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Relay Team Saves Gagne

Times Staff Writer

Only 10 days remain until the start of baseball’s October bash, and the Dodgers still hope to join the fun after being re-energized Thursday night in a 2-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium.

Wilson Alvarez, Robin Ventura and Eric Gagne delivered timely performances before 36,523, helping the Dodgers move back within 2 1/2 games of Florida in the National League wild-card race.

A night after a deflating 2-0 loss to Arizona had dropped the Dodgers to fourth in the wild-card pack, Alvarez led the way with seven scoreless innings -- in his third consecutive dominant outing -- as the Dodgers (81-70) salvaged a victory in the three-game series.

Ventura’s second-inning home run provided the early offense, and Dave Roberts, who entered as a defensive replacement in the eighth, scored an insurance run in the bottom of the inning on an error by Arizona first baseman Shea Hillenbrand.

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Gagne overcame a shaky two-inning stint to record his major league-leading 52nd save.

The Dodgers prevented the potential tying run from scoring in the eighth as second baseman Alex Cora, who caught a perfect throw from right fielder Shawn Green, nailed Craig Counsell at the plate after Arizona third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez inexplicably sent the runner with only one out, two on and No. 2 hitter Travis Spivey on deck.

Gagne also escaped after the Diamondbacks put runners on first and third to start the ninth on a leadoff walk to Luis Gonzalez and Hillenbrand’s single. Gagne finally nailed down the victory for Alvarez (6-1) and extended his all-time consecutive save record to 60 when pinch-hitter Felix Jose grounded out.

“Obviously, it was a game that we absolutely had to have,” Manager Jim Tracy said. “And it was won tonight in dramatic fashion.”

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The drama began with Alvarez. The veteran left-hander showed his mettle, giving up four hits and establishing an upbeat tone.

“He’s been throwing lights out, it’s just unbelievable,” catcher Paul Lo Duca said of his batterymate, who has thrown 22 consecutive scoreless innings.

“He’s just challenging guys and getting ahead of guys. He made some great pitches tonight, and he had to because it was, obviously, a must-win game.

“You lose this game and you’re done, so to come out and throw the way he did was awesome. Just awesome.”

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Alvarez said he was in the right spot.

“All I want to do is make the playoffs,” said the left-hander, who has a 1.13 earned-run average in his last 39 2/3 innings. “You want to be in this situation. This is the best time of the year.”

Ventura, making a rare start at first base, hit a leadoff homer -- his fourth with the Dodgers -- in the second against Arizona right-hander Miguel Batista (10-9), who otherwise was also outstanding in seven innings, giving up four hits. Ventura also started a nifty double play in the sixth.

With the Dodgers’ season on the brink and the major league’s most dominant closer eager for the challenge, Tracy turned to Gagne for his first two-inning stint in a save situation.

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The usually razor-sharp right-hander struggled in the eighth as the Diamondbacks got two hits. It even appeared Gagne would suffer his first blown save since last season when Steve Finley lined a one-out double into the right-field corner with Counsell running at first.

But Green came up big, fielding the ball and throwing a strike to Cora, who made another perfect throw to Lo Duca to get Counsell at the plate and ignite celebrations in the dugout and throughout the stands.

“I wanted to force them to make two good throws,” said Rodriguez, the Diamondbacks’ third-base coach. “You’re going to have to take a chance. You don’t know how many base hits you’re going to get off of him.”

Gagne enjoyed the excitement.

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“It was a perfect relay, a perfect play,” he said. “It was a must-win game for us, and I felt great going out there. We’re 2 1/2 back in the wild card and that’s the only thing we’re thinking about.”


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