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Furcal, Kemp Lead The Way To Dodger Victory

Rafael Furcal has been on fire in September, hitting .345/.415/.560 with 20 runs scored in 20 games (<em>photo courtesy of Larry Goren / LA Dodgers</em>)
Rafael Furcal has been on fire in September, hitting .345/.415/.560 with 20 runs scored in 20 games (photo courtesy of Larry Goren / LA Dodgers)

Matt Kemp set the spark early, and Rafael Furcal came through with the fireworks late to give the Dodgers a hard fought, 7-6 victory over the Nationals on Thursday night, as they lowered their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to one.

After Furcal opened the game with a single, Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez decided to join in the fun with singles of their own.  Matt Kemp followed with a three-run home run to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead before the fans even had a chance to get comfortable in their seats.  This was the third game all season the Dodgers opened a game with at least four straight hits:

Date Opp Streak Dec
May 3 Padres single, double, single, double 7-3 win
May 31 Cubs five singles 8-2 win
Tonight    Nationals     single, single, single, home run     7-6 win

Despite the early lead, Vicente Padilla was shaky, giving up four runs in his five innings of work.  Ronald Belisario was brought in with a 6-4 lead in the sixth inning, and he induced a ground ball to get out of the inning, but Ronnie Belliard's throw to first base was wild, allowing Cristian Guzman to score.  The Nationals added another run to tie it, in a style eerily similar to the Nationals' comeback victory at Dodger Stadium on May 7.  That night, the first game of the Manny Ramirez suspension, the Dodgers also had a big first inning lead with a Kemp home run, this time a 6-0 lead thanks to a Bison Slam, only to lose 11-9.

The frustration continued for the Dodgers in the seventh inning.  Kemp tripled to deep left to lead off the inning, narrowly missing his second home run of the night.  However, he was left stranded at third in a scene reminiscent of last night's bases loaded, nobody out failure in the ninth inning.

However, thanks to the torrid Furcal, the Dodgers took the lead in the eighth.  Furcal's home run to right center field was his fourth hit of the night, good for his second four-hit game of the series.  In Washington DC, Furcal had 10 hits in 14 at-bats with three doubles and a home run during the series.  He got on base to start all three games of the series, and has done so in five of his last six games.  The Dodgers are 28-8 when Furcal starts off the game on base this season.  Furcal came into the series hitting .257/.325/.361, and leaves for Pittsburgh hitting .268/.334/.379, raising his OPS 28 points in three days.

George Sherrill pitched a scoreless eighth, but not without some trouble.  After getting two outs, Sherrill walked Willie Harris, just the sixth left-hander walked by Sherrill all season.  Harris stole second, and looked to score on Ian Desmond's single to right.  However, Andre Ethier uncorked a great throw home to nail Harris and preserve the lead.

Jonathan Broxton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 36th save, his 16th straight appearance without allowing a run.

Kemp's three-run home run in the first gave him 100 runs batted in on the season, joining Andre Ethier as the first pair of Dodger teammates to amass 100 RBI since Shawn Green and Gary Sheffield in 2001.  If Kemp, who is hitting .306, can keep his batting average above .300 for the season, he will become the first Dodger ever to hit .300 with 25 home runs, 30 steals, and 100 RBI.

The Dodgers move on to Pittsburgh tomorrow for a four-game series.  Jon Garland will face Jeff Karstens in the opener.  I hope there's a BevMo near the team hotel.

Magic Numbers
To win NL West: 3 (Rockies lost to the Padres 5-4)
To clinch a playoff spot: 1 (over the Braves, who were off tonight.  The Giants lost to the Cubs 3-2, so they can no longer pass the Dodgers)

WP - Ramon Troncoso (5-4): 1.1 IP, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

LP - Ron Villone (4-6):  0.2 IP, 1 hit, 1 run

Sv - Jonathan Broxton (36): 3 up, 3 down

Box Score