09/19/07 1:15 AM ET
Dodgers drop doubleheader to Rox
LA homers three times, but Saito allows walk-off shot in ninth
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Saito, the most reliable closer since Eric Gagne was Eric Gagne, served up a stunning two-run, walk-off blast to Todd Helton with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night for an improbable 9-8 Rockies victory and a sweep of their day/night doubleheader after a 3-1 win in the opener.
"The media, the fans, even the players all look at Saito like he's Superman," said teammate Roberto Hernandez, who has 326 career saves. "You don't expect somebody to throw Kryptonite at you."
They're also throwing hard numbers at the Dodgers. Before the opener, manager Grady Little predicted his club needed to finish out the slate 10-3 to reach the playoffs.
His updated prediction afterward, with 11 games remaining?
"We're in position where we have to run the table," Little said. "We have to win every game we play and depend on other people. It's not a good feeling. That was a tough one right there."
So, are the Dodgers out of it?
"Not mathematically," he said. "But that day we spent at Coors Field, that hurt."
The Dodgers fell into a tie with the Rockies, 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card and 5 1/2 games out of the division lead. Colorado has never finished ahead of Los Angeles.
"There's no margin for error anymore," said Luis Gonzalez, who hit one of the Dodgers' three homers in the second game. "The teams ahead of us keep winning."
While the opening loss followed a pattern typical of many Dodgers defeats this year -- poor run support undermining a solid start from Chad Billingsley -- the nightcap was like nothing the Dodgers have seen.
With shortstop Rafael Furcal shelved by a stiff lower back that forced him from the opener after seven innings, the Dodgers sent savior David Wells to the mound seeking a split. They gave him leads of 3-0 and 5-3, and he gave up both, although he was in position to win until the final pitch.
That was thanks to the Dodgers' offense, which featured home runs from Gonzalez, James Loney and Russell Martin, the latter not even entering the game until the seventh inning. His solo shot in the eighth came two innings after a two-run tie-breaking triple from Tony Abreu, and the three-run lead was turned over to Jonathan Broxton in the eighth inning, with Saito tuning up for the save.
"History shows that when those two guys come in, the job gets done pretty easily," said Martin. "But Colorado is a tough team. You have to make pitches."
Once the most reliable setup man in the league, Broxton hasn't lost his velocity, but he's losing baseballs into the seats. He went more than a year without allowing a home run, but the two-run shot Ryan Spilborghs slugged off him in the eighth inning was the fifth homer he's allowed in the past month (all on the road) and set the stage for the fatal ninth.
With a one-run lead on came Saito, who converted his previous 16 save opportunities and all but three this season. He retired Omar Quintanilla on a comebacker, got Troy Tulowitzki on a called third strike and was one out from his 40th save when MVP candidate Matt Holliday, who homered earlier off Wells, punched a single to right field.
That brought up Helton. He fouled off a 1-1 fastball and Martin called a slider, which hung enough over the inner part of the plate. Helton, 1-for-5 previously against Saito, crushed it.
"I didn't have to watch it," said Little. "It was gone as soon as it was hit. The players battled and got in a position with a three-run lead going into the eighth and ninth innings, and got the ball to the two most dependable people in this league and it just didn't happen tonight."
At the end of his tour around the bases, Helton flipped his helmet away before launching his body on an arcing dive -- with plenty of hang time -- into the welcoming party that had the plate surrounded, as if the Rockies had done something grander than move into a tie for third place.
"I'm a guy that relies on my slider and I went with my strength," said Saito. "He hit the pitch I threw. It was my mistake. From the beginning of the month, we knew this was an uphill battle and that hasn't changed. If we get wrapped up in the numbers game and wins and losses, we won't concentrate on the game between the lines."
In the opener, Billingsley (11-5) was outdueled by Jeff Francis (16-8), who struck out 10. The only Dodgers run came on Olmedo Saenz's pinch-hit homer while batting in the seventh inning for Furcal. The loss snapped Billingsley's personal four-game win streak.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.