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Feels like October

Gonzalez gets the big hit off Santana, Lowe has a career-high 11 strikeouts and Saito holds off the Angels in the ninth.

June 16, 2007|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

It wasn't the biggest hit of his career, not even close. A jam-shot single against Mariano Rivera to give Arizona a walk-off victory over the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series will forever top Luis Gonzalez's greatest-hits chart, barring something really dramatic this October.

Nor was this the most electric atmosphere Gonzalez has played in. That would be Yankee Stadium for Games 3, 4 and 5 of that 2001 series and the aforementioned Game 7 in Bank One Ballpark.

But for high drama, in a month that isn't October, this wasn't bad.

It was Dodgers right-hander Derek Lowe outdueling Angels right-hander Ervin Santana for seven innings, Dodgers closer Takashi Saito walking a tightrope in the ninth, and a regular-season crowd of 56,000 in Dodger Stadium hanging on just about every pitch.

Amid this caldron of emotion, in a Freeway Series game between Southern California rivals, Gonzalez provided the game's biggest hit, a two-run, sixth-inning single that pushed the Dodgers toward a 2-1 victory.

"I've played in a World Series, and I'm not comparing this to a World Series," Gonzalez said after the Dodgers moved into first place in the National League West. "But the fans were really vocal tonight. Over here, people wear their colors on their sleeves and are very passionate about their players and teams."

Gonzalez got a good feel for the intensity of the rivalry when, on Thursday's off day, he took his family to Disneyland, in the heart of Angels country.

"Everyone was excited for this series," Gonzalez said. "Everyone was telling me to beat the Angels."

He did, with a little help from his friends. Lowe, normally a ground-ball pitcher, racked up a career-high 11 strikeouts while holding a hot Angels offense to one run and four hits in seven innings to improve to 7-6, and Jonathan Broxton struck out two of three in a scoreless eighth.

Gary Matthews Jr. and Casey Kotchman reached on two-out infield singles in the ninth, but Saito got Garret Anderson to ground to second for his 19th save.

Lowe threw a complete-game four-hitter in his last start, a 1-0 loss to Toronto last Saturday, the third time this season he threw a complete game and lost. But he was even more dominant Friday.

"His off-speed stuff, his breaking ball and changeup, were electric," Dodgers Manager Grady Little said. "And the sinker was biting so much they were swinging over the top of it instead of hitting it into the ground."

The Dodgers rank 15th in the NL in home runs and slugging percentage but found some unconventional weapons in the sixth.

Rafael Furcal opened with a half-bunt, half-swing of an infield single, breaking out of the box as he slapped a grounder to shortstop and beating Orlando Cabrera's throw to first. Juan Pierre singled to left, and Nomar Garciaparra flied to right, advancing Furcal to third. Jeff Kent fell behind in the count, but when Santana's next pitch, a 1-and-2 fastball, bore inside, the veteran didn't budge. The ball hit Kent in the hip -- they call it taking one for the team -- to load the bases.

"He's been hit by a lot of pitches in his life," Little said. "He's one tough son of a gun. And he's not the type to wear a pad either."

Gonzalez followed with his line-drive single to left-center for a 2-0 lead.

The Angels pulled to within 2-1 in the seventh when Vladimir Guerrero doubled to right and scored on Kotchman's one-out single.

Though he didn't win, Santana took a huge step in what the Angels hope is a transition from road worrier to road warrior. He was 0-6 with a 9.30 earned-run average in his first six road starts but gave up three runs and six hits in six innings of a 9-3 win at St. Louis last Saturday and gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings Friday night.

"That stuff he brought onto the field tonight was electric," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He pitched a terrific game."


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