04/13/09 7:20 PM ET
Billingsley, cycle fuel Dodgers' win
Starter fans 11 in home opener; Hudson accomplishes rare feat
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
There were more milestones than Scully marking his 60th season at the microphone or Johnson still trying to hang on at age 45. There was Orlando Hudson becoming the first Dodger to hit for the cycle since Wes Parker in 1970, while Andre Ethier slugged a pair of homers with four RBIs in an 11-1 rout of the Giants in front of a Dodger Stadium-record 57,099.
Not since scoring 12 runs in 1972 have the Dodgers done this well in a home opener, chasing Johnson in a six-run fourth inning that was more than enough for Billingsley. He scattered five hits in seven innings and struck out 11, including the last five batters he faced and six of the last seven. It was an even better performance than last week's win in San Diego when he allowed two runs in six innings.
"I don't think the cycle was the marquee," said Ethier. "It was Chad, the way he pitched."
While almost every interview of Billingsley this year at some point digs up the playoff debacle against Philadelphia or the presumed weakness of the Dodgers' rotation, Billingsley just bites his tongue and pitches like an ace.
"That's in the past," Billingsley said when asked if his first start at home since the National League Championship Series loss was more meaningful. "Yeah, I keep getting asked, but it's all right. I don't have to be proving things."
And what about a rotation that doesn't seem to have an ace after letting Derek Lowe and Brad Penny leave (never mind that Billingsley led the staff with 16 wins last year)?
"I'm not too worried about it," he said. "I take the ball every fifth day and try to give the team a chance to win. We've got a good staff and we're capable of doing a lot of good things."
The only run he allowed came in the fourth inning, when Bengie Molina's leadoff double was followed two outs later by Travis Ishikawa's RBI single. Billingsley didn't allow another Giant past first base. He made 106 pitches and matched Randy Wolf's seven-inning start Sunday.
"I don't know that he's pitching to prove anything," said Russell Martin, who has caught Billingsley since their Minor League days, "but I definitely wouldn't want to be remembered for a bad outing I had. The playoffs are always magnified. It's only a start or two, and if you don't do good, you live with it. But he's an incredible pitcher and he keeps getting better. That's the scary part."
Martin said Billingsley is learning to change speeds with the same pitches, rather than throwing each pitch at the same speed, the result being more swings and misses. In his last seven regular-season starts, Billingsley is 6-0 with a 2.93 ERA. He's 4-0 lifetime against the Giants, while Johnson was losing in Dodger Stadium for the first time in his career after seven wins.
While Billingsley had the Giants flailing, Hudson had the Dodgers publicity team flipping through the record book, which showed Hudson not only had the first Dodgers cycle since Parker's in New York on May 7, 1970 (Parker's triple came in the 10th inning), but the first for a Dodger in Dodger Stadium. It was the first Dodgers nine-inning cycle since Gil Hodges in 1949.
It came with a first-inning infield single in front of the plate, a third-inning home run to the left-field box seats, a fourth-inning double to left and a sixth-inning triple into the right-field corner. Hudson struck out in the seventh inning in his last at-bat.
"This is special," said Hudson. "This means more than the All-Star Game, more than the Gold Glove."
Hudson gave the Dodgers a third-inning lead with a two-out solo home run off his former Arizona teammate Johnson. After the Giants tied the game the next inning, the Dodgers knocked out Johnson the second time through the lineup by sending 11 hitters to the plate in a fourth inning that included the first of Ethier's home runs, two-run singles by Rafael Furcal and Martin and an RBI double by Hudson. The key play might have been Casey Blake's hit-and-run infield single that avoided a double play.
"We did what we needed to do and had to do for the fans, a victory over our rival, the Giants, and showed them what we've got," said Ethier.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.