wanting to tax his amazing left arm any more than needed. It was the first time Kuo has pitched in parts of two different innings -- in a regular season game -- since September 7, 2008.
Both starters can consider themselves lucky it was only a 3-2 game after six innings. Ramon Ortiz pitched into the fifth, but he didn't do anything that James McDonald couldn't do, allowing three runs on nine baserunners in his four innings. I wouldn't be surprised to see Ortiz start again on Wednesday, but to rely on him for anything more than that is folly.
Jon Garland got tattooed early on, allowing eight baserunners in the first three innings, but the Dodgers only had one run to show for it. In the second inning, they loaded the bases with one out, but Ortiz for some reason decided to bunt, and his feeble attempt went right back to Garland, who threw home for a double play as easy as 1-2-3. In the third inning, the Dodgers started the inning with four straight singles, but the last two -- by Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez -- were hit so hard nobody could advance more than one base, so the Dodgers were held to a single tally. A popup and a double play prematurely ended the rally, limited the Dodgers to a single run. Garland was able to find his groove later on, and ended up pitching six innings, as he often does.
The Dodgers scored their second run of the game in the fifth inning, off the bat of Ethier -- who else? -- who slammed what was thought to be a sure home run to the gap in right center field. Instead of a two-run shot, the ball slammed off the 400-foot marker at the base of the wall for a game-tying double. If I were the Petco Park grounds crew, I would look into fortifying or repairing that fence, as Ethier no doubt caused major damage.
Two innings later, trailing 3-2, you can forgive the Dodgers for wondering just what it would take to hit a home run in this pitcher's paradise. Kemp provided the answer, with a towering shot to center field. Gwynn had a beat on the ball, and perfectly timed his jump, but the ball went off the webbing of his glove -- Prime Ticket had a great close-up replay of this during the broadcast -- even though to the naked eye it looked like he caught the ball. It was a great effort by Gwynn, who was visibly upset he didn't make the play.
- Russell Martin extended his hitting streak to nine games with a single and a double in five at-bats
- Because of a defensive shift on Adrian Gonzalez in the first inning, Gwynn was caught stealing at second base, catcher Martin to third baseman Casey Blake, the rare 2-5 caught stealing
- Ethier had two more hits and a run batted in, and is hitting .490/.537/.980 in May, with 14 extra-base hits and 19 RBI in 12 games. He was also intentionally walked in front of Manny for the second straight game
- Kemp added a stolen base in the ninth inning, the second time this season he has had a home run and a steal in the same game. He is the only Dodger to accomplish the feat this season.
- The Dodger bullpen -- George Sherrill, Jeff Weaver, Ronald Belisario, Kuo, and Broxton -- retired 15 of 17 batters faced, striking out five in their five innings of work
WP - Jeff Weaver (2-1): 1 IP, 1 strikeout
LP - Luke Gregerson (0-1): 1 IP, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 strikeouts
Sv - Jonathan Broxton (5): 1 IP, 1 strikeout