The overriding theme of Labor Day for the Dodgers was the comeback. Within the game itself, within this season, within a career, or even from injury, the rebound was the story of their 4-3 win in 11 innings over the Padres.
There was Joe Blanton, who fell behind 2-0 in the first inning when one of the hottest hitters on the planet, Chase Headley, took him deep.
"The guy is hot right now. I don't think that pitch was a strike," Blanton said. "When you throw a pitch that's not a
strike and the guy hits a homer, there's nothing much you can do about it."
Blanton fought back and pitched into the seventh inning, throwing his second straight quality start. A.J. Ellis, who delivered the Dodgers' second straight walk-off win with his 11th inning RBI single, was ebullient in his praise of his starting pitcher.
"He was outstanding. He gives up that two-run home run in the first to Chase, who has been on fire. But he settled down and he kept giving us chances to comeback," Ellis said. "Since that start in Colorado he has turned a corner and reminded us all why he's here and is the pitcher that he is. He's a big-game pitcher and he wants the ball on a big stage."
There was Andre Ethier, who went 129 plate appearances earlier this season without a home run, but now has five home runs in his last 17 games. Ethier hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning, then singled with two outs in the 11th to start the winning rally.
There was Hanley Ramirez, the all-world talent the Dodgers plucked from the Marlins after he put up a season and a half of plain old ordinary production, hitting .245/.327/.404 in Miami since the start of the 2011 season. Ramirez has blossomed into the extraordinary with the Dodgers. He hit a fastball from Andrew Werner over the wall to tie the game in the sixth inning on Monday. It was Ramirez's 10th home run in 38 games with the Dodgers, with whom Ramirez is hitting .280/.343/.547.
"I think that's why they got me here. It's why they traded for me. They know what kind of talent I got, and how much love I got for the game," Ramirez said. "Every day I try to come here and bring a lot of energy to this ball club, and put them in a position to win."
There was Brandon League, who couldn't find the strike zone in his first few weeks with the Dodgers, an extension of his down season that cost him his closer job in Seattle in May. But League has rebounded quite nicely of late, with nine consecutive scoreless innings in his last eight appearances, with 13 strikeouts. His two-inning performance tonight was his fourth appearance in the last five days.
But no comeback story can be told without Luis Cruz, of course. The crowd favorite set a new career high with four hits on Monday, including a single up the middle in the 11th to hit runners on first and third for Ellis.
"He's been great. He's been swinging the bat well and been playing unbelievable defense at third, too. You can't forget about that, that's big for us with the plays that he's making," said Blanton. "He's getting clutch hits left and right, and been doing a fantastic job."
When Cruz was promoted on July 2, he had 4,891 minor league plate appearances to his name, and the 28-year old had hit just .221/.275/.260 in parts of three previous big league years. Now, Cruz is hitting .308/.345/.454 and has started 48 of 56 games since he joined the club.
"I don't know if he's all of a sudden figured it out, or if nobody gave him a chance," said manager Don Mattingly. "You talk about when opportunity knocks, but he has just knocked the door down."
Cruz, now a fixture in the lineup, hears his name chanted by fans at Dodger Stadium for just about every plate appearance, something that was nearly unthinkable two months ago.
"It feels good. I feel like they accept me here. I have been here not even two months and have been given a chance to play," Cruz said. "It feels good when they start chanting my name. It makes me feel more comfortable, to relax to do my best."
Speaking of coming back, it looks like Randy Choate suffered no long-term damage when Logan Forsythe's grounder struck him on his pitching hand in the seventh inning. Choate said after the game that he felt fine, that the ball hit him between his left thumb and forefinger, on what he called the fatty part of the hand just at the base of the left thumb.
"I feel fine. I can't believe I missed it. It was hit right at me," Choate said. "It stung pretty good, but after that I've iced it a couple of times. I don't really feel anything. It hurt less than if you smashed your hand in a door."
No x-rays were taken on Choate's left hand, and the reliever is day-to-day.
Finally, Mattingly was asked if he was worried about Nick Punto's penchant for ripping the jerseys of players after a walk-off hit ("That's why the call him the Shredder," said Ellis, tonight's victim), but the manager just laughed.
"We can get jerseys," Mattingly said. "Keep doing it."