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Tony Gwynn delivers Dodgers' game-winner in a pinch

Reserve outfielder hits a tiebreaking, run-scoring single in eighth inning while batting for pitcher Aaron Harang.

May 12, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez

Back when Matt Kemp was hitting the ball the way Josh Hamilton is now, Manager Don Mattingly said the day would come when the Dodgers would have to find new methods to score runs.

That day has come and the Dodgers have.

Kemp is hitless in the Dodgers' last three games, but the team has won each of them, the latest a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night. The Dodgers improved to a major league-best 22-11, including 14-3 at home, and remained six games in front of the second-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

Their go-ahead run in the eighth inning was as workmanlike as Kemp's home runs last month were majestic. James Loney reached base on an infield hit, moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by A.J. Ellis and scored on a pinch-hit single by Tony Gwynn Jr.

"I think we knew all along we were going to have to find ways to scratch runs," Mattingly said.

Reminded of the criticism he received for his use of the sacrifice bunt in a loss to the Giants on Tuesday, Mattingly smiled and said, "They work sometimes. To me, that doesn't mean they're wrong when they don't work."

The first run was also driven in by an unlikely source. Juan Uribe singled to center field against hard-throwing starter Juan Nicasio in the fifth inning to drive in Andre Ethier and put the Dodgers ahead, 1-0.

Aaron Harang (2-2) held the visitors to a run and four hits over a season-high eight innings and Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth inning to record his first save since replacing Javy Guerra as closer during the week.

Loney not only scored the deciding run, he also saved a run in the third inning with his glove and arm.

With one out and Wilin Rosario on third base, Loney made a diving stop on a hard-hit ball by Marco Scutaro. Instead of looking for the out at first base, Loney fired the ball home to nail Rosario at the plate.

"That's one of those, 'No! No! No! Great play!' " Mattingly said.

Said Loney: "From the first pitch, any break can be a deciding factor. That's why you play hard. You never know which play is going to stand out."

The play marked one of the rare scares for Harang on this night. The only run charged to Harang came in the seventh inning when Tyler Colvin hit a home run that tied the score, 1-1.

"I felt like I was locating the ball well," Harang said.

So well that when Mattingly told him he wanted to remove him after the seventh inning, Harang insisted on pitching another inning. He completed the eighth inning with a pitch count of 97.

Gwynn hit for Harang in the eighth inning with Loney on second base.

His single to left field against Matt Belisle was his fourth hit in nine pinch-hit at bats. Gwynn has driven in five runs as a pinch-hitter.

A priority for Gwynn this season was to hit better with men in scoring position. He batted .264 in such situations last season. That figure is up to .462 this year.

"One of the things I wanted to work on was eliminating the pressure with hitting with runners in scoring position," Gwynn said. "I try to eliminate that distraction out there and see the ball, hit the ball. I think I've done a better job this year of worrying about the process as opposed to going up there trying to get the hit so we could get the run."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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