Young players, bullpen lead Dodgers

Young players, bullpen lead Dodgers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Skeptics doubting whether Joe Torre could manage anything other than the Yankees' gazillion-dollar roster should note what he won with Sunday.

He sent out a Dodgers lineup with four rookies, a lineup with only two players who spent all of last season in the Major Leagues (All-Star Russell Martin and Andre Ethier) and with nobody earning more than $500,000 this year except for Kansas City castoff shortstop Angel Berroa, who was the graybeard at a listed age of 30.

The resulting 5-3 victory over the Giants allowed the Dodgers to remain one-half game out of first place. They completed the 5-2 trip with James Loney driving in three runs, Ethier getting three hits and the bullpen rebounding from Saturday night's loss with five innings of winning relief.

Torre was able to rest veterans Jeff Kent, Andruw Jones and Nomar Garciaparra -- each with physical issues -- and still win, even though starting pitcher Eric Stults took a three-run lead into the fifth inning and couldn't qualify for the victory.

He did contribute to it, particularly with the bat. His hit-and-run single was one of three infield hits in a two-run third inning that helped beat Matt Cain.

Torre wouldn't say the team is jelling, but he agreed that there were signs on this trip that it might have turned a corner in playing the style of thoughtful baseball he demands.

"The personality is good," he said. "It seems like a loose bunch, but they're attentive. The guys are into the game. I sense, not that they weren't before, but they're really into it, not that they didn't care before. To me, it started on the road trip. After we beat the Angels two of three, maybe they took stock of the situation and realized maybe we're pretty good. I sense a change on this trip."

Give Torre credit for making the best with what he's given and making everybody feel important. Brian Falkenborg volunteers as a good example. This is his 12th professional season but he's never spent one full one in the Major Leagues. He was called up to replace Scott Proctor two weeks ago and suffered the defeat Saturday night when Torre was shorthanded without closer Takashi Saito and used Falkenborg in the seventh inning.

But that didn't stop Torre from handing the ball right back to Falkenborg when he yanked Stults with runners on first and third and no outs in the fifth inning. Falkenborg, asked to minimize the damage, did better than that. He got Bengie Molina on a fly to shallow right field, Aaron Rowand on a foul popup and struck out Jose Castillo.

"To be perfectly honest, this is the first time in my big league career that I've been asked consistently to pitch when the game hangs in the balance and that's what you strive for and they're letting me do it here," said Falkenborg. "I think Joe sees I can compete and I'm glad I'm getting the opportunity."

Falkenborg became the pitcher of record and was followed by Hong-Chih Kuo (two scoreless innings), Jonathan Broxton (one scoreless inning) and Saito, who wrapped up his 16th save despite allowing a run.

That put Falkenborg in the win column for only the second time as a Major Leaguer, four years after his first win, in an earlier stint with the Dodgers.

"My last win was with the Dodgers four years ago Mother's Day," he said. "Wins are like the Olympics for me, I guess."

Stults, who has taken over Clayton Kershaw's spot in the rotation, had a demanding five days. He pitched into the sixth inning but lost in Houston, flew home to Indiana for the birth of his second child, then rejoined the club in San Francisco.

He couldn't protect a first-inning lead provided by Loney's first RBI double, his throwing error leading to an unearned run. He escaped a second-inning jam, gave up a solo homer to Rich Aurilia in the fourth and had allowed five of the previous six batters reach base when he was removed with the three-run lead.

"It was a very exciting week for me," said Stults. "Any pitcher wants to stay in and get the win. I kind of battled with myself today. A lot of pitches came back across the plate. I wasn't sharp, but we got the win."

Stults did deliver the hit-and-run single in the two-run third inning. He put the ball into play, forcing Giants shortstop Emmanuel Burriss to change direction to glove the ball, then he threw it into the photo well. Stults said he broke a blood vessel on the index finger of his pitching hand by reaching for a pitch that was up and away. The finger appeared swollen, but he said "it didn't affect me at all."

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