Billingsley strong, but takes hard-luck loss
Dodgers held scoreless until Ethier's ninth-inning homer
SAN FRANCISCO -- Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are not Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. But they're pretty much an untouchable rotation starting point for a Dodgers roster that figures to undergo a drastic makeover this winter.
Kershaw's first shutout Tuesday night was a tough act for Billingsley to follow Wednesday night, when the Dodgers waited until they were down to their last out to avoid a shutout, losing to the Giants, 2-1, despite Andre Ethier's two-out homer in the ninth.
Meanwhile, Billingsley pitched out of three jams before a seventh-inning run scored on Mike Fontenot's two-out, broken-bat RBI bloop single. The Giants added what proved to be the winning insurance run in the eighth off the Dodgers bullpen.
Billingsley struck out seven in seven innings, his ERA now 3.55.
"Right now, he's the guy you allow to decide the game, that's how much trust he has at this point," manager Joe Torre said of Billingsley, who is 11-10 this year, with the Dodgers scoring a total of four runs in his last five losses. "[With Kershaw] it's a good tandem of youth and ability. Clubs will have to deal with that one-two punch, not any question."
Ted Lilly said the Kershaw/Billingsley duo reminds him of the Oakland A's staff in 2003-04.
"Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson," he said. "They were pretty young, maybe not as young as these guys, but they were good too."
Billingsley said the two young starters try to outdo each other "and just try to give the team a chance to win every time either of us pitch.
"We're in a groove, like a friendly competition, outdueling the other person," Billingsley said. "I knew it would be a tough day after the way Kershaw threw last night."
Billingsley even did what he could at the plate, singling down the right-field line in the third inning for one of the Dodgers' four hits. They had only one hit in Tuesday night's win and have scored fewer than three runs in half (29 of 58) of their games since the All-Star break.
"My biggest surprise, leaving Spring Training I thought our strong suit would be the offense," said Torre. "We didn't know where the pitching would wind up. We didn't have a fifth starter, the bullpen was short, but one thing I took for granted was that we'd be productive.
"In the first half, we were third or fourth in runs scored, but the second half was a complete reversal. We ended the first half in good shape, but the second half we never got any traction."
That was the case against Matt Cain (12-10), who allowed three hits and no walks over seven scoreless innings as the Giants pulled back to within one-half game of first-place San Diego.
"If you're going to get this done you're going to beat good pitching, especially in our division," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "It's pitching-rich and the Dodgers have outstanding pitching, [as does] San Diego, and you've got to find a way to beat those guys."
Billingsley pitched out of three jams before the Giants finally scored in the bottom of the seventh. Travis Ishikawa, batting for Cain with one out, doubled, took third on a wild pitch that Billingsley intentionally bounced and scored when Fontenot looped a fastball off his fists over the head of second baseman Ryan Theriot.
"He just fought off the pitch," Billingsley said of Fontenot.
Billingsley escaped a precarious jam in the first inning. Rafael Furcal saved a run with a diving stop of Juan Uribe's infield single that loaded the bases, then Billingsley struck out Pablo Sandoval on an 0-2 slider in the dirt.
The Dodgers defense continued to help Billingsley. In the bottom of the fourth, Ethier made a sliding catch at the right-field foul line after a long run to retire Buster Posey's bid for a leadoff double. And in the fifth, with two on and two out, left fielder Jay Gibbons made a sliding catch on the warning track in left-center to flag down Fontenot's drive that might have scored two runs.
Theriot was lucky he was still in the game. He ended the previous inning getting thrown out by Cain on a bunt attempt and probably deserved to be tossed for arguing with, and finger-pointing at, first-base umpire Marty Foster, who showed more restraint than he did last month when he quickly ejected Ronald Belisario in Colorado.
George Sherrill relieved Billingsley and was greeted by Aubrey Huff's double and Posey was walked intentionally. Kenley Jansen got Uribe on a flyout before a wild pitch put Huff at third, then Sandoval grounded to Theriot, whose throw home was late for Huff.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.