Japanese duo make history in victory
Dodgers closer Saito saves game for countryman Kuroda
LOS ANGELES -- A victory by a Japanese starter, a save by a Japanese closer.
The Dodgers completed yet another series sweep of the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night with a distinctive Asian flair, Hiroki Kuroda throwing eight solid innings and the closer who helped recruit him, Takashi Saito, locking down a perfect ninth in a 5-2 victory.
Kuroda, a Japanese veteran but Major League rookie, dismissed the significance of the first all-Japanese win and save in the Majors, other than being pleased that his eight innings allowed the middle relievers to rest. Saito, having seen the impact Japanese players have had here and the pride they generate back home, offered a bigger-picture view.
"I'm very happy and honored to be part of a historical event," said Saito, who stashed the game ball in his locker. "I always want to contribute to a Dodger win and save, but I know this also will motivate a lot of people in Japan as well. During Spring Training, the Japanese media told me that this record could happen. It should have happened sooner."
Saito was referring to his two blown saves that allowed two likely Kuroda victories to slip away. For the record, Saito took the loss in a Kuroda start April 14 against Pittsburgh, when he allowed a three-run homer to Nate McLouth, and he allowed the tying run to score in a Kuroda start April 25 against the Rockies.
"It makes me happy to do this tonight, not just because it's part of a historic event, but because of the two blown saves. Kuroda should have had more wins," Saito said.
Kuroda came into this game winless since the first week of the season, when he won in San Diego. He was only 1-3 overall, but had pitched well enough to compile a 3.67 ERA, best among the Dodgers' regular four starters.
Manager Joe Torre said Kuroda was even better in allowing the Reds two runs over eight innings in this game than when he scattered three hits while allowing the Padres only one run in a 7-1 victory. He allowed the Reds five hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
"This one was even better than that one, because this was a close game," said Torre. "He was masterful tonight. He had a great pitch count  and he got out of trouble and held them right there and he was strongest [with two of his three strikeouts] in the eighth inning."
The runs Kuroda allowed scored on a fielder's choice grounder and a sacrifice fly, but until James Loney's fifth homer in the seventh inning, the Dodgers' offense was even less conventional. Their first four runs scored on a wild pitch, passed ball, squeeze bunt and errant pickoff attempt by losing starter Johnny Cueto.
"I don't remember my team doing that, not from where I just came from in New York," said Torre. "That's what I'm talking about when I say we did the little things. We took advantage of the other team's mistakes."
That was pretty much the theme throughout the sweep of the Reds, who came into the series with a six-game win streak, but left having been unable to win a game in Los Angeles since 2005.
But the patient offensive style Torre has the Dodgers playing was a contributing factor. Cueto had run up his pitch count to 114 when he left after five innings.
"We're thinking small," said Torre. "We're running pitch counts up on the opposition. We're not going to hit a lot of home runs, so that's what we have to do. We need opponents to work to get us out."
The Dodgers drew production from the bottom part of the order. Matt Kemp and Blake DeWitt had two hits each, Kemp scored twice and Chin-lung Hu put down a squeeze bunt back to Cueto, but it was good enough to bring home Kemp.
As a bonus, the game served as a practice drill for the Dodgers' trip next week to the Windy City. Strange weather at Dodger Stadium created left-to-right gusts that peaked during the early innings approaching 30 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
"I knew during [batting practice] it would be an interesting game," said center fielder Kemp. "The ball was diving and dancing and doing all kinds of interesting stuff. In my mind, I thought, please don't hit me the ball, you don't know what's going to happen."
The wind did factor in the Dodgers' fourth-inning run, as it blew Hu's single out of the reach of second baseman Brandon Phillips.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.