Chad Billingsley spotted the Milwaukee Brewers a couple of first-inning runs Friday night, something that would have all but guaranteed defeat for the Dodgers only a few weeks ago.
But the implications of an early deficit aren’t what they used to be since you-know-who came to Los Angeles, which is why Billingsley said he told himself, “You’re still in the ballgame.”
He was right.
The Dodgers stormed back to beat the Brewers, 5-3, Friday night, capturing their fifth consecutive victory and remaining tied with Arizona for first place in the National League West by doing something they rarely did until they added Manny Ramirez -- driving the ball to and over the fences at Dodger Stadium.
The once weak-hitting Dodgers tied the score at 3-3 on a two-run home run by Casey Blake in the fourth inning. They went ahead an inning later, when Matt Kemp doubled and scored on a single by Jeff Kent. They added an insurance run in the eighth on a solo home run by Russell Martin, and went on to record their third come-from-behind victory in four games.
“We know we’re going to score runs,” Martin said. “We’re getting confidence on the offensive side.”
The numbers support the intuition. In 14 games with Ramirez in the lineup, the Dodgers have hit 17 of their 91 home runs. They’ve averaged 4.8 runs per game in that span, up from 4.2.
Though Manager Joe Torre maintained that the Dodgers must pitch well to win consistently, he acknowledged that the additions of Ramirez and Blake to the lineup afforded them the luxury of taking a different offensive approach.
“There’s a lot more going on now,” Torre said of his charged-up lineup. “You don’t have to create as much as you had to earlier in the year.”
Because of that, Torre said, he didn’t mind sitting Juan Pierre on most days. (Pierre, who ranks third in the NL with 37 steals, started Friday because the Dodgers faced a left-hander, Manny Parra.)
Ramirez and Blake haven’t been the only key additions. The activation of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra on Tuesday has kept weak-hitting Angel Berroa on the bench and bolstered the lineup, which on Friday had James Loney, a .295 hitter with a team-high 68 runs batted in, batting eighth. Torre said he no longer finds himself sitting on the bench telling himself, “We have to wait for that part of the lineup to come up again.”
This made a world of difference Friday night for Billingsley, who improved to 12-9 on a night when he held the Brewers to three runs and five hits over seven innings.
Billingsley started the game slowly, serving up a two-run home run to Gabe Kapler in the first inning. Though Ramirez singled in Pierre in the bottom half of the inning, the Brewers scored again in the second to go up, 3-1, as Mike Cameron tripled into the left-field corner and was singled in by Jason Kendall.
Billingsley recovered to strike out the side in the third, the first of his five straight scoreless innings.
The Dodgers encountered trouble in the eighth, when Ramon Troncoso took over for Billingsley and gave up back-to-back one-out singles to J.J. Hardy and Kapler. Troncoso was lifted for Joe Beimel, who got Prince Fielder to ground out to first, Hardy advancing to third and Kapler to second.
Jonathan Broxton replaced Beimel and forced Corey Hart to fly out to center. Broxton pitched a perfect ninth to convert his ninth save in 10 opportunities.