A common theme over the early part of this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been this: plenty of base runners, not enough runs.
The Dodgers outhit the Padres 12-9 tonight. On most nights, if your team gets 12 hits, you have to like your chances of winning. But when your team is the best team in the league hitting with the bases empty and the worst team in the league hitting with runners in scoring position, scoring more runs than your opponent is not a given.
Dodger Stadium was in a festive mood for Jackie Robinson night, and the Robinson family got their usual ovation, with Jackie’s widow Rachel getting the largest ovation of all. Even at age 90, about the only assistance that Rachel needed getting on the field was a hand from Magic Johnson, who absolutely beamed with pride at walking Mrs. Robinson out to the field. The crowd was unusually-early arriving and the stadium was packed by first pitch.
Chad Billingsley took the mound for the Dodgers, and proved overall effective. Billingsley’s breaking ball looked a little sharper than it had in San Diego last week, and the Dodger starter worked an efficient first inning after giving up a hit to the leadoff batter.
Eric Stults ran into some trouble in the bottom of the first, giving up a leadoff single to Carl Crawford and a follow-up single to Mark Ellis. Matt Kemp struck out, Adrian Gonzalez poked a ball over shortstop that looked like it might drop in before Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera snared it. A.J. Ellis walked, then with the bases loaded and 2 out, Andre Ethier continued the Dodgers’ futility of failing to hit with runners in scoring position by striking out to end the inning.
The Padres would draw first blood in their half of the second inning. With two runners on and two out, Billingsley threw Eric Stults a fastball that seemed to run away a little bit, and Stults put a good swing on it and deposited the ball over the left-center field fance as Matt Kemp looked on, resulting in a home run for the pitcher and a 3-0 Padres lead.
The Dodgers would start chipping at that lead in the Bottom of the Third. After singles by Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez powered a ball toward the gap in right-center. The ball skipped off the field and into the Right Field Pavilion for a ground rule double, plating Crawford and cutting the margin to 3-1 and giving the Dodgers runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. A.J. Ellis and Andre Ethier could not manage to push either runner across, however, and the game went to the 4th inning with the Padres leading 3-1.
The Dodgers came up with another run off Stults in the 4th. Luis Cruz singled. Chad Billingsley sacrificed him over to second with one out. Then Carl Crawford continued his hot April with a single to right, with Cruz scoring on the play and cutting the Padres lead to 3-2.
The Dodgers would finally tie the game in the 5th inning. Matt Kemp hit a solid double to left-center, took third on a ground-out, then A.J. Ellis singled between first and second on a drawn-in infield to plate Kemp and tie the score at 3-3. The Dodgers would fail to score again. however.
The starting pitchers wound up pitching about even. Eric Stults put up a line of 6 innings pitched, allowing 3 earned runs, scattering 9 hits and a walk while striking out 4, and keeping the Dodgers from having a break-out inning against him. Chad Billingsley also put in 6 innings of work, allowing the 3 earned runs on the Stults homer but settling down in the later innings, scattering 7 hits and 2 walks and striking out 3. Solid outings for both starters in this one, with each putting their team in a position to win after 6 innings.
The Dodgers would unravel in the 7th. Ronald Belisario came in and could not seem to find the strike zone with any consistency. A walk, a single and another walk, and Belisario was pulled from the game for Paco Rodriguez. Rodriguez got ahead of Chris Denorfia, but Denorfia battled and drew a walk, forcing in a run in the form of Cameron Maybin and giving the Padres a 4-3 lead. Rodriguez then got Yonder Alonso to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, but Jesus Guzman came in to score on the play and the Padres led 5-3. Kyle Blanks would ground out to end the inning, but the damage had been done.
The Padres picked up one more insurance run in the 9th inning. With one out, J.P. Howell walked Evereth Cabrera. The Dodgers then pulled Howell and brought in John Wall to make his major league debut. Wall’s debut was mixed. He allowed a single to Denorfia, then walked Yonder Alonso intentionally. Kyle Blanks hit a sacrifice fly to center, with Cabrera scoring on an errant throw by Matt Kemp. He then got Jedd Gyorko to fly out to Andre Ethier, but the Padres now led 6-3.
Padres closer Huston Street gave up a lead-off single to Jerry Hairston, Jr. in the Bottom of the 9th, but then retired the next 3 hitters to end the game and pick up the save.
The winning pitcher is Eric Stults, who improves his season record to 2-1. The losing pitcher is Ronald Belisario, who’s record falls to 0-2. Huston Street picks up his second save of the season.
Game 2 of the 3 game set is tonight at Dodger Stadium at 7:10 p.m. The Dodgers will send Chris Capuano (0-0, 0.00 ERA) to the mound for his first start of the season. He’ll be opposed by the Padres’ Jason Marquis (0-1, 3.27 ERA).