The game could serve as a metaphor for the harsh summer ahead and an anticipated pennant race between two even teams long on pitching, short on power and with grit to be determined.
It took the Dodgers 17 innings and nearly five hours to squeeze out a 5-4 victory against the San Diego Padres on Sunday at Petco Park.
The game was so tight and the teams so alike that lauding the performance of one prompted praise of the other.
“Both bullpens were outstanding,” said Derek Lowe, the Dodgers starter who departed with nearly three hours to play. “They combined for what, about 20 half-innings of shutout baseball? Both teams should be especially proud of that.”
Holding their weary heads highest in the Dodgers clubhouse were all six relievers and two reserve position players.
Brady Clark, an outfielder acquired in a trade a few days before the season began, doubled with two out in the 17th inning to drive in Wilson Valdez, a utility player who continues to contribute just enough to stay on the roster. This time it was laying down a bunt that forced a close play and a dropped throw by first baseman Pete Laforest.
Until Clark’s line drive into the left-field corner, Dodgers bats had been on a 13-inning hiatus, not producing a run since Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez had hit consecutive home runs in the third inning.
So the Dodgers held tight to the arms of Joe Beimel, Jonathan Broxton, Chin-Hui Tsao, Rudy Seanez, Takashi Saito and Chad Billingsley. The sextet picked up for Lowe with one out in the seventh and the score tied, 4-4, and gave up one single and one walk through the 16th.
Billingsley (2-0) earned the victory by pitching the last two innings, including fighting out of a jam in the 17th caused by third baseman Ramon Martinez’s error on Mike Cameron’s chopper.
Cameron stole second and Kent went to the mound, not so much to calm Billingsley as to steel him.
“He said, ‘Go after them,’ ” said Billingsley, who walked Geoff Blum then struck out Rob Bowen and Kevin Kouzmanoff.
The Dodgers scored twice in their first at-bat and gave one back in the bottom of the inning. Kent and Gonzalez gave Lowe a three-run cushion in the third inning, but Marcus Giles and Jose Cruz Jr. had consecutive hits just as they had in the first inning, and Brian Giles doubled to cut the lead to 4-3.
Cruz, released by the Dodgers last season after he batted .233 in 86 games, had hits in his first three at-bats to raise his average against Lowe to .417. Marcus Giles also had three hits against Lowe, the last coming in the seventh and driving in Blum with the tying run.The bullpens took it from there.
Giles’ hit was the last for the Padres until Adrian Gonzalez had a harmless single against Seanez with two out in the 13th, and the Dodgers couldn’t muster any offense against Doug Brocail, Heath Bell, Cla Meredith and Kevin Cameron, who each pitched two scoreless innings and combined to strand eight.
The Dodgers put the leadoff batter aboard twice against left-hander Justin Hampson, but Clark was picked off in the 15th inning and Garciaparra hit into a double play in the 16th.
Clark got the best of Hampson in the 17th inning, giving the Dodgers their 15th victory, a total they did not reach last season until May 7. This marks the fourth time they have won 15 games in April in the last 25 years, and they have another game before the calendar turns.