Dodgers riding high after Blake's grand slam
Third baseman's blast lifts L.A. to fourth straight win
DENVER -- While savoring their dramatic 6-2 comeback win over the Rockies Friday night, the Dodgers hung around the clubhouse to cheer on the Padres, the team they trail in the West by 11 games, which is what a Wild Card race will do.
A Casey Blake grand slam in the eighth inning off reliever Matt Belisle powered the Dodgers to their fourth consecutive win in the opener of a must-win or must-trade-Manny series with the Rockies. The Dodgers have caught Colorado once again for fourth place in the Wild Card, 4 1/2 games behind Philadelphia. They are 21-7 against the Rockies over the past two years.
After sweeping the Brewers, the Dodgers kept the momentum and beat Cy Young candidate Ubaldo Jimenez (17-5), who has lost twice to the Dodgers in games started by Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw had his first 1-2-3 first inning of the year and the only run he allowed in six innings was a homer by Todd Helton. Jonathan Broxton allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings for the win and Hong-Chih Kuo retired all four batters (two strikeouts) he faced for the save.
"There's energy, we're creating stuff, having tough at-bats," manager Joe Torre said of the factors that created the win streak. "Credit the top of the batting order."
Of course, another factor is the return of Manny Ramirez, part-time left fielder, part-time cheerleader. Friday night, he was a cheerleader. Scott Podsednik, started in his place and went 2-for-5 with a key stolen base to set up the tying run in the eighth.
Ramirez did not start hours after being claimed off waivers by the White Sox, Torre said, because he was 1-for-13 lifetime against Jimenez and because the Rockies had seven right-handed hitters in their lineup against the left-handed Kershaw. That would have set up an active night in the spacious Coors Field left field for Ramirez, who just came off the disabled list from a third leg injury.
It was the second consecutive game Ramirez didn't start and the second consecutive win, so Torre made no commitment about Ramirez's role for Saturday night's game.
"I never started to be superstitious until I started managing," he said. "It's too early to ask me now."
Now the win streak has the Dodgers back in the Wild Card race and general manager Ned Colletti has given indications that as long as the team contends, he won't break it up.
As for the rest of the top of the batting order that Torre cited, Ryan Theriot had two singles, two walks and scored twice. Andre Ethier had a pair of doubles, including the one that tied the game at 1 in the eighth inning on the 126th and last pitch by Jimenez.
"I'm a big believer in the fact that you don't take the ball away from him and have him in the position to lose and he's sitting in the dugout watching it happen," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said, explaining why he didn't relieve with lefty Joe Beimel. "I don't think that's the way you treat a guy of the caliber of Ubaldo Jimenez."
Podsednik led off the eighth with a single to center. With Theriot trying to bunt, Podsednik stole second and Jimenez walked Theriot. Ethier doubled home Podsednik to tie the game and Theriot took third. Matt Kemp grounded out, then James Loney was walked intentionally for Belisle to face Blake. Loney was 3-for-7 against Belisle, Blake 1-for-9.
"They walked James to set up the double play and put the infield back," Torre said. "The biggest thing in our favor is once the count got to 3-2, it put pressure on Belisle to throw a strike."
Blake blasted the game-winner, his second homer in as many games and fifth career grand slam, on a 3-2 fastball at the end of a difficult eight-pitch at-bat, having fouled off the previous 3-2 fastball.
"I got a piece of the first 3-2 pitch, low and away, and finally got a good one to hit," Blake said. "I knew I hit it well, deep enough to score a run and it got over his head and kept going."
"In that situation, you can't let off at all and I didn't. I just didn't execute a pitch," Belisle said. "Bad location and I got hurt in a big way. I take full responsibility for the loss with that."
Blake said he's been working with hitting coaches Jeff Pentland and Don Mattingly on keeping his hands through the middle of the swing path to avoid pulling.
"I've been a streaky hitter and to have the kind of year I'm having, it's not where I want to be," he said. "I've tried to maintain confidence and hope down the stretch I can do some things to help the team."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.