The big third baseman, who hit 18 homers last season, nine each for the Dodgers and Braves, deposited a Tim Hudson fastball deep into the right-center field seats for a welcome insurance run.
Three more runs in the ninth allowed Los Angeles to weather a two-run ninth inning that saw Joe Beimel knocked out of the box and Sammy Saito riding to the rescue to get the final out and his ninth save in nine opportunities this season and his 19th straight over two years.
But the difference in the game was Derek Lowe, who handled a Braves lineup that leads the league in two-out runs scored. Lowe gave up only a single and an unearned run in the third inning and finished his seven innings of work with a three-hitter and eight strikeouts. A log of his seven starts:
date score opp in h r-er bb so era 4-02 1-7 Milwaukee 4.0 8 6-6 5 4 13.50 4-07 4-1 SFrisco 7.0 7 1-1 2 1 5.73 4-13 9-1 SDiego 8.0 7 1-1 2 6 3.79 4-18 2-7 at Colo 4.2 8 5-4 3 2 4.56 4-24 3-5 SFrisco 7.0 8 4-3 3 4 4.40 4-29 5-4 at SDiego 6.0 8 4-4 1 3 4.62 5-5 6-3 at Atlanta 7.0 3 1-0 2 8 3.89Betemit hit for Lowe in the top of the eighth, with the Dodger front office phoning around the league looking for his replacement and hinting that a couple of the minor league kids, Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu, deserved an opportunity.
Then Betemit, who had struck out three times Friday night and left seven runners on base in a 4-0 loss, slammed his first home run of the year and the second of his career as a pinch-hitter. The homer was the first allowed by Hudson in 47 innings this season.
"I just tried to hit the ball hard," Betemit said. "I wasn't thinking about a home run there. When I saw I wasn't in the lineup, I just tried hard to keep working. If they needed me on the bench, I was going to be ready, and I stayed ready the whole game," he told the Los Angeles Daily News after the game.
The home run didn't change the fact he is still hitting only .140 and that he hit it left-handed while he has but one hit from the right side of the plate. But it might have jump-started his confidence.
It did seem to provide a lift to a Dodger offense that had scratched our a pair of runs in the fourth inning and had clung to like a Titanic survivor.
Entering the top of the eighth against Atlanta ace Tim Hudson who had never lost to the Dodgers, was 3-0 on the season with a 1.70 ERA and with Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre splitting four hits and Nomar Garciaparra collecting their fifth hit, a RBI single in the fourth, it looked like another nail-biting finish.
But with a 3-1 lead, they rattled off four hits in the ninth to score three runs, runs that would be badly needed when the Braves awakened in the last of the ninth.
Trailing 1-0 in the fourth, Furcal had started the mini-rally with a push-bunt single to shortstop, one of his three hits on the night. Pierre single and an RBI single by Nomar Garciaparra, tied the game. The second run scored on Luis Gonzalez's fielder's choice forceout.
Hudson left after eight, and the Dodgers nailed the Braves' bullpen for three runs in the ninth on four consecutive singles, two of them off former Dodgers pitcher Steve Colyer. Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and Ramon Martinez drove in runs.
The six runs were more than the Dodgers had scored the previous four games combined. Joe Beimel retired the first two Braves in the ninth, then allowed a double, an infield single and a walk to load the bases for and Little quickly called for Saito.
Saito jumped ahead 0-2 in the count, but allowed a two-run single before getting the final out on a grounder.
The Dodgers moved to 15-0 when leading after six innings and the win preserved their 1 1/2 game margin over the Giants who stopped Philadelphia 9-3. San Diego topped Florida and Arizona lost to the Phillies.
Little now has a decision to make before the third, and final game of the series, not knowing which Betemit will show up if he decides to use the 26-year-old infielder. He said after the game he won't judge Betemit on one good at-bat any more than he's judged him on 50-plus bad ones.
