Dodgers fans were treated to their favorite ninth-inning ritual for the first time in nearly a year Friday night at Dodger Stadium, but not even Eric Gagne could save the Dodgers from the bullpen implosion they suffered during an 8-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Entrusted with a two-run cushion entering the seventh inning, former fill-in closer Danys Baez failed to retire any of the five Phillies he faced, each of whom eventually scored during a five-run onslaught that gave Philadelphia a three-run lead.
Manager Grady Little opted to go with Gagne in the ninth even though the Dodgers still trailed by two runs after Sandy Alomar Jr.'s run-scoring double in the eighth.
Gagne trotted onto the field for the first time since June 12, 2005, to raucous applause from the sellout crowd of 55,142. He pitched a scoreless inning, though things got a little dicey when he hit Aaron Rowand in the back with a 67-mph curveball and then walked David Bell before getting Mike Lieberthal to ground into an inning-ending fielder's choice.
"I was pumped," said Gagne, whose legs were shaking. "It was good to get the first one out of the way. It would have been nice to get the save, but we'll worry about it next time."
The Dodgers put the tying runs on base with one out in the bottom of the ninth when Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra hit consecutive singles against Tom Gordon, but rookie Joel Guzman grounded into a game-ending double play to squelch the threat.
The Phillies had rallied in the seventh by loading the bases against Baez on a walk and two singles before Pat Burrell's broken-bat, two-run bloop single into shallow center field tied the score at 5-5. Ryan Howard then drew a full-count walk to reload the bases and prompt Little to replace Baez with Takashi Saito.
The right-hander yielded Rowand's two-run double past diving first baseman Garciaparra and Bell's sacrifice fly as the Phillies surged ahead.
The breakdown was uncharacteristic for Baez and Saito, who had giving up one earned run in their previous 16 outings combined before Friday.
The Dodgers had taken a 5-3 lead during a three-run fifth inning that featured rookie Matt Kemp's second homer in as many nights and prized prospect Guzman's first career hit and run batted in.
After Kemp deposited a Ryan Madson pitch into the left-field pavilion for a solo homer that tied the score at 3-3, Rafael Furcal walked, stole second and scored on Garciaparra's two-out single up the middle. Guzman followed with a single up the middle that brought home Garciaparra, who had taken second base on center fielder Rowand's throw home attempting to get Furcal.
Dodgers starter Jae Seo struggled for a second consecutive outing, giving up one run in three of his four innings, potentially putting his spot in the rotation in jeopardy. Chase Utley, who had four hits, blistered the first pitch he saw from the right-hander in the first inning into the right-field pavilion and scored in the third on Bobby Abreu's double.
Howard made it 3-0 in the fourth when he homered to right-center, and Seo was gone shortly thereafter.
"I didn't really like what I was seeing," Little said. "He had thrown 80 pitches at the time, and in my mind I could see it getting worse before it got better."
Could Seo's struggles lead to a demotion?
"We'll see," Little said.
After Garciaparra and Guzman drew walks in the fourth, Willy Aybar lined a two-run double into the left-center field gap, pulling the Dodgers to within 3-2. Rowand's spectacular diving catch on Andre Ethier's fly ball prevented the Dodgers from scoring the tying run.