It took 4 hours and 54 minutes, 16 innings, 15 pitchers, 11 runs and 30 hits, but finally, after Tuesday had slipped into Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, seldom-used utility player Ramon Martinez hit the first pitch in the bottom of the 16th into the left-field seats to give the Dodgers a 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
After hitting only his second home run of the season, connecting off Cincinnati right-hander Ryan Franklin (5-7), the eighth Cincinnati pitcher, Martinez circled the bases and then flung his helmet into the air before diving into a mob of teammates awaiting him at home plate.
Derek Lowe (12-8) pitched three innings of relief to gain the victory that enabled the Dodgers to maintain their three-game lead in the NL West.
The Dodgers began the first inning as if it were an extension of batting practice. Rafael Furcal hit the third pitch he saw into the seats in left field for his fourth leadoff home run of the season and the 16th of his career.
And the Dodgers were only warming up against Cincinnati left-hander Eric Milton.
He gave up two singles and a walk and watched his second baseman, Brandon Phillips, allow another man aboard when he failed to backhand a grounder for an error.
By the time the first inning had ended, Milton had thrown 29 pitches, faced eight batters and surrendered three runs, Jeff Kent driving in one with a single and Toby Hall sending another home with a sacrifice fly.
A laugher in the offing?
Not with Mark Hendrickson pitching for the Dodgers.
The 6-foot-9 left-hander might be a towering figure on the mound, but he doesn’t intimidate too many batters, having entered the game with a 1-6 record and a 4.79 earned-run average.
And sure enough, as the innings wore on, Hendrickson turned those grins in the Dodger dugout into furrowed brows, turned the prospect of an easy night at the ballpark back into the tension of a tight division race.
It began with Phillips, who hit his 15th homer of the season over the center-field wall with two out in the second.
The Dodgers got that back on Kent’s 13th home run, a ball that just cleared the right-field wall with two out in the third.
But the Reds kept swinging away. And Hendrickson kept struggling.
With Ken Griffey Jr. aboard on a single in the fourth, Rich Aurilia hit his 19th home run into the bleachers in left-center to cut the Dodgers’ margin to 4-3.
What was a manager to do? With his bullpen stretched following a 15-inning game and an early exit by starter Derek Lowe in consecutive games over the weekend, Grady Little was going to go as far as he could with Hendrickson.
And so he sat and agonized as Milton led off the fifth with a single, Ryan Freel followed with another single, and Adam Dunn added yet another to load the bases.
Finally, Little had had enough. In came right-hander Aaron Sele, who escaped with only one run allowed, the tying run scoring on a groundout.
The Reds took the lead in the sixth off Sele on a double by David Ross followed by an RBI single by Phillips. But the Dodgers came back to even the game on a bloop RBI single by Furcal with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth.