"He had a setback," Torre said after the Dodgers' 7-6 win in Houston on Tuesday. "Tomorrow, we'll know more. Obviously, it's not good news."
The entire game was an emotional rollercoaster. The Dodgers built a 6-1 lead -- three times as many runs as they had scored in their previous three games -- behind rookie Clayton Kershaw who was pitching the game of his young Major League life. He left the game with two out in the sixth and two Astros on base.
Brian Falkenborg served up a three-run home run on his third pitch in relief to cut the lead to 6-4. An inning later, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton combined to let Houston off the mat and tie the game on a double that Delwyn Young came within millimeters of catching in front of the outfield wall.
All things considered, this young team could have folded their tent and chalked it up to another frustrating loss in a season of many frustrating losses.
But Joe Beimel and Chan Ho Park (4-2) wouldn't let that happen, shutting off the hard-hitting Astros long enough for old pro Jeff Kent to drive a two-out home run in the top of the 11th and Takashi Saito nailed it down with is 13th save.
It was just another win. It could have been the turning point in the season. Another loss, another chance to close on the struggling Diamondbacks, could have been devastating.
Young Kershaw, who had the victory in hand only to see it melt away, is seemingly wise beyond his years. He spoke after the game, not of the loss of his first victory but the effect a loss might have had on the team. "I'm not really sure how this team would have reacted to being in control of a game like that and losing it," he said. "It took everything we had to win it. It took every single hit."
Kershaw started the game as if he wouldn't be around long enough to watch the second inning. He served up three hits and a run immediately after Russell Martin's ninth home run in the top of the inning gave L.A. a 2-0 margin.
James Loney singled in a run in the third, Matt Kemp doubled in a run in the fourth, Kent doubled in a run in the fifth and Martin collected his third RBI of the game in the sixth and the punchless Dodgers had punched out a 6-1 lead.
In the meantime, Kershaw, who had allowed three hits in the first inning, allowed a walk in the second, a single in the third and fourth and then retired six Astros in succession.
He opened the sixth inning by walking Lance Berkman but fanned Carlos Lee. Miguel Tejada singled to center but he handled threw out Mike Loretta and hit the 90-pitch mark when manager Joe Torre came out to get him.
Somehow that turned the game around in an instant. Reliever Brian Falkenborg, who has worked three scoreless innings after being called up from Las Vegas, served up an opposite-field home run to Ty Wiggington that just cleared the leaping Andre Ethier and the right field wall, and Houston had shouldered right back into the game.
Kershaw watched his win disappear as Hong-Chih Kuo retired one batter and walked another in the seventh. Jonathan Broxton also allowed a walk before Carlos Lee smacked a drive to left field that Delwyn Young nearly caught against the out-of-town scoreboard in left field. The ball trickled out of his glove and two runs scored to tie the game. Broxton added a scoreless eighth, Joe Biemel and Chan Ho Park combined for a scoreless ninth and Park got Berkman to end the inning with two on and two out, then allowed nothing in the 10th. After Kent's dramatic home run off former Dodgers minor leaguer Wes Wright in the 11th, Saito make quick work of the Astros.
They had snatched back a huge win that had seemingly been lost and avoided another long night of wondering what might have been.
"It would have been tough," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. "But we didn't lose, so it doesn't really matter."
Torre pointed out how big the comeback was. "It was hugely important to win that game after we failed to protect a five-run lead. It would have been devastating to lose."
But, at least for this time they didn't and the second-place Dodgers (37-44) moved closer to Arizona in the National League West.
"Sometimes it takes the big gun to step up, and our big gun stepped up big time," said Russell Martin. "Jeff's been swinging the bat well lately. He can carry a team, he's done it in the past. We can feed off what he's doing."
Kent put it in perspective when asked how important the victory was. "We need hundreds of wins. One in particular is not more important than another," he said. "As the game wore on," said Kent, "you could see more intensity. It reminds me of the days when I had that too."
Kent, at age 40, was the only player in the Dodgers starting lineup older than 28. With 16 years of Major League service, he was the only player in the lineup with at least two full years of service when this year started. Four of the starters were rookies. Kent was a rookie in 1992, when Kershaw was 4 years old.
With Hiroki Kuroda returning to the starting rotation Wednesday and Brad Penny likely rejoining on Saturday, Torre conceded Kershaw's next assignment is unclear, a situation further muddled by Eric Stults, who flew home after the game to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.
