Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
Who's on first? Dodgers edge Padres in game with strange ending
The Padres came close but lost to the Dodgers in a game where players exchanged positions multiple times
The Dodgers didn’t start Chad Billingsley until Wednesday, skipping his turn in the rotation because of a right finger contusion he suffered in spring training. But the Padres have seen Billingsley before, plenty of him. Sometimes they’ve had success and often they’ve experienced failure.
“No secrets with Chad,” Buddy Black said before the game. “He knows us and we know him. He’s got good stuff.”
Having good stuff and having success with it isn’t always the case. You can ask Padres starter Eric Stults, who pitched well in his first outing but struggled on Wednesday evening while Billingsley held the Padres hitters at arm’s length.
But the weird and oddly exciting ending of the game was markedly different from the beginning. While the Padres might have seen Billingsley, it isn’t often that they see position changes like they did on Wednesday evening.
In the top of the first inning, Carl Crawford led off and greeted Eric Stults by planting a 0-1 slider over the left field wall. Stults did not appear rattled and retired the next three Dodgers batters and the early Dodgers lead was 1-0 over the Padres.
The Dodgers continued in the second inning. With one out, Luis Cruz singled and A.J. Ellis homered to left field, and the Dodgers increased the lead to 3-0. Meanwhile, Billingsley continued to baffle Padres hitters, until the bottom of the fourth inning.
Will Venable led off with a walk, and Chris Denorfia smacked a double into the gap in right-center field and the Padres were on the board. Billingsley then walked Yonder Alonso and there were men on first and second with no one out.
Jedd Gyorko came up but grounded into a double-play, moving Denorfia to third base with two outs. Alexi Amarista then flew out to left and that ended the threat. After four innings, the Padres trailed 3-1.
The woes of Eric Stults continued. In the top of the fifth inning, Carl Crawford opened up with a triple off of the left-center field wall. Mark Ellis then singled Crawford home for a run and a 4-1 lead for the Dodgers over the Padres.
The Padres brought in Anthony Bass in relief, and while Bass allowed runners, he escaped both innings. Billingsley continued his dominance over Padres hitting, but was pulled after six innings and Ronald Belisario relieved Billingsley.
Brad Brach relieved Bass and kept the Dodgers off of the base paths, in part thanks to a great play by Chris Denorfia. In a ball that looked destined for the gap in right-center hit by Justin Sellers, Denorfia cut the ball off, spun, and threw a strike to second base to cut down Sellers trying for a double.
Kenley Jansen relieved Belisario in the bottom of the eighth, and with one out, Chris Denorfia and Yonder Alonso hit back-to-back singles. Jedd Gyorko flied out, and Mark Kotsay pinch hit for Alexi Amarista and came close to getting a bloop single to fall but Skip Schumaker made the catch.
For the top of the ninth inning, since manager Buddy Black had already used third baseman Cody Ransom as a pinch hitter, he was left with no option but to slide Yonder Alonso over to second base and have Kotsay play first base. And it became even more strange, apologies to Abbott and Costello.
“Desperate times sort of call for desperate measures,” Buddy said postgame in reference to pinch-hitting Kotsay for Amarista with no true infielder left on the bench.
With Joe Thatcher pitching, Mark Ellis singled to center and Matt Kemp flied out to left. Adrian Gonzalez singled to right field past a diving Alonso, and Ellis took third base.
That’s when manager Buddy Black decided to switch Alonso over to third base and Jedd Gyorko to second base, where he has been playing in spots. “I thought with a guy on first and you don’t know where Adrian [Gonzalez] is going to hit the ball, he’s been hitting the ball to the opposite field a little bit, and Joe’s game is a little bit away to the lefty. If Joe makes his pitch, then Adrian is going to have to go out there and hook the ball. When it got to guys on first and third, the double play was in order. We played what we call three depth – we have four depths – we thought if he hit a ground ball, it was better to have Cabrera and Gyorko in the middle of the diamond,” Buddy Black said regarding the move.
Andre Ethier was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. But Luis Cruz fouled out and A.J. Ellis grounded out to Gyorko and the Padres escaped.
The bottom of the ninth inning also provided some fireworks. Closer Brandon League relieved Kenley Jansen and Cameron Maybin grounded out to short.
Nick Hundley then doubled, his fourth hit of the game. “Brandon League is one of the best closers in the game for a reason, and to have a quality at bat against a guy like that gives you a lot of confidence in yourself,” Nick said afterward in the clubhouse.
After John Baker flied to right for the second out, Everth Cabrera singled and Hundley took third base. Will Venable singled to left field, scoring Hundley and sending Cabrera to third base.
Chris Denorfia then came up and struck out swinging, but when the ball got through the catcher’s legs and rolled to the backstop, Denorfia took off running to first base safely while Cabrera crossed home plate and the Padres were only down by a run.
Yonder Alonso came to the plate and battled League to a full count until he flew out to left field. The Dodgers held on for a 4-3 victory to even up the series at a game each.
Carlos Quentin was not in the lineup and did not play. When asked postgame about anything more specific concerning Quentin, Buddy only said that they were still working on evaluating Carlos.
Don’t look now, but Nick Hundley is suddenly batting a nice .318 after struggling on the road. “The first road trip, like a lot of players, Nick was a little amped up. Let’s hope he’s seeing the ball well and continues to stay consistent with the work that he and Phil [Plantier] have put in going back to November.”
Tomorrow evening, the Dodgers and Padres play the rubber game of the series. The Dodgers send Zach Greinke (1-0, 0.00) to face Jason Marquis (0-1, 3.00) for the Padres. Game time is 7:10 PDST, radio 1090 AM or televised on Fox Sports San Diego.
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