Successful Children's Crusade Continues

Chad Billingsley was all that had been advertised, working into the sixth inning and allowing only a pair of runs, but it was a four-run seventh inning that the Dodgers needed to avoid a sweep in San Diego Thursday afternoon and move them into first in the armpit-to-elbow N.L. West with a 7-3 win. Billingsley was one of five rookies who averaged 22.4 years in the starting lineup.

  N.L. West
                w-l   pct  gb
Los Angeles    36-30 .545   -- 
Arizona        35-31 .530  1.0 
Colorado       34-32 .515  2.0 
San Diego      34-32 .515  2.0
San Francisco  34-32 .515  2.0
Often, a highly publicized match-up fizzles out and an unexpected pitcher/batter steals the spotlight when the dust finally settles.

And to some degree, that is what happened yesterday when the long-awaited debut of Chad Billingsley came to be. He pitched with an air of confidence beyond his years. displaying a 96 mph fastball and a crisp curve but left without a win when the stuttering Dodger offense couldn't manage to get him enough runs.

Instead it was a single by rookie Russell Martin, a taylor-made hit and run play by veteran Ramon Martinez, a soft single by a struggling Rafael Furcal and a reminder of just how much Jeff Kent means to the team with a two-run shot into the left field corner. Pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz added a sac fly and the Dodgers led 6-2.

The four-run mini-explosion scored more runs than the club managed in the first two losses to the Padres in the series and avoided the first sweep of the season.

He is the youngest starting pitcher to debut for the Dodgers since Edwin Jackson, who allowed set impossible standards in the mind of many with six scoreless innings against Randy Johnson in Arizona on his 20th birthday.

As has been his custom, Billingsley was remarkably successful but threw too many pitches (97) before leaving with one out in the sixth. A 27-pitch first inning pretty much determined that he wouldn't be around in the seventh or eighth.

But then he retired the side in order from the second through the fourth and then ran into another 27-pitch problem in the fifth, leaving after allowing a one-out single in the sixth and the game tied 2-2.

He didn't even sound like a veteran in the post-season interviews, saying all the right things: "I was happy with the performance. I kept the guys in the game, and we came out with a win. That's all I care about."

Four Dodgers relievers stepped in at that point, and only winning pitcher Jonathan Broxton allow a run, coming on a Vinny Castilla pinch-homer in the seventh. If Castilla played against only the Dodgers, the Hall of Fame would have a bust of him already displayed in Cooperstown.

The last nine San Diego hitters were retired as Broxton, Danys Baez and Takashi Saito smothered the Padre batters.

The Dodgers (36-30), who haven't lost three games in a row since early May, stuffed the third-place Padres two games along with Colorado, San Diego and San Francisco.

Manager Grady Little was pleased, saying "We've been patient, looking for the right opportunity to give him a chance, and I think now is the time. We look forward to seeing him pitch every five days."

Translated loosely, that meant "Miss Jones, cancel the rest the rest of the auditions, I think we have found our man."

Coming up: Brett Tomko (5-5, 5.20), pitching on an extra day's rest, opens a three-game Interleague series in Oakland against Barry Zito (7-3, 3.53) tonight.
  Score by innings
Dodgers   000 200 401-7
San Diego 000 020 000-2

  Dodgers      ab r h bi ave
Furcal, SS      5 1 2 1 .251
Cruz, RF        4 0 0 0 .234
Garciaparra, 1B 4 1 0 0 .351
Kent, 2B        5 2 3 2 .268
Kemp, CF-LF     3 1 1 1 .375
Ethier, LF      2 0 0 0 .293
  Saenz, PH     0 0 0 1 .299
  Lofton, CF    1 0 0 0 .313
Aybar, 3B       3 0 0 0 .293
Broxton, P      1 0 0 0 .000
  Baez, P       0 0 0 0 .000
  Saito, P      0 0 0 0 .000
Martin, C       3 1 1 0 .297
Billingsley, P  1 0 1 2  1.000
  Beimel, P     0 0 0 0 .000
  Martinez, 3B  2 1 1 0 .346
    Totals     34 7 9 7
    San Diego  34 3 7 3

  Error- Aybar. 2B: Kent (10). 
3B: Kent (1). RBI: Billingsley 2 (2), 
Furcal (22), Kent 2 (34), Saenz 
(27), Kemp (17). SF: Saenz; Kemp. 
LOB: Los Angeles 8, San Diego 6. DP: 
(Kent, Furcal and Garciaparra).

  Dodgers        in h r-er bb so era
Billingsley     5.1 6  2-2  2 3 3.38
Beimel          0.1 0  0-0  0 0 4.71
Broxton (W,1-0) 1.1 1  1-1  0 1 3.04
Baez            1.0 0  0-0  0 2 3.44
Saito           1.0 0  0-0  0 1 1.93
  WP: Billingsley. T: 3:10. Att: 33,382.
Dodger Blue Notes-- Although he was 0-for-4, Nomar Garciaparra reached the required times at bat (3.1 ab per game played by the team) to be listed in the league leaders and his .351 mark put him in second place. He is just behind St. Louis' Scott Rolen (.355) and just ahead of Colorado's Matt Holliday (.345). …The Dodgers announced that they will use Olmedo Saenz as the designated hitter in the first game of the series in Oakland against left-hander Barry Zito. The right-handed-hitting Saenz is batting .478 (11 for 23) against lefties, but just .243 (18 for 74) against righties. …Dioner Navarro may has become the Dodgers' version of Wally Pipp and will be officially optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas when his rehabilitation assignment ends there, Little said, officially stating that Russell Martin has played well enough to take over the starting catching job. Navarro isn't as good at Martin in the hitting or throwing out base stealers department and probably will be traded at some point. …Matt Kemp was again and the Los Angles Daily News noted that according to David Vincent, SABR's home-run historian, Kemp is one of five Major Leaguers to hit seven homers in his first 18 days in the Major Leagues, the most recent being Alvin Davis of Seattle in 1984. …Willy Aybar demonstrated the proper way to react when sent to the minor leagues. After a .326 average over the final month of 2004 season, he hit .216 during spring training and was bypassed for veterans Ramon Martinez and Oscar Robles. He returned to Las Vegas and was leading the league with a .358 average on May 10th when he was recalled. First baseman James Loney, called to The Show when Nomar Garciaparra was injured before the season started, didn't hit well and was returned to AAA where he is hitting in the .360s and awaiting another chance. The Dodgers are hoping for a like performance by the wondrously talented but still somewhat immature Joel Guzman. …Bob Schenz, longtime director of the Stadium Club at Dodger Stadium and transportation for the Dodgers, passed away on Monday. Schenz worked for the club from 1961 to 1988.