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Billingsley fires blanks in Dodgers' win

Billingsley fires blanks in Dodgers' win

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's happening game after game now, the passing of the torch more than just symbolic, young Dodgers on a contending team earning marquee status instead of filling bit roles.

It happened Friday night, with six scoreless innings from unbeaten Chad Billingsley (6-0) and three hits apiece from Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and James Loney in a 9-1 win over the Giants that was close until a six-run ninth inning turned it into a blowout.

"They've been impressive every time they get opportunities and they're going to keep getting opportunities. We feel like they're ready to play," manager Grady Little said of the kids.

Coming out of the break a year ago losing 13 of 14, the Dodgers have their calendar synched this time, as they pulled back into a tie for first place.

"A different year and a different team," Ethier said, when asked about last year's two-week All-Star break. "I don't think anything was said or that we're thinking about the way it started last year. We just want to get off to a good start out of the break this year."

The final score was deceptive because, before seven consecutive hits in the ninth inning, this was a tight game. The Dodgers had to scramble for runs, with Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre creating three. And Billingsley took a page out of Brad Penny's playbook by doing more pitching than throwing.

Never was that more obvious than in the first inning, runners on first and second, Barry Bonds up looking to close in on Hank Aaron. Out of nowhere, the hard-throwing Billingsley threw Bonds a changeup and he bounced it into a double play, a rally killing Bonds would repeat against Jonathan Broxton in the eighth inning.

"I was using it in the bullpen before the game and it just felt good and that doesn't happen too many days," Billingsley said of the changeup, which he rarely throws in a game. "I just felt comfortable with it today. I was able to keep the ball down tonight and not hurt myself. I made quality pitches when I had to, and the changeup was the big pitch to Bonds."

Martin, who has been catching Billingsley for virtually his entire professional career, knew when to call it.

"You never want to get beat with your fourth-best pitch and that's a pitch he mainly just works on the side, but with a 1-1 count, the situation called for it," said the All-Star catcher. "Bonds had seen the fastball and he's not going to chase a breaking ball and I'm sure it wasn't in the scouting report. It was just the right time. Just like when Broxton threw the splitty to Bonds. The splitter isn't even in the hitter's mind."

So here they are, the young battery, out-thinking and out-executing Bonds, the player of his generation. Billingsley walked three, but Bonds accounted for two of those. Billingsley lowered his ERA to 3.26. He made 96 pitches in his fifth start of a season in which he spent the first 2 1/2 months in the bullpen.

He had to share honors on this night with Martin, who went 3-for-3 with a walk to raise his average to .313. Martin also was hit by a pitch on the right wrist and left the game an inning early, but Little said it was not believed to be serious.

"Luckily, it didn't hit me in the bone," said Martin. "It hit flesh, so it should be okay. Just muscle. Just a little sore, should be fine tomorrow."

Martin was joined by Ethier, who slugged a three-run double to cap the scoring, and Loney, who raised his average to .398 and, despite a fielding error, made two defensive plays that demonstrated why Billingsley predicted the guy will win a Gold Glove someday.

"It's fun to see all the young guys come together finally and mix in with the veterans," said Martin. "It seems like a lot of times, teams that are successful have a good mix of veteran and young guys."

The victory was the ninth straight for the Dodgers at AT&T Park, the Giants' longest losing streak to one team since they moved from Candlestick Park. The Dodgers went 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position, including consecutive bloop RBI singles in the ninth by Jeff Kent, Olmedo Saenz and Nomar Garciaparra.

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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