Dodgers pull out win in a pinch
Sweeney scores game-winning run on Ethier's sac fly
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney doesn't get many at-bats in the course of a season, but when he does go to the plate, it's usually in a tight spot.
The veteran pinch-hitter got the call from manager Grady Little in the seventh inning with one out and the game tied, and he delivered. The lefty stroked a 3-2 fastball into the gap in right-center field for a double and came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Andre Ethier as the Dodgers picked up their third consecutive victory, 4-3, against the Nationals at Dodger Stadium.
"I got a fastball there and it was a good time to get my first extra-base hit," said Sweeney, who ranks second on the all-time pinch-hit list with 158. "We're playing good baseball, and when you're winning one-run ballgames, it's a good indication that you're playing good ball."
Sweeney, who has been red-hot in the month of August, hitting .320 (8-for-25), was acquired by the Dodgers on Aug. 9 for that exact situation. General manager Ned Colletti envisioned having Sweeney come off the bench and come up clutch, and like he has done on many occasions, on this night he came through.
"We're proud for what [Sweeney] was able to do in that situation," Little said. "He got the ball right between those outfielders out there, and that's what allowed us to get the winning run."
Sweeney's heroics aside, the Dodgers played one of their better games of the season defensively. The middle infield turned two crucial double plays and James Loney and Juan Pierre made run-saving catches to help out starting pitcher Chad Billingsley.
Billingsley was solid on the night, allowing three runs on eight hits while striking out six in seven innings. But if wasn't for the play behind him, he probably wouldn't have picked up his second consecutive win.
With runners on first and second and one out in the third inning, second baseman Kent backhanded a sharp grounder and flipped the ball to shortstop Rafael Furcal, who then fired to first to complete a double play and stifle the Nationals' potential rally.
In the sixth inning, with runners on first and second an no outs, Kent again fielded a ball to his right and flipped to Furcal, but this time it was Furcal who made the dazzling play, reaching high for Kent's flip and somehow managing to get enough on the throw to get Ryan Church at first.
"I got some great defensive plays behind me tonight," Billingsley said. "Shea [Hillenbrand], Juan and Raffy and Kent with those double plays, that was big."
The play Pierre made in the seventh inning after Tony Batista tied the game on a home run was a typical Pierre play in center. Pierre chased down a ball off the bat of Felipe Lopez that should have easily landed for extra bases, reaching up in front of the wall in left-center field for the out.
Offensively, the Dodgers were led by Kent, who went 2-for-3, including his 17th homer of the season. Kent blasted a solo shot in the third inning off of Nationals starter Jason Bergmann. Hillenbrand contributed with two hits, including a two-run single in the second inning to score Kent and Russell Martin.
"When we were struggling there, it was getting that key hit or pushing that run across the plate that was the difference between winning and losing games," said Ethier. "Sometimes you can go out there and push a run across the plate late in a game and rely on the bullpen to shut down the other team. In a way, this is playoff baseball."
Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito each pitched a scoreless inning in relief, Broxton in the eighth and Saito in the ninth. Saito earned his second consecutive save and his 36th of the season.
With the win, the Dodgers gained a game on the National League West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks and now find themselves 4 1/2 games back. The Dodgers have won six of their last seven games at home and nine of their last 13 as they make a push for the playoffs.
"It's a combined effort out there, when we're winning ballgames it's a combined effort with everyone on that field, and we just need to keep it going," Little said. "We're playing good, and today it stems from our starting pitching and defense."
Jayson Addcox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.