Choi played himself out of the lineup at the end of 2004 and watched the Dodgers get pounded by the Cardinals in the post-season, but Tuesday night he did the pounding, blasting a three-run homer in a six-run sixth inning and the Dodgers held on for a wild 9-8 victory over St. Louis.
Choi also singled in the Dodgers' first run and finished with his second four-RBI game this year. After opening the season 1-for-15, he's hit .338. He's 6-for-13 with three homers and seven RBIs on this trip and batting .400 with five home runs and 13 RBIs over the past 12 games.
On the year, he's hitting .280 with six home runs and 15 RBIs. Shawn Green, last year's first baseman, is hitting .258 with four home runs and 18 RBIs.
Granted, Choi still hasn't earned the manager's confidence to shed a platoon label and start against left-handed pitching. But he's not being benched anymore, either.
"I changed from the end of last season and I want everyone to know I changed," said Choi.
Batting coach Tim Wallach sees the change on Choi's face as much as his swing.
"He's starting to trust his swing, he's not taking as many strikes and he's hitting with confidence," said Wallach. "He wants to do so well, he wants to prove himself to everybody here and he's doing it now and you can see the confidence from the minute he arrives at the park."
Choi had a lot of help in this game. The Dodgers led 3-0, two of the runs following a controversial call at first base by umpire Marty Foster on a J.D. Drew infield single in the fourth inning. Fifth starter Scott Erickson couldn't protect the lead, serving up a pair of home runs to Reggie Sanders and one to Scott Rolen, and was unable to make it through five innings.
"I felt I threw better than the numbers indicated," said Erickson. "But the guys battled back and it turned out perfectly."
The first of Sanders' home runs, part of back-to-blasts with Rolen, was made possible when the previous pitch was popped up and fell untouched in foul territory, surrounded by three Dodger defenders. The second one capped a four-run fifth inning that Erickson couldn't finish.
Big game for Choi
Dodgers at Cardinals, May 10
|After going 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs, Hee-Seop Choi is batting .280 with six homers, through May 10. His complete line:|
|Choi increased his season RBI total to 15 and career total to 93, through May 10. He now has 31 homers in his career.|
Erickson was removed after 4 2/3 innings, having allowed seven runs on 10 hits, his ERA up to 7.26. Manager Jim Tracy said the veteran will likely get another chance Sunday.
"As of right now, yes he will," said Tracy.
Trailing, 7-3, after five innings, the Dodgers came right back with a Jeff Kent solo home run leading off the sixth and a single by Milton Bradley off Matt Morris, who was relieved by Kevin Jarvis, who hit Ricky Ledee with a pitch. Two outs later, struggling pinch-hitter Jason Grabowski worked Jarvis for a walk on a 3-1 change-up and the bases were loaded.
That proved to be perhaps the biggest at-bat of the night, because it brought up Cesar Izturis, who led off the game with a double and this time delivered a two-run single to set the stage for Choi's blast to dead center.
Wilson Alvarez earned his first victory of the year for retiring one batter to put down the fifth inning, leading a parade of six Dodger relievers. Steve Schmoll allowed the only run off the bullpen in the final 4 1/3 innings. Kelly Wunsch struck out Jim Edmonds with the tying run on base to end the sixth inning. Duaner Sanchez and Giovanni Carrara pitched into jams in the seventh and eighth innings, but each escaped with inning-ending double-play grounders.
And Yhency Brazoban, who figures to return the closer's role to Eric Gagne by the weekend, recorded his 10th save, striking out a pair, including Sanders.
"That was some ballgame," said Tracy.
The Dodgers were 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Bradley had his second three-hit game of the trip.
Dodger pitchers held Albert Pujols to one hit, two RBIs and kept him in the ballpark one night after he homered twice and drove in all of St. Louis' runs.
"You know why that lineup is tough to face?" asked Alvarez. "Because, with some clubs, you can make a mistake and get away with it. But you can't make a mistake with them. They'll hurt you every time."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.