Kershaw said this wasn't the time to worry about his next start. Torre said Kershaw was "a lot better, but he got a little excited at the end and was trying to overthrow it. I'm just sorry we couldn't get him the win."
Score by Innings Dodgers 201 111 000 01-7 Houston 100 003 200 00-6 Dodgers ab r h bi ave Kemp cf 4 0 1 1 .283 Young lf 5 1 0 0 .271 Berroa ss 0 0 0 0 .183 Martin c 5 3 3 3 .312 Kent 2b 4 1 2 2 .261 Saito p 0 0 0 0 .000 Loney 1b 6 0 2 1 .303 LaRoche 3b 3 0 0 0 .200 Kuo p 0 0 0 0 .268 Broxton p 0 0 0 0 .000 Sweeney ph 1 0 0 0 .095 Beimel p 0 0 0 0 .000 Park p 0 0 0 0 .000 Repko ph-lf 1 0 0 0 .000 Ethier rf 5 1 1 0 .269 Maza ss-2b 4 1 1 0 .250 Kershaw p 1 0 0 0 .000 Falkenborg p 0 0 0 0 .000 De Witt 3b 2 0 0 0 .261 Totals 41 7 10 7 Houston 42 6 10 6 2B- Martin (15), Kemp (19), Kent (12), Maza (1). HRT- Martin (9), Kent (9). RBI- Martin 3 (40), Loney (42), Kemp (44), Kent 2 (36). S- Kershaw 2. LOB- Dodgers 11, Houston 7. SB- Martin (8), Kemp (17). DP- Maza, Kent and Loney. Dodgers in h r-er bb so era Kershaw 5.2 6 3-3 2 4 4.42 Falkenborg 0.1 0 0-0 0 0 2.70 Kuo 0.1 0 1-1 1 1 1.94 Broxton 1.2 1 1-1 1 1 3.57 Beimel 0.2 0 0-0 0 0 1.05 Park (4-2) 1.1 2 0-0 0 0 .245 Saito (sv 13) 1.0 0 0-0 0 1 2.34 T- 3:56. Att- 31,914.Good Bye June and Good Riddance
The Dodgers were happy that they were out of the month of June after recording an 11-16 record. It was the fewest wins in a month since they won 9 (and lost 17) in July of 2006. June has been unkind to the club for the fifth straight year. Los Angeles went 14-14 in June 2007, 11-15 in 2006, 11-16 in 2005, and 12-14 in 2004. They haven't had a had a winning since 2003, when they went 14-11. Despite all that, the Dodgers have posted above-.500 records going into the All-Star Break in four of the last five years, including a 49-40 mark last year. The lone season with a sub-.500 record at the Break during that time was 2005, when Los Angeles was 40-48.
A look at the club's offensive and pitching leaders for June:
Average James Loney .362 Doubles James Loney 8 Home Runs Matt Kemp 4 Russell Martin 4 RBI Matt Kemp 14 Russell Martin 14 Wins Chad Billingsley 3 Derek Lowe 3 ERA Derek Lowe 2.81 Strikeouts Derek Lowe 33Loney led the National League with his .362 average (34-for-94) in June. The last Dodger to lead the NL in hitting in a calendar month was Jeff Kent, who hit .447 (34-for-76) in 20 games in July 2007. Lowe, meanwhile, ranked eighth in the NL with his 2.81 ERA and seventh with his 33 strikeouts.
Although the bullpen allowed three runs over the final 5.1 innings, they still lead the National League in earned run average with a uThe Dodgers led the National League in June with a 3.35 ERA (92 ER/244.1 IP), trailing only the Oakland Athletics (3.24) and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (3.29) for the Major League lead. The pitching staff also led the Majors with 235 strikeouts.
Dodger Blue Notes-- After 81 games last year, the Dodgers were in third place despite a 45-36 record. This year, they are in second place in the NL West with a 38-44 mark. ...Milwaukee, Eric Gagne returned Monday after a six-week stint on the disabled list and manager Ned Yost announced that he won't resume closing. Mark Hendrickson was 7-2 with a 4.14 ERA through 11 starts with Florida, but after getting knocked around last night he's now 0-5 with a 9.79 ERA over his last seven outings . ...Today, Thursday and Friday, the Hollywood Bowl will pay tribute to the Dodgers with special shows commemorating the team's 50th anniversary in Los Angeles. Tonight there will be a special performance by the L.A. Philharmonic, and guest appearances by Randy Newman and several Dodger legends, including Vin Scully and Tommy Lasorda.