Andre Ethier said his heart sank when he saw Jose Castillo drive a ball over the head of Matt Kemp in right field in the ninth inning. Chad Billingsley said he muttered, “Oh man,” to himself when he saw Randy Winn dink a single to left in the next at-bat.
But Billingsley survived both scares to pitch the first shutout of his career in a 4-0 victory for the Dodgers over the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, the ball driven by Castillo hitting the top of the wall and landing in the field of play, and the single by Winn leading to Castillo’s being nailed at the plate on a throw by Ethier to end the game.
“It’s a weird way to end the game for a shutout, but I’ll take it,” said the 23-year-old Billingsley, who tossed the second complete game of his major league career.
Catcher Russell Martin’s tag on Castillo brought the fans to their feet, put the Dodgers (54-53) over .500 for the first time in more than two months and set the stage for the start of a four-game series tonight against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have held a one-game lead over the Dodgers for the last eight days.
Manager Joe Torre said his team, which has won five of its last six games and hasn’t given up a run in its last 23 innings, will enter the series playing its best baseball of the season.
“I like the fact that we come to the ballpark now expecting something good to happen,” Torre said.
The Dodgers held an opponent scoreless for the third time in their last four games, as Billingsley (11-9) limited the Giants to five hits and didn’t walk a batter. He struck out eight, improving to 7-2 with a 2.21 earned-run average over his last nine starts.
“When you give him the ball now, you expect him to do something like this,” Torre said.
Castillo, inches away from hitting a two-out home run in the ninth to spoil Billingsley’s shutout, scared the pitcher in a different way in the seventh, as he hit a line drive directly at him. Billingsley reached up and snagged the ball.
“Quick reflexes, I guess,” Billingsley said, laughing. “It’s pretty much protecting yourself.”
The Dodgers’ lineup provided Billingsley with all the run support he would need in the first three innings.
Matt Kemp drew a leadoff walk in the first, stole second and scored on a base hit by Martin.
The Dodgers scored three runs in the third, with Martin’s single scoring Kemp, Jeff Kent’s double scoring Casey Blake and James Loney’s sacrifice fly scoring Martin.
Kemp, who singled in the fifth, extended his hitting streak to 17 games.
Andruw Jones started for the first time since Torre announced Sunday that he would be the team’s fourth outfielder until Kemp, Ethier or Juan Pierre slowed down.
Torre said Jones was in the lineup because he wanted to rest Pierre, who was activated Friday and played in five consecutive games. The manager added that Jones wouldn’t necessarily start against left-handers, as was the case on this night with Jonathan Sanchez on the mound for the Giants.
Jones was 0 for 3 with a strikeout and a walk, but he momentarily won over the crowd when he bumped into the wall in right-center to rob Bengie Molina of an extra-base hit in the second inning.