It's a guy like utility infielder Ramon Martinez that makes a difference in a pennant race.
And it's a gutsy performance like the one Brad Penny turned in that pushes teams over the top.
On Sunday afternoon, the Dodgers secured, according to manager Grady Little, the biggest win of the season to this point. It was Martinez's clutch two-run single in the eighth inning that propelled the Dodgers past the Rockies, 4-3, in dramatic fashion in front of a crowd of 48,732 at Dodger Stadium.
"Well, this was the biggest win of our season so far," Little said. "To come back like that after falling behind, and to come away with a win -- that was a great ballgame."
The Dodgers played one of their best defensive games of the season behind their All-Star right-hander Penny, who was pitching on three days' rest. The game was theirs for the taking leading, 2-1, going into the eighth inning, but without their most consistent reliever, Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers turned to Scott Proctor. And on one pitch, the entire game shifted sides.
Todd Helton drilled a two-run homer into the right-field bleachers off Proctor, sucking the life out of the crowd and the Dodgers for the moment, putting the Rockies up 3-2.
But on this afternoon, the Dodgers weren't going to fold. A day after a losing in 14 innings, the team responded with a sense of urgency. Andre Ethier and Russell Martin hit back-to-back singles in the bottom half of eighth inning, followed by walk to pinch-hitter Jeff Kent to load the bases for Martinez.
Martinez, who has struggled all season, hitting .180, stood at the plate with an entire stadium rallying behind him. The veteran did exactly what veterans do -- he took a pitch and collected his nerves before smacking a fastball into right-center field to drive in Ethier and Martin and put the Dodgers up, 4-3.
"I was watching Jeff's at-bat when I was on deck, and I noticed he [Jeremy Affeldt] wasn't throwing a lot of strikes, so I just wanted to make sure to take a strike and get a good pitch to hit," Martinez said. "I've been going through a little slump all year, but I've been working hard with [coach] Manny [Mota] and [hitting coach] Billy [Mueller], and I had good at-bat."
The at-bat wasn't just good, it was huge. The win gave the Dodgers their fourth win in five games, putting them within striking distance of the National League Wild Card-leading Padres and the second-place Phillies, against whom the Dodgers play three games starting Tuesday.
With the dramatic ending, Penny's gutsy performance on three days' rest went virtually unnoticed, except for in the clubhouse where he received high-fives all around. Penny went five innings, allowing just one run on five hits before running out of gas. Penny threw 111 pitches, with 17 coming in the third inning against Cory Sullivan, who fouled off 12 consecutive pitches before flying out to left.
"He fouled off like 40 balls, which was like three extra innings for me," Penny said jokingly. "We needed to win that game badly, especially with us going on the road. It's important for the whole team."
Defensively, Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre came up with big plays to save Penny early in the game. With the bases loaded and no outs, Pierre made a diving catch in right-center field, robbing Brad Hawpe of a single and potentially two RBIs. Then, with runners on first and second, Furcal fielded a ball up the middle, faked to first and whipped a throw to third, catching Helton off the base for the second out and stifling the Rockies' rally.
"Furcal made that great play; that was huge," Penny said. "He's always in the game and he's always playing hard. You know what you're going to get from him. He comes to play every day."
Closer Takashi Saito struck out the side in the ninth to seal the victory for the Dodgers, earning his 33rd save of the season.
The Dodgers finished the homestand 4-3 and are now 6 1/2 games behind Arizona in the National League West. But the journey will only get more difficult from here, as Los Angeles has to play 16 of its next 19 games on the road.
"It's the biggest win until our next win. That's just the way it's going to be from here on out," Martin said. "I think we feel like we're in the race right now. Everybody's mind-set is on playing baseball in October, but we just have to take it one game at a time. We're not thinking about how many games are on the road. A game is game."
Jayson Addcox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.