Dodgers 3, Braves 2, 11 innings
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Giving the Los Angeles Dodgers an important victory after Eric Gagne’s third subpar outing in three games was more important to Adrian Beltre than taking over the major league home run lead.
Beltre tied the game in the ninth inning with a homer off John Smoltz and won it in the 11th with his 38th of the season, sending the NL West-leading Dodgers to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
“It feels good, but it’s not my main thing. My main thing is to help this team get to the playoffs,” Beltre said. “After those last two losses, we really needed this one.”
Beltre drove a 2-2 pitch from Juan Cruz (4-1) into the left-field pavilion with one out in the 11th, capping his second two-homer game in two nights.
“It’s a pretty bad feeling. There was one guy on that field that was going to beat us tonight,” Chipper Jones said. “Usually, we’re good at dodging that one person, but tonight we didn’t. Adrian Beltre right now gets my vote for MVP. I mean, that team would not be in first place without him.”
Beltre is enjoying a breakout season with .a 330 average and a career-high 87 RBIs. Dodgers starting pitcher Jose Lima doesn’t recall playing with someone who has been this locked-in since 1998, when Moises Alou had 38 homers, 124 RBIs and a .312 average for the Houston Astros.
“Everything is going his way,” Lima said of Beltre. “A lot of people tried to give up on him during his career, but now he’s proving himself. He’s matured a lot at home plate. I have a lot of respect for the man because he’s played hurt all year and he hasn’t made any excuses.”
Giovanni Carrara (3-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, evening the four-game series between NL division leaders at 1-all.
Gagne allowed an RBI single by Adam LaRoche that put the Braves ahead 2-1 with one out in the ninth. The rookie first baseman, who beat Gagne on Thursday night with a pinch-hit, broken-bat single through a drawn-in infield, won the matchup again after Jones led off with a single and Eddie Perez got hit by a pitch.
“I’ve been having a little trouble with my mechanics, just a couple of things I have to tune up a little bit,” Gagne said. “If you don’t make pitches, they’re going to hit you, so I just have to keep being positive.”
Gagne, whose record streak of 84 consecutive saves ended on July 5, has thrown 69 pitches in three innings the past three nights and allowed six runs on nine hits—taking the loss against the Marlins on Wednesday night and the Braves on Thursday.
“I would think he was due for something like this,” teammate Milton Bradley said. “I mean, he’s been stellar for, what, two, three years straight? So I’m pretty sure he’ll eventually figure out what he’s doing wrong, get back in command and start sitting batters down again.”
Beltre got Gagne off the hook this time. He greeted Smoltz, the Braves’ outstanding closer, with a homer into the right-field pavilion on a 3-2 pitch.
“It’s amazing what happens when a player realizes that there’s another half of the field,” Jones said. “Adrian used to be like that. He used to be strictly up the middle and pull, and now he’s realizing that there’s a nice big field over there in right and he’s utilizing it.”
The blown save was the third in 35 chances this season by Smoltz, who broke Gene Garber’s franchise record for career saves Thursday with his 142nd. Smoltz had allowed only two earned runs and one homer in 25 2-3 innings over his previous 22 appearances.
The game featured a playoff-caliber pitching duel between Lima and Atlanta’s John Thomson, who each allowed one run.
Lima scattered seven hits over eight innings, struck out six and walked none. Four of his pitches resulted in flyballs that were caught on the warning track—by Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, pinch-hitter Julio Franco and Marcus Giles.
Thomson allowed three hits in seven innings, struck out five and walked three. But one of the walks proved costly when Bradley came all the way around to score the tying run in the fourth on a double by Beltre—the Dodgers’ only hit during the first five innings.
“It was a shame to waste it because John threw extremely well, but sometimes you’re going to run into hot pitchers like Lima,” Chipper Jones said. “We outpitched them, we outhit them and played good defense. Unfortunately, we made too many mistakes to Adrian Beltre.”
Giles led off the fourth with a single and scored on J.D. Drew’s double to left-center.
Andruw Jones, a six-time Gold Glove CF, robbed Cesar Izturis with a diving catch of his sinking line drive leading off the sixth inning. … Smoltz has blown only 12 opportunities since being converted into a reliever in 2001. Garber had 51 blown saves during his 10 seasons with Atlanta. … The Dodgers haven’t been in the postseason since 1996, when the Braves swept them in the division series. Since then, Los Angeles has had four different managers, four general managers and five pitching coaches. The Braves have had only one of each—Bobby Cox, John Schuerholz and Leo Mazzone. … Lima has allowed only one walk in 29 innings over his last four starts.