Blake's bluff draws balk-off win for Dodgers
Veteran makes Vasquez flinch to score winner in ninth
LOS ANGELES -- Casey Blake can count on one hand the number of times he has tried to force a pitcher to balk in a run in his career.
But James Loney's unsuccessful baserunning maneuver, which came just before Blake's genius -- that was as madcap a thing as Loney had ever tried on a diamond.
"That's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever done or seen ... in life," Loney said. "Not just in baseball. I was like, 'Who does that?'"
Blake broke from third base and drew the attention of D-backs reliever Esmerling Vasquez, who balked in the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday night in a 5-4 Dodgers win.
It was the first time the Dodgers have won on a balk since Roger McDowell of the Mets drew the call on May 28, 1989, and the first time a Major League game ended on a balk since Sept. 8, 2008.
The Dodgers trailed, 4-2, going into the bottom of the eighth inning when a little luck in the form of two errors on one play allowed them to tie the game. Loney was the catalyst in the ninth inning, drawing a five-pitch walk from Vasquez, who replaced starter Rodrigo Lopez after eight innings. Blake followed with a single to center, and there were two on and none out.
Two pitches later, with Russell Martin at the plate, Loney broke for third. The ball had squirted away from catcher Chris Snyder, and third baseman Augie Ojeda, who entered the game a half-inning earlier, had run toward the infield. Loney saw third base vacant and took a stab.
Except it was half a stab. Loney hesitated and slipped -- what order that occurred in wasn't clear to him -- and was tagged out in a brief 1-6-5 rundown. A promising inning had quickly turned into anything but. A ground ball or bunt, after all, could have pushed Loney to third base with one out.
"I just saw him real close to the mound and I just reacted to him being so close to the mound," Loney said. "If I kept going, I probably would've got there. But even in that situation, still, I mean why risk it? I just reacted in a bad way."
Blake, smartly, took second on Loney's gaffe, and when Martin grounded out, he took third.
With a 2-2 count on Blake DeWitt, Blake broke for home. Vasquez, a 26-year-old right-hander in his second big league season, attempted to step off the mound and flinched. As Blake and third-base coach Larry Bowa were frantically pointing at him, Vasquez pointed right back. First-base umpire Tim Timmons made the balk call, and the Dodgers ended May with their second-best record for a month in club history, 20-8.
"Most veteran pitchers, they don't even look at the runner," said Bowa, who was so animated that manager Joe Torre said he appeared to have two heads. "Most guys that have been pitching for a while, they don't pay attention to the runner. I think he got crossed up with the signs with the catcher, too. He started and then he stopped, that's what he did."
"That was big after we messed up first and second no outs," Bowa added.
Blake didn't see it as redemption from last week's series with the Cubs, when he appealed, to no avail, that umpires check whether pitcher Ted Lilly was pitching with his foot on the rubber.
For Loney, there was redemption knowing that the team won. And there was a little irony, too: Blake said he would not have tried to distract Vasquez with less than two outs.
"You always want to win a game after something like that," Loney said.
For the D-backs, it was their eighth straight loss, seven games into a nine-game road trip. Manager A.J. Hinch had no disagreement with the balk call.
"I saw what [Vasquez] did," Hinch said. "He flinched. Both his legs buckled and he balked. It was pretty plain and simple to see."
The D-backs let the Dodgers score the final three runs of the game without an RBI.
Second baseman Kelly Johnson bobbled and then threw away a routine grounder off the bat of Andre Ethier with two outs and two in scoring position in the eighth inning. Rafael Furcal (2-for-4) and Matt Kemp (3-for-4) came around to score, tying the game at 4. Ethier was 0-for-4 in his first game back since he broke his right little finger.
Starters Chad Billingsley and Lopez each went eight innings, which was particularly surprising for Billingsley, considering how the first two innings went. The first six outs Billingsley recorded were by strikeout, and he fanned a season-high 11. But he also allowed four runs on three homers in the first two frames.
"I felt good," said Billingsley, whose breaking ball was particularly sharp. "Some fastballs, they got it up in the air and left the ballpark. Can't do anything about it, you still got to go out there and pitch your game. Everything else was going well."
Only five times in his career has Billingsley gone either eight innings or struck out 10 or more batters.
Manny Ramirez got one run back for the Dodgers on career home run No. 550 leading off the second, which made four of the first five hits in the game home runs. The Dodgers cut the lead to 4-2 on Kemp's RBI single in the third. Ramirez moved out of a tie with Frank Robinson and took sole possession of 14th place on baseball's all-time home run list.
Closer Jonathan Broxton pitched the ninth and improved to 3-0.
Billingsley was watching video when the balk was called. At first, he didn't know what happened.
"It was quite an odd ninth inning there and a way to win the game," he said. "It's a win. I'll take it."
Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.