Bryce Harper dominated the afternoon at Dodger Stadium, did nothing to take away from his growing legend during the game, but he was just part of the story in the wildest, greatest, and most wacky game of the year at Dodger Stadium in quite some time.
The game began with the Dodgers embracing their history, and ended with Matt Kemp making more of it. On a night that 1962 National League MVP Maury Wills and two sons of 1962 NL Cy Young winner Don Drysdale threw out first pitches, Kemp blasted a fastball from Tom Gorzelanny over the wall in center to lead off the 10th inning, giving the Dodgers a 4-3 win over the Nationals.
The home run for Kemp was his 11th of the season, setting a new Dodgers record for April, with two games remaining in the month, surpassing Gary Sheffield'. Also, Kemp took 21 team games to get to 11 home runs, three games faster than previous "fastest to 11" record-holder Roy Campanella in 1953.
Kemp is now 16-for-27 against left-handed pitchers this season, with five home runs.
The first two-thirds of the game was highlighted by a pair of superb pitching performances by Chad Billingsley and Stephen Strasburg, plus a seventh inning that had just about everything.
The Dodgers trailed 3-1 in the ninth inning, facing Henry Rodriguez and his 104-MPH (on the stadium gun) fastball. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Rodriguez didn't have much of an idea of where it was going, and after two singles and a ground rule double by Juan Uribe that cut the deficit in half, the second wild pitch of the inning scored Uribe for the tying run.
"Even during that game I was proud of those guys, the way they bounced back in the ninth," manager Don Mattingly said. "To go down a couple runs to that club over there late, then to be able to scratch those runs out and be able to win it like that, it's really a good feeling for our club."
Both Billingsley and Strasburg matched zeroes for six innings, with the only extra-base hit in the game to that point a double hit by Strasburg himself. Both pitchers allowed a run in the seventh inning to conclude their binary tango, leaving the game in the hands of the bullpens.
Billingsley was greeted rudely in the top of the seventh inning by Adam LaRoche, who turned on a 3-1 pitch from Billingsley for his second home run in as many days. It appears Mr. LaRoche has enjoyed Los Angeles just a tad more than his brother, a former Dodger:
- Adam LaRoche: 8 career home runs in 107 PA at Dodger Stadium
- Andy LaRoche: 0 career home runs in 122 PA at Dodger Stadium
Harper followed in the seventh with a two-out double, a screaming liner over the head of Matt Kemp in center field for his first major league hit. But Billingsley was able to strand Harper and prevent further damage.
The Dodgers mounted a rally in the bottom of the seventh inning when Jerry Hairston Jr. was hit on the left hand by Strasburg, a ball that ricocheted up and appeared to hit Hairston in the face. James Loney followed with a chopper to second base that was booted by Danny Espinosa, setting the stage for the most controversial play of the night.
One out later, A.J. Ellis singled to left and Hairston was sent home. Harper uncorked a ridiculous throw from left field that was a perfect strike, but Hairston appeared to slap the ball out of the glove of catcher Wilson Ramos. Nationals manager Davey Johnson argued to no avail, and the game was tied at 1-1.
"I have a right to that plate," Hairston said. "I slide that way all the time. It just so happens I hit his glove."
Hairston left the game after the bottom of the seventh inning, replaced by Mark Ellis at second base. Hairston suffered a contusion on his left hand but x-rays were negative.
Both starters allowed one run on five hits in their seven innings. Billingsley struck out six and walked two, one intentionally, and Strasburg was even better with nine punch outs and no walks.
"Both those guys tonight were pretty special," Mattingly said. "I thought Bills was really good tonight. He makes the mistake to LaRoche, it seems like we're having trouble getting him out. He leaves the ball up to him and he loses that one, but he bounces right back to get the outs he needs."
After Scott Elbert allowed a hit and a sacrifice bunt to open the ninth inning, Mattingly decided to call on Javy Guerra with the switch-hitting Danny Espinosa on deck and the left-handed Harper in the hole, rather than stick with Elbert, the Dodgers' only left-hander in the bullpen.
"Once we get past the bunt, we wanted to turn Espinosa around. We feel like he's a better hitter right-handed," Mattingly said.
Guerra allowed a single to Espinosa, the sixth consecutive single allowed by Guerra dating back to his loss Wednesday night, Harper followed with a line drive to left field deep enough to score the go ahead run. Wilson Ramos followed with an RBI single off Guerra for an insurance run.
In his last three outings, Guerra has faced 16 hitters, and 10 have reached base, with five runs allowed against just six outs, and for the first time this season, Mattingly is showing concern with his closer.
"I don't ever worry about his stuff, I'm just a little concerned about the swag," Mattingly said. "I didn't see that bounce in his step and that confident guy today. If you get hit around a little bit you're going to get that, but I didn't see that same swag today and that kind of concerns me a little bit."
Dodger Stadium was packed on Saturday on bobblehead night, as 54,242 paid to get in, and it showed in the playoff atmosphere and extremely loud ovation and chants of "M-V-P" for Kemp after the game. Kemp said the team feeds off the crowd.
"It's always good to see the crowd. That's the Dodger Stadium I remember, two or three years ago. Every Friday and Saturday we were filling out the whole stands with 56,000 screaming fans," Kemp said. "It helps a lot when you have those guys on your side. We have some great fans and if we could get them to come out to more games it would be way easier to win games.
Hairston on D
It's always tough to make defensive evaluations based on highlight plays - after all, one person's diving stop may be a cleanly fielded routine play for another - but Hairston has definitely made an impression on defense. Hairston had the four highlight plays on the road trip last week in Milwaukee and Houston while filling in at third base, and tonight Hairston made a pair of gems at second base.
With a man on first and two outs in the top of the first, Hairston made a diving stop on a ball headed for right center field, then threw from his backside to retire LaRoche at first base. Then, with a runner on second base in the third inning Hairston ranged far into short right field to snag a sinking liner by Ian Desmond, then fired to Dee Gordon to double up Wilson Ramos at second base.
The Dodgers for the fifth time in seven series this year have a chance to sweep an opponent, as Chris Capuano starts the series finale on Sunday against lefty Gio Gonzalez for the Nats.
Home Runs: Matt Kemp (11); Adam LaRoche (4)
WP - Jamey Wright (1-0): 1 IP, 2 strikeouts
LP - Tom Gorzelanny (1-1): 1/3 IP, 1 hit, 1 run