MIAMI -- A 7-6 win over the first-place Marlins on Tuesday night marked the return of the Dodgers to the .500 mark and the return of Takashi Saito to the bullpen.
OK, Saito has been in the bullpen all season, but not the real Saito. The All-Star closer finally showed up in this game, which saw starter Derek Lowe blow a five-run lead, then Jeff Kent's third RBI lift the Dodgers to their fourth consecutive victory.
Kent, who singled in a pair while the Dodgers were building an early 6-1 lead, stroked a two-out single to center in the ninth inning off Kevin Gregg to score Andre Ethier (who walked) and break the tie. Saito nailed down his third save with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth that included two strikeouts to save the win for Joe Beimel.
The Dodgers' bullpen, short-handed without Jonathan Broxton and his strained back muscle, followed Lowe with four scoreless innings (on one hit), two by Scott Proctor. The bullpen has allowed one earned run in the last 21 innings.
Saito's 10th appearance was his best since striking out the side April 1, the result of mechanical tinkering implemented after he issued an uncustomary four-pitch walk to Ryan Spilborghs that led to a blown save of a game Friday night, which the Dodgers ultimately won in 13 innings.
"That's never really happened before and it really motivated me to adjust and correct my mistakes," said Saito, who worked on a mechanical adjustment with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt the following day and said his fastball velocity and breaking ball rotation improved because of it.
Theories on what's wrong with Saito have ranged from the strained calf muscle that shortened his Spring Training to the 38 years on his birth certificate to his suggestion that infrequent use because save opportunities were rare left him rusty.
"You don't click it on like a light switch," said Honeycutt. "He's still finding his release point. He got into bad habits trying to manipulate or manufacture it. Today he was really good."
Although Saito's ERA is a respectable 2.38, he finished at 1.40 last year. He has 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings, but he also already has four walks. He had only 13 last year in 64 1/3 innings. He already has two blown saves this year after letting only four get away all last year.
"[Honeycutt] had been telling me I hadn't seen the real Saito," said manager Joe Torre, accustomed over the past decade to having Mariano Rivera at his beck and call. "That was him. He threw strike-one with no room to breathe. He did a great job for us. He was locating. The last pitch [that was a called third-strike slider to Mike Jacobs] was evidence, too."
Torre said the result was "huge" because of what the alternative might have meant.
"Those kinds of games, when you lose the momentum, you could very easily lose the game unless you get what we got out of the bullpen," he said.
The win was only the fourth for the Dodgers in 12 road games and it evened their record for the first time since April 8, accomplishing goal No. 1 in Torre's strategy to rebound from a lackluster start.
"Now we have to think in terms of five-over, but we have to do it one at a time," he said. "We played tough games over these four victories and it's good practice for us with the pitching in our division. There won't be many runaways."
While Lowe let the five-run lead evaporate, he wasn't solely to blame. A James Loney error meant three runs were unearned and one of them scored when Matt Kemp's throw from right field wasn't cut off.
Not all of the defense was sloppy, however, as catcher Russell Martin twice gunned down fleet leadoff hitter Hanley Ramirez trying to steal second base. Ramirez, who stole 51 bases each of the two previous years, came into the game successful on nine of his previous 10 tries.
Offensively, the Dodgers got two hits each from Ethier (three runs), Kemp, Kent and Blake DeWitt, who also steamrolled catcher Mike Rabelo when thrown out at the plate by right fielder Jeremy Hermida trying to score on Mark Sweeney's pinch-double to end the eighth inning with Rafael Furcal on deck. A fired-up Rabelo spiked the ball into the dirt.
Lowe showed no effects from the stiff right elbow that was the explanation for his early exit in his previous start. But he got knocked around for eight hits in five innings and he's pitched longer than six innings only once in six starts.
"Nowadays in baseball, starters are going shorter and shorter," said Lowe. "The game comes down to the bullpen. On a streak like ours, everybody is confident in our bullpen. We don't have just one guy, we've got three or four guys."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.