Although they own baseball’s best record, the Los Angeles Dodgers were going through a bit of a funk and in need of an inspiring victory.
The Dodgers hope to carry some momentum from a thrilling comeback victory in the series opener into Friday night against the Atlanta Braves.
Los Angeles (67-42) has a comfortable 6 1/2-game lead over second-place San Francisco in the NL West, but entered Thursday’s series opener with the Braves (55-54) just 4-7 since July 26.
Trailing 4-2 in the ninth inning Thursday, Los Angeles appeared to be on its way to another frustrating loss, but Ethier quickly changed that with one swing.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit to play consistently and get back on track,” said Ethier, who raised his team-leading RBI total to 72 - five shy of his career best set last season.
Thursday’s late-inning heroics was nothing new for Ethier, who leads the majors with five walkoff hits.
“He’s been incredible in that situation,” manager Joe Torre said. “This kid hasn’t really played a lot of major league baseball. And to just have that kind of calm in those situations is pretty special.
It also wasn’t the first time he left Braves’ pitchers feeling frustrated.
Los Angeles won two of three in Atlanta last weekend, and Ethier is 9 for 19 (.474) with three home runs and eight RBIs in the four games against the Braves in the last week.
After giving up six runs and a season-high six walks in 5 2-3 innings of a 10-0 loss at St. Louis on July 28, Billingsley allowed two hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in five scoreless innings of a 9-1 win over the Braves on Sunday. Billingsley’s right hamstring began to cramp and as a precaution, Torre didn’t let him go out for the sixth. Billingsley isn’t worried about it affecting this start.
Walks have been a problem for Billingsley, who is fifth in the majors with 63. But when he is able to limit the number of free passes - like he did against Atlanta - he is usually more effective. The right-hander has a 4.12 ERA in 13 starts when giving up three or more walks, compared to a 3.41 ERA in the 10 starts he has issued two walks or fewer.
Jurrjens took the loss Sunday against the Dodgers, giving up four runs - all in the fifth - and a season-high 10 hits in five innings. The right-hander had gone 3-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his four previous starts.
While Jurrjens didn’t have much luck against Los Angeles in Atlanta, he hopes things go better at Dodger Stadium. In his only career start at Chavez Ravine on July 8, 2008, Jurrjens gave up one run and five hits with six strikeouts in six innings of a 9-3 win.