Blake Takes His Turn Playing Hero

If one had been told last year that Manny Ramirez would be suspended and that Andre Ethier would be locked in a death-spiral of a slump come May, one might have sold his Dodger stock and bought, say, Morgan-Stanley or something. But now after 41 games, they are working things out extremely well on a hero-of-the-day basis and third baseman Casey Blake took his turn last night.

Blake launched a game-winnng, three-run homer in the sixth as the Dodgers took a 5-3 decision.

One fan described the 2009 Dodgers as a wily cat that plays with the mouse, letting it almost escape a time or two until it gets bored and then eats it.

Thus it was in the second game of the Mets series. L.A. took an early lead, lost it and then when it seemed like things might not work out, Casey Blake, the forgotten man, swatted three home run that turned a 3-2 New York lead into their MLB-high 28th win.

Then, too, there is Chad Billingsley, the 24-year-old ace of the staff, who struggled early in the game but finally tinkered with the machinery and got all 16 cylinders working to craft his sixth win against a single loss.

He also added a pair of hits, including an RBI double in the fourth inning and picked off a Mets baserunner in addition.

He finished his evening with seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings, allowing three runs, four hits and five walks to help extend the Dodgers' division lead over San Francisco to 7 1/2 games.

His mechanics a mess over the first three innings and he made an astounding 77 pitches, showing his frustration when calls didn't go his way. were out of whack and he seemed to let emotions get the better of him when some calls from plate umpire Dale Scott didn't go his way.

He gave up a two-run single to New York pitcher John Maine in the second inning and after the inning ended, he into the clubhouse to get a dry shirt and to take a walk.

"I just had to clear my head," he said. "I looked up at the pitch count and decided I had to somehow get to the fifth inning. I never expected to get to the seventh, but I kept us in the game."

Billingsley cruised through the next three on only 28 pitches. There is no indication that he burned the shirt he started with after the game but he would have had good reason to do just that.

The bullpen performed majestically.

Billingsley retired the first Met in the seventh inning, then issued a walk and manager Joe Torre turned to rookie left-hander Brent Leach, who has apparently grown into the situational-lefthander slot recently. He struck out Angel Pagan, allowed a single to Jose Reyes and turned the ball over the Ronald Belisario who fanned former Dodger Gary Sheffield to end the inning.

Cory Wade allowed a pair of baserunners, then got another former Dodger, Ramon Martinez, to hit into a double play before Jonathan Broxton (save 10) closed out the game with a scoreless inning.

On a night that the meat of the Dodgers order wasn't exactly pounding the ball, only Blake and Billingsley, batting #8 and #9, were the only ones with more than a single hit and between them they knocked in four of the five runs.

Blake, who sat out a coupled of days with a tight hamstring, seemed to have benefitted from the time off.

Torre and general manager Ned Colletti have repeatedly credited Blake with being the "glue" that held the team together during last season's pennant surge.

"Sometimes I think people are just saying those things, so I wouldn't feel bad when it seemed like only one guy was traded here," Blake said. "I need to have a little more confidence in myself and believe some of the things said."

Since Ramirez was suspended, Blake is 16-for-38 (.421) with four homers, 11 RBIs and nine runs scored. His nine homers on the season lead the club and put him on pace to finish with 35. Four of them have either tied the game or given the Dodgers a lead.

If nothing else, this Dodgers team is a creature of habit. They have scored a Major League-leading 43 first-inning runs, putting something on the scoreboard in the first inning in 23 of their 41 games, and they 18-5 in those contests. The Dodgers are outscoring the opposition 43-14 in the first inning. They have allowed just one first-inning run in its last 16 games, which came Thursday at Philadelphia.

Juan Pierre, who if he hasn't made the fans forget Ramirez, he has at least earned their admiration, reached base in the first inning, Rafael Furcal walked and Orlando Hudson extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a stinging single to center to five L.A. a 1-0 lead.

Mets pitcher John Maine put his team in front with a two-run singled in the third and David Wright had an RBI single in the third to give New York a 3-1 lead.

The Dodgers loaded the bases in the third when Billingsley and Pierre walked and Furcal singled but Hudson, Andre Ethier and Russ Martin couldn't get the ball out of the infield.

In the fourth, Billingsley took matters into his own hands. Blake singled with two out and Chad smacked a long double to center field to pull L.A. within a single run.

In the big sixth, James Loney singled with one out, Kemp dropped a single into right field and Blake drove a shot deep into the left field pavilion to end the scoring for the night. Furcal hit into a double play to end the inning and the next six Dodgers hitters went out in order.

Torre was lavish in his praise of Billingsley.

"The second inning sort of unraveled him a little bit, where he just got to the point where he started trying to overthrow the ball and he really got out of rhythm," Torre said. "If you would have told me he was going to go into the seventh inning after that second inning, I'd say you were crazy. But this kid is a battler. The last few innings he was in there, he slowed down the tempo and was more able to command his pitches."

And Blake seemed as pleased of his bobblehead night as he was of the game-winning home run. "I was in Cleveland for six years and never had a bobblehead. It's an honor," Blake said. "I feel like I'm appreciated here."

Hudson Buised Shoulder
The only glitch in the game when Orlando Hudson suffered a bruised left shoulder trying to make a diving catch in the seventh inning, but the injury is not considered serious and he is listed as day to day.

"He may miss a day or two," manager Joe Torre said. "It's not serious, and we're thankful for that." Hudson was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who said no further tests are planned.

