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Dodgers Tap New Sources for Power

Beltre hits a three-run homer in the first and Ashby combines with Alvarez and Gagne in 4-2 victory over Angels.

June 22, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Home runs from four players Friday night ... a three-hit game, including a huge three-run home run, from .201-hitting Adrian Beltre on Saturday ... what do the supposedly offense-impaired Dodgers have in store for us today, three players hitting for the cycle?

The Dodgers broke out for four runs in the first inning -- the most they've scored in their first at-bat all season -- and then survived a rare scare by closer Eric Gagne in the ninth en route to a 4-2 interleague victory over the Angels before 51,874 in Dodger Stadium Saturday.

Daryle Ward kept a first-inning rally alive with a clutch two-out RBI single to left off Angel starter John Lackey, and Beltre followed with a towering three-run homer to center, snapping a string of 147 at-bats and 45 games without a homer dating to April 30, when he took Philadelphia's Vicente Padilla deep.

Starter Andy Ashby (one run, four hits in 5 1/3 innings) passed the baton to left-hander Wilson Alvarez (no runs, one hit in 2 2/3 innings), who handed off to Gagne for his major league-leading 29th save, and the relay ended with the Dodgers' 10th win in 11 games.

The Dodgers, tied for first place in the National League West, have to like their chances of a Freeway Series sweep against the defending World Series-champion Angels, who have lost seven of nine: They'll send ace Kevin Brown, 9-0 with a 1.27 earned run average in his last 10 starts, to the mound today.

"This home stand, we've played the two World Series teams from last year, and won both series with a chance to sweep one," Dodger right fielder Shawn Green said.

"We need to win every game we can and build a lead in our division. Every game is crucial because it always seems to come down to one or two games at the end."

Critical to the offense is Beltre, who has confounded the Dodgers with his lack of production. He entered Saturday with a .201 average, four homers and 22 runs batted in, a performance that has General Manager Dan Evans burning up the phone lines in search of a third baseman before the July 31 trading deadline.

Evans' cell phone may have been on silent mode Saturday. After he followed Dave Roberts' bunt single, Green's walk and Ward's single with his homer in the first, Beltre singled to center off Lackey in the fourth and singled to right off reliever Francisco Rodriguez in the sixth before flying to center in his last at-bat in the eighth.

"That home run felt great -- I haven't had that feeling for two months now," said Beltre, whose average rose to .210. "I don't keep tabs on the length between home runs, but this had to be the longest [of my career].... It makes it harder because you want to go up there and hit a home run to get the pressure off your shoulders."

Despite Beltre's struggles, Dodger Manager Jim Tracy continues to pencil his name in the lineup, though he might not if he had another attractive option at third base. Nevertheless, Tracy doesn't want Beltre looking over his shoulder.

"I don't want players to feel if they don't get it done today, they're finished," Tracy said. "I've never left a message like that with any of my players. Maybe what we're beginning to see is something everyone talks about, that [Beltre] does a lot of offensive damage in the second half of the season. Obviously, we're nearing the halfway point, and we're starting to see better and better at-bats from this guy."

Ashby, the forgotten right-hander who was buried in the bullpen for two months before Darren Dreifort went down with a season-ending knee injury, blanked the Angels for four innings before giving up a leadoff homer to Brad Fullmer in the fifth. With two on, Shawn Wooten grounded into a double play to end a threat.

Alvarez replaced Ashby with two on in the sixth and hit Fullmer with a pitch to load the bases before striking out Scott Spiezio on a full-count fastball to end the inning.

An overcast and sometimes drizzly day turned even more gloomy for Dodger fans in the ninth when Gagne, who entered with a 1.66 ERA, gave up a leadoff single to Fullmer and two-out singles to pinch-hitters Bengie Molina and Darin Erstad. Molina's hit trimmed the lead to 4-2.

But Gagne jumped ahead of David Eckstein with two strikes, and Eckstein hit a slow roller to third base for the final out.

"Gagne giving up a run -- that's like a blown save for him," Green said. "You get to the point where you expect perfection from him."

The way things are going for the Dodgers right now, why settle for anything less?



Bolt From the Blue

*--* The Dodgers have won 10 of 11 and moved into a first-place tie in the NL West. (* denotes games during the stretch Eric Gagne has saved): DATE GAME RESULT June 10 at Detroit* W, 3-1 June 11 at Detroit* W, 3-1 June 12 at Detroit* W, 3-2 June 13 at Cleveland* W, 4-3 June 14 at Cleveland W, 5-2 June 15 at Cleveland* W, 4-3 June 17 San Francisco* W, 4-1 June 18 San Francisco W, 8-2 June 19 San Francisco L, 2-0 June 20 Angels* W, 5-2 June 21 Angels* W, 4-2


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