Dodgers’ win is a balk in the park
The Dodgers’ latest walk-off victory was the team’s most bizarre in some time, delivered not by a long ball from Andre Ethier but by a few quick strides by Casey Blake.
In a sequence that expanded the definition of what it means to be “clutch,” Blake broke from third base toward home with two out in the ninth inning, eliciting a balk from a startled Esmerling Vasquez that lifted the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium on Monday night.
“Most of the time it doesn’t work,” Blake said. “But sometimes it does.”
Had it ever worked for him?
“Not for me,” Blake deadpanned, drawing laughs from the crowd of reporters standing in front of his locker.
The “balk-off” victory, as Manager Joe Torre called it, improved the Dodgers to 16-5 against National League West teams and put the finishing touches on a 20-8 month — their best May since they were 21-7 in 1962.
But Torre had no illusions about why the Dodgers won this game.
“We lucked out,” he said.
The Dodgers tied it in the eighth inning on a play involving Ethier, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list Monday afternoon. But baseball’s top clutch performer contributed in an uncharacteristic way, hitting a two-out grounder to second that resulted in fielding and throwing errors on the same play by Kelly Johnson. The mistakes allowed Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp to score.
An inning later, the Dodgers had men on first and second with none out, only for James Loney to make a baserunning gaffe that he described as “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen — not just in baseball, but in life.”
Loney was on second base when Russell Martin missed a bunt attempt. Noticing that Diamondbacks third baseman Augie Ojeda was standing far from the bag he was assigned to protect, Loney started to run as catcher Chris Snyder tossed the ball back to Vasquez. But Loney hesitated and was caught in a rundown.
“If I had kept going, I probably would have made it,” Loney said. “I really didn’t have time to get back.”
Blake moved to second base during Loney’s futile effort to avoid being tagged out and advanced to third on a groundout by Martin, setting up the game-deciding play.
The Diamondbacks didn’t protest the call by first base umpire Tim Timmons.
“He flinched,” Manager A.J. Hinch said of his second-year reliever. “His legs buckled. He balked. It was pretty plain and simple.”
Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley was left shaking his head.
“It was quite an odd ninth inning,” he said.
It was an equally odd start for Billingsley, who put on a Jekyll-and-Hyde act that put the Dodgers behind early. Every batter Billingsley faced in the first two innings either struck out or hit the ball to (or over) the wall.
The damage was substantial, as Johnson doubled and Justin Upton, Chris Young and Snyder homered to give the Diamondbacks a 4-0 lead.
But Billingsley managed to collect himself and wound up throwing a season-high 120 pitches over a season-high eight innings. He struck out 11 batters, his most in almost a year.
“After the first two innings, he was nails,” Torre said. “I give him a lot of credit, because he was frustrated but didn’t let it affect him.”
The Dodgers started to cut into the Diamondbacks’ lead when Manny Ramirez went deep to left field in the bottom of the second for his fourth home run of the season and 550th of his career.
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