Two homers sink Dodgers, Haeger
Knuckleballer delivers seven innings in debut for LA
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers got just about everything they could have hoped for Monday night.
Well, everything short of a win.
Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger lasted seven innings and only gave up three runs on five hits against a very dangerous St. Louis Cardinals lineup.
Considering that Haeger had spent all of 2009 with Triple-A Albuquerque, that kind of outing exceeded expectations and should have put the Dodgers in position to steal the win.
Except for that one other variable in the equation: St. Louis right-hander Chris Carpenter.
Carpenter dominated the Dodgers for eight innings and benefited from home runs by Albert Pujols and Rick Ankiel in a 3-2 win at Dodger Stadium.
"They are a very tough club," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "They are very tough defensively and they pitch very well. You get a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning, you feel like you have a leg up against any ballclub, but unfortunately we couldn't take it home."
As dominant as Carpenter was for much of the game, he had a shaky first inning.
Rafael Furcal led off with a single, and Andre Ethier doubled to put runners on second and third with one out. Manny Ramirez was intentionally walked to load the bases, but the Dodgers were only able to manage one run when Ethier got doubled up trying to advance to third on Casey Blake's sacrifice fly that scored Furcal.
"We had a chance to really do some damage in the first," Blake said. "You come out there, get bases loaded with one out and hopefully get a couple of runs right there, and you let him off the hook right there."
But aside from that instance, and one other blip in the fifth, Carpenter shut down the Dodgers lineup.
He retired the Dodgers in order five times and lasted at least seven innings for a seventh consecutive start.
"His effort pretty much every time he goes out is pretty strong," Blake said.
Surprisingly, Haeger matched Carpenter on the mound for most of the way.
In his first start of the season with the Dodgers, Haeger's knuckleball fluttered through the strike zone and baffled Cardinals hitters.
Unlike in some starts for knuckleballers, Haeger rarely fell behind in the count. He induced a lot of quick ground-ball outs and didn't walk a batter in his seven innings.
The zero walks are especially impressive considering only two of Haeger's 80 pitches weren't knucklers.
Part of Haeger's success could be attributed to the knuckler-friendly atmosphere in Los Angeles as compared to Albuquerque.
"Pitching in Albuquerque is like pitching on the moon a little bit, with the thin air," he said. "I felt good. I was not walking anybody.
"Anytime I can throw the ball over the plate on a consistent basis I think I'm going to have some success."
But the two key times that his knuckleball didn't knuckle and instead spun, St. Louis batters punished him by crushing two home runs.
Pujols led off the fourth inning with a solo shot to even the score at 1, and then Ankiel hit a two-run homer to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the seventh.
"The first one to Pujols was a 1-0 count and it just came off my hand bad," Haeger said.
"The one to Ankiel, I was trying to throw a slower one just to get strike one there, and the second it came off my hand I knew it was a bad one. It was in the middle of the plate on a tee for him and that's what good hitters do with pitches like that."
Still, it was a successful outing, and Haeger's seven strong innings possibly could earn him another start this season.
"I don't see why not, let's put it that way," Torre said on whether Haeger secured another outing. "Charlie has certainly earned another start."
Because the knuckleball doesn't take quite the toll on an arm as other pitches, Haeger theoretically could be available for the Dodgers as early as Thursday, when Hiroki Kuroda will miss his scheduled start because of a mild concussion he sustained after a line drive hit him in the head Saturday in Arizona.
The Dodgers haven't announced who will take Kuroda's place in the rotation.
"I could pitch tomorrow," Haeger said. "I've never done it before, but typically the day after I start, especially after throwing only 80 pitches, I'm not going to be sore or anything like that tomorrow. It would be new to me but I'd give it a shot."
David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.