Score by innings Los Angeles 000 200 013-6 Atlanta 001 000 002-3 Los Angeles ab r h bi ave Furcal ss 4 1 3 0 .233 Pierre cf 4 1 2 0 .289 Garciaparra 1b 4 0 1 1 .298 Kent 2b 3 1 0 0 .308 Valdez 2b 0 0 0 0 .244 Gonzalez lf 4 0 1 1 .278 Clark pr-lf 0 1 0 0 .235 Martin c 4 1 1 1 .317 Lowe p 2 0 0 0 .182 Betemit ph 1 1 1 1 .140 Broxton p 0 0 0 0 .000 Saenz ph 1 0 0 0 .238 Beimel p 0 0 0 0 .000 Saito p 0 0 0 0 .000 Totals 36 6 11 6 Atlanta 34 3 7 2 Error- Kent (4). HR- Betemit (1). RBI- Garciaparra (20), Gonzalez (2), Betemit (7), Martin (19), Ethier (13), Martinez (6). LOB- Los Angeles 3, Atlanta 8. DP- Kent, Furcal and Garciaparra. Los Angeles in h r-er bb so era Lowe (3-3) 7.0 3 1-0 2 8 3.89 Broxton 1.0 1 0-0 1 1 1.08 Beimel 0.2 2 2-2 1 0 3.52 Saito (sv 9) 0.1 1 0-0 0 0 1.80 T- 2:51/ Att- 42.786.John to Manage-- Tommy John, who compiled a 288-231 record with a 3.34 ERA in 26 seasons and has a surgery named after him, signed a three-year contract with the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish in the Atlantic League. During his MLB career, John pitched for the Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, California Angels and Oakland A's. He is renowned for a surgery named after him. Tommy John surgery is a surgical procedure in which a ligament in the elbow is replaced with a ligament from elsewhere in the body (often from the forearm, hamstring, knee, or foot of the patient). The purpose of the surgery is to strengthen the elbow, which it did for John after Dr. Frank Jobe performed the surgery on him on Sept. 25, 1974. He needed 18 months to recover from the surgery and after missing 1975 season, he came back in 1976, which was considered miraculous at the time, and in 1977, he had a 20-7 record and was MLB's Comeback Player of the Year.
Aybar OK, With Family-- The Braves still won't say anything about the whereabouts or a possible return date for Willy Aybar, the infielder they got in the Wilson Betemit trade. He has been suspended without pay since April 15, and his agent told the Journal-Constitution that Aybar was dealing with substance-abuse issues. A Braves official said there was nothing new to report and would confirm only that the team knew Aybar was alive and well. The agent, Luis Fernandez, said Friday, "He's OK right now. He's with family. I can't say anymore." The Braves had Aybar penciled in as a utility man and third baseman in case Chipper Jones got hurt. But Aybar missed much of spring training with visa problems and a lingering finger injury he said occurred in winter ball. He began the season on the disabled list, then was suspended three days after not reporting for injury-rehab sessions one weekend. The suspension was extended indefinitely when he failed to report or call anyone after the initial suspension was to end.
Dodger Blue Notes-- Before the Saturday game, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said he is considering promoting either Andy LaRoche or Tony Abreu from Las Vegas to fill the club's hole at third base. How he is feeling today after Betemit slugged a pinch-hit homer is unknown. The league knows the Dodgers are looking for a third baseman via trade and it would obviously cost them a prized prospect if they went that route. LaRoche, long considered the club's top third-base prospect, has never really gotten untracked at Las Vegas this season. He is hitting .235 with just four doubles and three homers. Abreu, a second baseman who can play third, is, hitting .357. ...Reliever Yhency Brazoban, coming off Tommy John surgery last year, was activated and optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas today. Right-handed reliever Yhency Brazoban, fully recovered from Tommy John elbow surgery, was activated from his Minor League rehab, but then optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas because there's no room for him on the roster at this time. Outfielder Matt Kemp and starting pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo when they recovered from their injuries. ...Randy Wolf (3-3, 5.05) opposes Kyle Davies (0-1, 6.75) in the final game of the series today. The Braves, who are 12-3 against righthanders, are only 6-6 against lefties. ...Oakland put catcher/dh Mike Piazza on the 15-day disabled list because of a sprained right shoulder. He was hitting .282 with one homer and eight RBIs...