Nothing, it seems, is too off-the-wall for the Dodgers in their pursuit of first place in the National League West.
On the same night they used a journeyman starting pitcher who had nearly twice as many major league losses as wins, the Dodgers benefited from a blooper-reel play by San Francisco left fielder Fred Lewis on the way to a 2-0 triumph Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
Lewis bobbled Casey Blake’s sixth-inning double, the ball momentarily falling on top of the padding atop the wall down the left-field line before the outfielder retrieved it and fired to shortstop Omar Vizquel, whose relay throw to home plate beat James Loney for what appeared to be the inning’s final out.
But the umpires conferred and ruled the ball hit the padding and rolled into the stands, meaning it was no longer in play. Lewis was charged with an error and both baserunners were awarded an extra base, Loney trotting home from third with the Dodgers’ second run.
“It was on top of the wall when I picked it up,” Lewis said. “Nobody touched it. It didn’t touch a fan or nobody. It makes you want replay in baseball more and more.”
Said Vizquel: “I’ve never seen that, not even in highlights.”
That was more than enough cushion for fill-in Dodgers starter Jason Johnson, who pitched six scoreless innings and combined with two relievers on a five-hitter for the team’s league-leading ninth shutout. It was Johnson’s first major league victory since May 28, 2006, with the Cleveland Indians.
Matt Kemp logged two hits, extending his career-high hitting streak to 16 games, and Loney had a run-scoring single to help the Dodgers remain one game behind Arizona in the division standings.
The most inspirational performance was by Johnson, who led the Pacific Coast League with 11 victories for triple-A Las Vegas but hasn’t had a winning record in the majors since going 8-7 with Baltimore in 1999.
“It’s nice to be back out here,” he said. “It’s something special.”
The 34-year-old right-hander, a diabetic who wears an insulin pump while pitching, gave up five hits and no walks. The Giants put only two runners in scoring position.
Johnson (1-0) spent last season with the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League and blogged about some of his experiences, including repeatedly waiting on the wrong train platforms and mistakenly buying sweet yogurt when he had intended to buy milk to put on his favorite cereal, Cookie Crisp.
His on-field endeavors were a bit off the mark too. He went 1-4 with a 4.35 earned-run average in seven games before being sent to the Lions’ minor league affiliate in July for the remainder of the season.
Manager Joe Torre acknowledged before the game that Johnson, who has gone 56-98 in 11 major league seasons, has “had somewhat of a spotty career where he’s had some good outings and some not-so-good outings.”
Asked if it was wise to go with a “spotty” pitcher in the final months of a pennant race, Torre reflected on his tenure as manager of the New York Yankees. “We had some pitchers you never heard of coming in to start for us,” Torre said. “Last year, I think we had 11 different starters in the first few months.”
Johnson, the 10th starter used by the Dodgers this season, said he liked the pressure of being thrust into a playoff chase. “It’s a lot more fun than pitching in games that don’t mean a lot,” he said. “I’ve done that a lot in my career.”
Jonathan Broxton got the final four outs for his fifth save in five chances since closer Takashi Saito was sidelined earlier this month with a sprained elbow ligament.
The Dodgers have one more game in their series against San Francisco, then play host to NL West leader Arizona, which they trail by one game:
Today: vs. San Francisco, 7 p.m., Ch. 9
Thursday: vs. Arizona, 7 p.m., FSN Prime
Friday: vs. Arizona, 7:30 p.m., FSN Prime
Saturday: vs. Arizona, 7 p.m., FSN Prime
Sunday: vs. Arizona, 1 p.m., FSN Prime