The Dodgers, who have shown a propensity for keeping things interesting this season, took a six-run lead into the ninth inning Thursday night against the San Francisco Giants and nearly blew it.
Darren Dreifort, who has been promoted to closer with Todd Worrell sidelined, was called on for the third time in four games, and, after loading the bases, struck out Robby Thompson and Dave Martinez to preserve a 9-6 victory over the Giants.
The ninth-inning squirming in the Dodger dugout came long after the Dodgers had scored six runs in the fifth inning to take a 7-1 lead. Mike Piazza, who helped ruin the season for the Giants in October last year, continued his domination, this time at Candlestick Park.
In the first of a four-game series, Piazza's two-run opposite-field homer started a six-run inning.
Piazza, who knocked in three runs, homered off Giant ace John Burkett, who began the game with the third-lowest earned-run average in the league, and left in the fifth inning ranked among the rest.
Surprisingly, it was the Dodgers' ace of old, Ramon Martinez (1-2), who held the Giants to one run and two hits through the first six innings and also helped out with two hits, including a two-run double in the sixth.
Martinez, who has struggled all season, breezed until the seventh inning, when he gave up two runs, including a leadoff homer by Matt Williams, his 13th of the season. He needed help in the ninth inning after giving up two singles, and was relieved by Jim Gott, who didn't help at all.
Royce Clayton doubled and Todd Benzinger singled to score two runs and decrease the Dodgers' lead to four runs. In came Dreifort. With no outs and runners on first and third, Kirt Manwaring's force play scored one run. Pinch-hitter Mark Carreon hit a soft single to right, putting Manwaring on third. Then Dreifort hit Darren Lewis to load the bases before he struck out the next two batters.
Martinez said before the game that all he wanted to do was have a good outing, and it helped that he was facing the Giants, who have the worst offense in the league. But what helped Martinez more was the Dodgers' offense.
The Dodgers hit three home runs against three Giant pitchers. Piazza had his sixth, Eric Karros, who also singled and doubled, hit his third of the year, and Brett Butler--yes, Brett Butler--hitting a solo shot to right field for the Dodgers' final run. Butler hit only one home run last season.
For the Dodgers, who entered the series two games behind the Giants and in third place in the National League West, this series is a chance to take over the top spot, which the Giants have held all season. For both clubs, this is their first meeting against any division opponent.
But this was not quite the way the Giants wanted to start this series, with a loss and without Barry Bonds. Bonds, who was hit by a pitch Wednesday by the New York Mets' Eric Hillman, is sidelined on a day-to-day basis. X-rays and a CAT scan taken Thursday showed no broken bones, and early indications were he will play sometime in the series.
But Bonds, despite seven home runs, has been struggling at the plate along with most of the regulars. Contrary to last season, when the Giants' offense was strong from the start, Williams and Willie McGee are the only regulars who have been hitting well. It has been the Giants' pitching and fielding that has kept them in first place in the NL West, but not even Burkett could stop the Dodgers' offense.
Burkett, who entered the game with a 3-1 record and a 1.98 ERA, left with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth inning, and that was after Piazza had hit a 1-0 pitch over the right-center field wall to put the Dodgers ahead, 3-1.
Dave Burba, who gave up one of Piazza's two homers during the Dodgers' 12-1 rout in the final game last season, said this week he wanted revenge. His chance came when he relieved Burkett with Tim Wallach and Henry Rodriguez on base with singles and Karros on first with a walk.
With one strike on Raul Mondesi, Burba unleashed a very wild pitch. It bounced off the plate and rolled to the Dodger dugout. Two runs scored, and Karros moved to third. Mondesi struck out and Jose Offerman was intentionally walked, before Martinez, who had one hit all season, hit a double off the right-field wall, giving the Dodgers a 7-1 lead.