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Chase Utley fuels decisive rally by Dodgers in 5-3, 10-inning win over Braves

The Braves' Erick Aybar is tagged out by the Dodgers' Justin Turner in the fourth inning of an April 20 game in Atlanta.

The Braves’ Erick Aybar is tagged out by the Dodgers’ Justin Turner in the fourth inning of an April 20 game in Atlanta.

(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Chase Utley analyzed the path of the baseball and calculated the need to return to second base. He trotted toward the bag with his eyes locked in center field, waiting for a resolution. At last, in the 10th inning of a 5-3 Dodgers victory, the inexperience of the Atlanta Braves showed.

Rookie outfielder Mallex Smith misread the ball as it flew off Justin Turner’s bat. After dropping back, he reversed course and charged ahead. He dove and stretched his glove, only to lose his grip on the baseball as he landed. Upon impact, Utley sprinted toward third.

He cast his eyes back to the outfield once more in time to see Smith slip and splat in the Turner Field grass. Utley needed no further invitation. He raced home for the go-ahead run, and Yasmani Grandal would add an RBI single as their team outlasted the bottom-dwelling Braves.

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“I guess we’ll come back in 12 hours or so and do it all over again,” Grandal said as the clock approached midnight and raced toward Thursday’s matinee.

After a brief outing by rookie Ross Stripling, the bullpen retired 19 of the 21 batters the group faced. A two-run home run by Adrian Gonzalez tied the score in the sixth. The game was untidy -- an error in the field led to a run and the Dodgers ran into a pair of outs on the bases -- but the victory still counted.

Utley sparked the rally in the 10th. He singled off Braves closer Jason Grilli. At the bag, first base coach George Lombard reminded him how Grilli often took his time to deliver the ball to the plate. Utley swiped second base with ease, his first stolen base of the year. A walk by Corey Seager put Turner in position to flummox Smith with his game-winning double.

“J.T. hit a ball that finally found some grass,” Manager Dave Roberts said.

For the first 14 innings of this series, the Dodgers played as if under water. Alex Wood sputtered on Tuesday. The group trailed by two runs after Stripling stumbled on Wednesday.

Then, in the top of the sixth, Atlanta reliever Eric O'Flaherty tried to sneak a 90-mph fastball past Gonzalez. Gonzalez volleyed the baseball over the center-field fence. He leads the team with 10 runs batted in.

“Adrian, he does it all the time,” Roberts said. “A lot of times you take him for granted. Just gave us life.”

Gonzalez did not regard the homer as momentous. After the game, as he noticed a group of reporters around his locker, he looked up in surprise. “Howdy!” he said. “Sinker, in.” Then he flashed a thumbs-up and walked out of the room.

The calendar explained his abbreviated interview. Thursday’s first pitch was scheduled for 12:10 p.m. local time. Gonzalez has started every game this season for the Dodgers, and he will not receive a day off until next week at Dodger Stadium.

Roberts managed the game with Thursday in mind. With Clayton Kershaw slotted for the series finale, he felt comfortable opening up his bullpen. So Stripling exited with two outs in the fourth, two men on and left-handed hitter Freddie Freeman at the plate. Roberts called on left-handed Adam Liberatore, who retired Freeman to end the threat.

In his third big-league outing, Stripling lacked the ease of his first two starts. The first inning lasted 26 pitches. He gave up a run after an error by Seager in the third. The Braves tagged him for two more in the fourth.

“Those were probably 3 2/3 of the slowest innings I’ve ever pitched,” Stripling said. “A snail’s pace. Never really able to get into a stable rhythm.”

Roberts offered a similar assessment. Before he pulled Stripling, he tried to maneuver him into a comfortable spot. He intentionally walked outfielder Nick Markakis so Stripling could face rookie infielder Nick Castro, a 23-year-old who hit .268 in triple-A last season.

But Castro still spoiled a curveball, low and away, flicking a two-run single into right field. Roberts intervened immediately after.

“I just saw that they were on his fastball, fouling the breaking ball off, seeing the changeup, taking it,” Roberts said. “When he made good pitches, they were still fouling them off. Every at-bat seemed to be tough, throughout the entire lineup. Tonight those guys might have been seeing him well. I just didn’t want to give those guys any more looks at him.”

His bullpen held firm. Maligned after the first week of the season, the group has found some traction in recent days. After Gonzalez homered, the group kept Atlanta off the board, setting the stage for Utley igniting the rally in the 10th.

“They gave us a great chance to sneak back into the game,” Utley said. “We were down early, but we had the big homer by Gonzo. And then it was a battle from there on out.”


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