Nomar does it again for Dodgers

Nomar does it again for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Not this again.

The last Nomar Garciaparra walk-off miracle, performed six days earlier, was supposed to provide the emotional wave that carried the Dodgers into the postseason, and who knows how far.

Then came the jarring reality -- it was just one win, followed by two Dodgers losses that dug the hole they're now in.

So Garciaparra's latest "SportsCenter" moment, as thrilling as a grand slam with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning can be, meant a dramatic 5-1 pennant-race victory over Arizona on Sunday, but not a whole lot more.

The Dodgers still had to pack their bags for the flight to Denver, still had six games to go, and still have a hill to climb.

"Maybe Monday night's game taught us a lesson," said rookie catcher Russell Martin. "Just because you win a big game like that doesn't mean anything the next day. When you leave the clubhouse, you leave that game behind, no matter what happened. You've still got to go out and win."

As nice a present as Garciaparra's blast was for the Fan Appreciation Day crowd in the regular-season home finale, it merely allowed the Dodgers to avoid falling further behind the division-leading Padres (1 1/2 games up) and the Wild Card-leading Phillies (one-half game ahead), who also won Sunday.

Garciaparra's homer off Luis Vizcaino made a winner out of reliever Takashi Saito, and barely provided the Dodgers with a series win over the Diamondbacks. After Monday's day off, the Dodgers have three-game series in Colorado and San Francisco, along with a losing road record on the season (33-42), but winning records (4-2) in both cities.

This win wouldn't have been possible without another clutch performance from pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo, the Taiwanese rookie who has stepped up in the pressure of a pennant race while others with more experience have wavered. In August, management finally allowed Kuo to be the starting pitcher he's always wanted to be after treating him with kid gloves because of two Tommy John elbow operations years ago.

Considering the way he shut down the Mets in New York over six scoreless innings two weeks earlier, what Kuo did to the Diamondbacks shouldn't be surprising. He allowed one unearned run on four hits over seven innings while striking out eight. The only surprise will be if he isn't named Friday night's starting pitcher in San Francisco.

In Sunday's game, Kuo showed just how far he has come. Lacking his customary overpowering fastball, he shifted to sliders and curves that ate up a Diamondbacks lineup stacked with right-handed hitters, then mixed in the fastball as the game unfolded. Martin said having two breaking balls of different speeds allows Kuo to still be effective even if his fastball isn't particularly sharp.

Kuo, unusually effective for a left-hander against right-handed hitters because he likes to pitch inside, said he's more confident using secondary pitches when he starts.

"When I start, the time I get to warm up makes my slider and changeup work better," said Kuo, who has a 2.59 ERA in four starts, after struggling as a reliever with a 5.34 ERA that got him demoted to the Minor Leagues twice.


"Just because you win a big game like that doesn't mean anything the next day. When you leave the clubhouse, you leave that game behind, no matter what happened. You've still got to go out and win."
-- Russell Martin

Kuo even scored the first Dodgers run after a one-out double against Livan Hernandez off the bullpen gate. Kuo was so pleased while thinking that his first Major League hit was a homer, he flipped his bat, then had to start running when he realized the ball was still in play.

Kuo was singled home one out later by Kenny Lofton, who later preceded Garciaparra's 19th homer by working a key walk to load the bases. The ninth inning began with a single up the middle by Marlon Anderson, the Aug. 31 addition who seems to be in the middle of all good things Dodgers these days. Anderson was bunted to second by Martin and took third on Oscar Robles' grounder to the right side.

Rafael Furcal, who reached base all five plate appearances, took two balls, then was walked intentionally and took second base on fielder's indifference. Lofton's walk brought up Garciaparra, who hit the two-run homer in the 10th inning Monday night to beat the Padres in an epic game that included four consecutive ninth-inning homers.

Sunday's was Garciaparra's seventh grand slam -- his second this year -- and the eighth walk-off hit of his career, bringing his season RBI total to 90. It came on a 2-1 pitch.

"These guys aren't giving up, and they had some great at-bats before me," said Garciaparra. "I might have delivered the final blow, but the credit goes to them."

Well, some credit goes to him.

"The guy can barely run," manager Grady Little said of Garciaparra, who is nursing a sprained right knee and strained left quad. "What he's giving us, in the condition he's in, we're glad he's still on the field."

And some credit goes to the two relievers that Little has given the bulk of the workload to down the stretch, Jonathan Broxton and Saito, who struck out five batters in the final two innings.

"I'm glad we were able to pull it off for them," Garciaparra said.

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