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Manny's clutch double puts Dodgers in first

Manny's clutch double puts Dodgers in first

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers were whooping and hollering and were just as awe-struck as the rest of the baseball world watching Stephen Strasburg's electrifying debut after their batting practice on Tuesday.

But at the end of the night, the Nationals were still in last place, while the Dodgers had sole possession of first and the best record in the National League with their third 1-0 win of the homestand, this time over the Cardinals in a game started by former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter.

Since May 8, when the Dodgers were six games back, they've gone 22-7 and from worst to first.

"It's cool," Martin said about being along in first for the first time this year. "We got a win against the ace on the other side."

It had the intensity of October, which happened to be the last time these teams met, in a Dodgers NL Division Series sweep. It went seven innings as a scoreless pitchers' duel between previously slumping Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers and Carpenter, who came in 7-1.

It had Manny Ramirez doubling home Rafael Furcal in the bottom of the eighth inning; Andre Ethier with three hits for the first time since breaking his finger; and Jonathan Broxton celebrating his Bobblehead Night with a save that featured a tense 11-pitch confrontation against Albert Pujols in the ninth inning.

"It was a classic," said manager Joe Torre. "That's postseason baseball right there. Kuroda, that's as good as you want to see him."

And the Pujols at-bat leading off the ninth inning was about as good as an at-bat can get between two All-Stars.

With Broxton alternating fastball/slider each pitch, Pujols got ahead, 2-1, then fouled off the next seven pitches. Finally, Broxton broke the sequence, doubling up with a second slider and Pujols tried to check his swing but couldn't.

"That one at-bat, that was the battle for the game right there," said catcher Russell Martin. "You get a situation with a great hitter and he gets even better and you could tell he was fighting off really good pitches. Broxt is one of the best closers in the game, but what Pujols does is wear you down until you make a mistake. But Broxt kept making good pitches."

Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: "You can't work any harder to come up with a strikeout than that. Albert worked every at-bat but didn't get anything to hit. He tried to make something happen but nothing was over the plate."

The out loomed larger when Matt Holliday followed with a single, but Broxton struck out Ryan Ludwick and got Skip Schumaker on a comebacker, dodging the barrel of his bat that bounced toward the mound. Broxton has 15 saves and a string of 14 straight conversions, posting a 0.51 ERA since May 7, 1.06 on the season.

"Since today was Broxton's Bobblehead Night, I wanted to keep the game close so he could get the save," joked Kuroda.

The Dodgers had just taken the lead when Ramirez greeted reliever Kyle McClellan with a ground-rule double that scored Furcal with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Furcal led off with a single off reliever Trevor Miller. Matt Kemp lined out to right field. Ethier, who doubled twice earlier, singled Furcal to second. Ramirez then sent a long fly past right fielder Ludwick that was touched by a fan near the foul pole as Furcal scored.

After pitching out of trouble in the third, Kuroda retired 11 consecutive batters until allowing consecutive one-out singles by Ludwick and Schumaker in the top of the seventh. But he got Molina to bounce into an inning-ending double-play.

"I was really frustrated and put a lot of pressure on myself before the game," said Kuroda, who brought a three-game losing streak into this start. "This was my best game. I seem to perform well under pressure."

"He really had all of his pitches," said Martin. "In the first inning, he's throwing 95 with good sink and with that pitch alone he can get away with anything. Today was a day he had everything, a lot of weapons and a lot he could do to get batters off-balance."

Hong-Chih Kuo (2-1) pitched the eighth inning for the win, extending his scoreless-innings streak to 16 2/3. Left-handers are 0-for-20 against him and his ERA is 0.99.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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