Hudson suffered the injury on a soft line single by Jose Reyes with two outs in the seventh inning. Hudson turned his back to home and raced into right field before lunging for the ball and landing on his left shoulder. He was removed from the game and replaced by Juan Castro.

Hudson, a multiple Gold Glove winner, has played in all 41 of the Dodgers' games this year and his batting .356 during the his 10-game hitting streak and also has hit safely in 19 of his past 20.

Ethier Can't Break His Slump
Andre Ethier was 0-for-4 in the game and is batting .118 (6-for-51) with 14 strikeouts. His batting average peaked at .327 earlier in the season but has dipped to .257.

"He'll fight through it," Torre said. "Right now it looks like he's feeling for it. It certainly isn't for a lack of work. He's working at it. It's like everybody else, if you haven't been doing it, then you're not as sure about it. He'll get a couple of hits and hopefully it will fall right back into place for him."

Ethier's last multi-hit game was May 5. Two days later, Manny Ramirez was slapped with a 50-game suspension for taking an illegal substance and the lineup was changed, Ethier hitting in the third spot but after three games, Hudson moved to third and Ethier went back to #4.

Some assumed that Ramirez's departure had something to do with Ethier's struggles but Torre disagrees. "Well, the season is about streaks, good ones and bad ones," Torre said. "I can see if Manny was hitting behind him. That would be more of a realistic question as opposed to him hitting behind Manny. I think it's just a flat spot that he's going through right now. ...Hopefully that's all it is."

Weaver Replaces Stults
Jeff Weaver learned was notified he would be the Dodgers starting pitcher at tonight as they go for a series sweep of the Mets.

"That's the life of a swingman," said Weaver, who gets the substitute start in place of Eric Stults, who has a sprained left thumb. "They just told me. I'll be ready to go."

"This is the best of both worlds," Weaver said. "Relieving, you know you might get into any game any day. But at the same time, I'm very familiar with starting. This role is fun, it keeps me on my toes."

Weaver (2-1, 3.38 ERA) replaced fifth starter James McDonald for two starts, then moved back to the bullpen when Eric Milton was called up to start . Weaver is 2-1 with a 6.10 ERA lifetime against the Mets.

RHP Livan Hernandez (3-1, 5.59 ERA) gets the ball for the Mets. He allowed five runs in over five innings, striking out four and walking none against the Giants in his last start. Pitching deep into games has become a challenge for Hernandez, considering manager Jerry Manuels preference to prevent the soft-throwing right-hander from facing batters more than twice in a game. Regardless, Hernandez will attempt to do so against the Dodgers, a team he has beaten only nine times in 28 career starts.

  Score by Innings
New York	021 000 000-3
Los Angeles	100 103 00x-5

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Pierre lf	3  1  1  0  .400
Furcal ss	3  0  1  0  .239
Hudson 2b	3  0  1  1  .341
 Castro 2b	1  0  0  0  .391
Ethier rf	4  0  0  0  .257
Martin c	4  0  0  0  .264
Loney 1b	4  1  1  0  .273
Kemp cf        	4  1  1  0  .276
Blake 3b	4  2  2  3  .283
Billingsley p	2  0  2  1  .250
 Leach p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Belisario p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Wade p        	0  0  0  0  .000
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000
  Totals  	32 5 9 5
  New York	30 3 6 3

  Error- Furcal (7). 2B- Billingsley (1).
HR- Blake (9). RBI- Hudson (27), Billingsley 
(2). Blake 3 (26). LOB- Dodgers 6, Mets 6. 
DP- Castro and Loney.

 Los Angeles	   in  h r-er bb so  era
Billingsley (6-1) 6.1  4  3-3  5  7  2.51
Leach        	  0.1  1  0-0  0  1  7.36
Belisario	  0.1  0  0-0  1  0  2.74
Wade        	  1.0  1  0-0  1  0  4.15
Broxton (sv 10)	  1.0  0  0-0  0  1  1.35
  T- 2:58. Att- 37,857.   
Dodger Blue Notes -- Billingsley is one of only four pitchers in the Major Leagues with at least six wins. The others are Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke and Mark Buehrle. ...Each of Billingsley's nine starts are quality starts. ...Blake has eight RBIs in his past five games and 11 in his last 10 games. ...Shortstop Rafael Furcal committed a throwing error on Tuesday, his seventh error of the season. ...Through 40 games in 2008, the Dodgers were 21-19 and in second place in the National League West Division, 4.5 games behind Arizona (26-15). The Dodgers are off to their best 40-game start since 1983, when they had a 29-11 record through May 25. ...The Dodgers have scored a National League-best 230 runs, and they rank second in the Majors to only Toronto's 225.  The Dodgers, who are a Major League-best 15-3 at home, have scored 114 runs in 18 contests at Dodger Stadium, an average of 6.3 per game. ...Los Angeles leads the NL with a .302 home batting average (199-for-658). ...Juan Pierre has started in left field in each of the last 12 games since Ramirez was suspended on May 7. In those 12 games, Pierre is batting .429 (21-for-49) with seven doubles, nine RBI, six steals, 13 runs scored, seven walks, and a .527 on-base percentage.  ...Pierre ranks fourth in the Majors in on-base percentage during that time, trailing David Wright (.574), Russell Martin (.548), and Joe Mauer (.545). .. The Padres designated RHP Duaner Sanchez for assignment and he Cardinals signed LHP Tom Wilson to a minor league contract...Dodgers Chief Executive Officer and DodgersWIN creator Jamie McCourt will give the keynote address at California State University, Dominguez Hills' graduation commencement ceremony tomorrow.