Vasquez, Johnson Give LA a Balk-Off Win

This Memorial Day was one to forget for Kelly Johnson, Esmerling Vasquez, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson committed two errors on a single play in the 8th inning to allow two Dodger runs to tie the game before Vasquez committed a baffling balk to end the game in an ignominious 5-4 loss for the D-backs, their eighth defeat in a row.

If you had heard that Rodrigo Lopez would allow two earned runs over eight innings and that Chad Billingsley allowed three homers in his first two innings of work, you would probably assume that Lopez and the Arizona Diamondbacks emerged victorious over Billingsley and the Los Angeles Dodgers

On the other hand, if you've followed the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks closely, you might assume that the bullpen found a way to blow the game.

In either case, you couldn't have possibly predicted the exact nature of how the Dodgers would eventually prevail over the D-backs this Memorial Day. 

The holiday began with fireworks for the Diamondbacks, as Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Chris Snyder would each homer off Billingsley in the early going to give Arizona a 4-0 lead in the middle of the second inning.  A Manny Ramirez solo shot and a Matt Kemp RBI single in the bottom halves of the second and third innings brought LA to within two, but the score would remain knotted at 4-2 until the eighth inning, with both starting pitchers settling down.

In the eighth, however, Kemp's double followed a two-out single by Rafael Furcal to bring up Andre Ethier with runners on second and third.  In a similar situation earlier in May, D-backs manager A.J. Hinch elected to walk Ethier to get to Manny Ramirez.  That move backfired, as Manny would clear the bases with a double and the Dodgers would go on to win 6-3.  This time, Hinch let Lopez face Ethier, who was fresh off the disabled list, and the veteran pitcher responded by inducing a routine grounder to second base.

Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, Kelly Johnson booted that grounder, allowing Furcal to cross the plate.  Johnson was able to recover in time to possibly still have a play on Ethier at first, which would negate the Furcal run by ending the inning on a force out.  But Johnson threw too wildly for first baseman Adam LaRoche to even slow the throw down.  Kemp scored on the throwing miscue, the second error charged to Johnson on the single play.  He only had two errors all season entering the game.

The game was tied, but the inning was not over.  Hinch now had to make yet another difficult decision, with his starter having thrown 111 pitches, possibly being rattled by the error that cost him a chance at a victory, and due to face the man who had homered off him in the second inning.  Hinch let Lopez pitch to Manny, which turned out to be the right call, since Ramirez went down on strikes.

The D-backs turned to Esmerling Vasquez in the bottom of the ninth after going down relatively quietly against the dominant Jonathan Broxton.  Vasquez allowed a walk to James Loney and a single to Casey Blake right off the bat, which, set up Russell Martin for a sacrifice attempt.  The slender right-hander remained wild, and shortly after one errant pitch, Loney thought he saw third base uncovered and made a break for it.  Vasquez was able to easily throw to third baseman Augie Ojeda - who had pinch-run for Mark Reynolds in the top of the inning when Reynolds came up a little gimpy advancing to second on a wild pitch - and record a gift-wrapped out on the bases.

"I don't know what he was thinking," Dodgers manager Joe Torre told reporters after the game. "We had some good momentum going and that play just took the wind out of our sails."

Martin eventually grounded to second, and this time Johnson fielded and threw the ball to first cleanly.  Casey Blake advanced to third base on the play, representing the winning run with two outs in the inning.  With a 2-2 count to Blake DeWitt, Blake danced a bit off the third base bag, which for some reason induced Vasquez to hold the ball out in front of him after he had already begun his motion to home plate.  Third base umpire Bob Davidson called Vasquez for the balk, and the game which had once seemed so promising for the D-backs was lost.

"He flinched, both of his legs buckled, and he balked,"  Hinch said in his postgame conference.  "It was pretty plain and simple to see, so I didn't talk to anybody."

According to Stats LLC, the last time a game was won on a balk was September 9, 2008, when Taylor Buchholz of Colorado balked in Kelly Johnson, then of Atlanta.  How's that for irony?

"This team sorely needs a win, and losing this way is just excruciating," concluded Hinch.    

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