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Dodgers’ Win Could Be a Tipping Point

Times Staff Writer

Mark Hendrickson came crashing down off the Dodger Stadium mound in the second inning Sunday afternoon like a fallen redwood, his 6-foot-9 frame hitting the grass face first.

All that was missing was somebody yelling, “Timmm-berrr.”

As it turned out, nothing was hurt but the Dodgers left-hander’s pride after a cleat on his right shoe caught on the mound. His pride, that is, and his earned-run average, because he was charged with a balk, allowing the Washington Nationals’ Ryan Church to score from third.

“It wasn’t funny when a run scores,” Hendrickson said.

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A few days ago, his pratfall might have served as yet another image of a team in freefall, rapidly dropping out of contention.

But Sunday, it was good for smiles, chuckles and one-liners in a rejuvenated Dodgers clubhouse that has discovered anew the ability to laugh off adversity in the wake of a three-game sweep of the Nationals culminating in Sunday’s 4-3 victory.

Suddenly, there are new faces (Wilson Betemit, obtained from the Atlanta Braves in a Friday trade), old faces in new places (Cesar Izturis, moved to second to make room for Betemit at third) and familiar faces back in familiar places -- James Loney, recalled from triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday and starting at first base in place of Nomar Garciaparra, who was placed on the disabled list Sunday because of a sprained knee.

“The face of this team is certainly changing,” said outfielder Jason Repko, back himself earlier this week after missing 67 games because of a sprained ankle, “and everybody is contributing.”

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Betemit, Loney and Izturis certainly contributed Sunday.

Betemit got hits his first three times up in Dodger blue. Asked his reaction when he heard a loud ovation from the crowd when he came to the plate for the first time, Betemit said, “Oh my gosh.”

He didn’t have to worry about disappointing the fans, doubling on that at-bat and later adding a single and another double.

“How could you not like what you saw out there?” Dodgers Manager Grady Little said of Betemit, who went three for four. “We knew what this kid was capable of doing.”

Loney and Izturis combined for the winning run in the eighth inning. Loney, who was leading the Pacific Coast League with a .372 average when he was recalled, doubled into right-center with one out and Izturis doubled him home.

But for all the Dodgers’ euphoria over a victory that capped a comeback weekend following an eight-game losing streak and losses in 13 of 14 games since the All-Star break, Sunday’s win hung on the length of Washington first baseman Nick Johnson’s glove.

Izturis hit a bouncer down the first-base line and didn’t even run it out at first, believing that the ball would go foul. Instead, it spun just fair and veered right. A straining Johnson got the tip of his glove on the ball, but couldn’t control it.

That gave the Dodgers their first lead of the afternoon. After falling behind, 2-0, they had tied the score in the third on consecutive home runs by J.D. Drew (his 11th) and Andre Ethier (his 10th) off of Nationals starter Ramon Ortiz.

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Down by a run in the seventh, the Dodgers again caught the Nationals, this time on a pinch-hit homer by Jose Cruz Jr.

Jonathan Broxton (2-0), the third of four Dodgers pitchers, got the victory and Takashi Saito, originally scheduled for a day off because of what Little said was fatigue, pitched the ninth and got his ninth save.

Washington reliever Jon Rauch (3-2) took the loss. Hendrickson, who made his sixth start for the Dodgers, remained winless (0-4) since being traded.

But although he knows he could be watching himself on blooper tapes for years to come, he can take at least take some solace from knowing it was his team that got the last laugh.


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