Blake's homer lifts Dodgers over Mets

Blake's homer lifts Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Advance copies are already selling on eBay for $29.99, but the Wednesday night giveaway of a bobblehead with his likeness has a value to Casey Blake that's priceless.

"I was in Cleveland for six years and never had a bobblehead. It's an honor," Blake said. "I feel like the Dodgers, like I'm appreciated here."

Even a little more after Tuesday night, when Blake slugged a three-run homer in the sixth inning to give the Dodgers a 5-3 win over the Mets. The Dodgers have the best record in the Majors and the best home record, a three-game win streak and have won six of the past seven. They are 15 games above .500 for the first time since 2004 and the 7 1/2-game lead over the Giants is the largest of the year.

The only bad news for the Dodgers was a bruised shoulder suffered by second baseman Orlando Hudson diving for a ball in the seventh inning. The injury is not considered serious and he is listed day to day.

As for the 35-year-old Blake, the Dodgers thought they demonstrated his value when they re-signed him as a free agent to a three-year, $17.5 million contract. Of course, the "other" player the Dodgers obtained last summer, Manny Ramirez, landed a two-year, $45 million deal. And the cover of the media guide. And a television commercial and billboard marketing campaign. And dreadlocks at the concession stand and a section of seats named in his honor.

No wonder Blake seemed overshadowed by Manny being remarkably Manny last year after he joined the club. But manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti repeatedly credited Blake with being the "glue" that bound the team in time for its late-season run.

"Sometimes my low self-esteem or whatever makes me think people are just saying those things, so I wouldn't feel bad when it seemed like only one guy was traded here," Blake said. "I need to have a little more confidence in myself and believe some of the things said."

If Blake lacks confidence, it doesn't show on the field, especially since Ramirez was suspended for violating MLB's drug policy. Since Ramirez has been gone, Blake is 16-for-38 with four homers, 11 RBIs and nine runs scored. His nine homers on the season lead the club and put him on pace to slug 35. Four have either tied the game or given the Dodgers a lead.

For this game, he bounced back from two days off with a tight hamstring. And in typical Blake fashion, try to compliment him for stepping up in Ramirez's absence.

"I haven't been the only guy," he protests. "It's been a collective effort. Not one guy is expected to do it and everybody is stepping up."

Starting pitcher Chad Billingsley stepped up in this game, although not in his normal fashion. His pitching line -- 6 1/3 innings, three runs, four hits, seven strikeouts -- doesn't tell the story, although five walks are a hint.

For the first three innings, Billingsley was a mess. His mechanics were out of whack and he seemed to let emotions get the better of him when some calls from plate umpire Dale Scott didn't go his way. He allowed a two-run single to opposing pitcher John Maine in the second inning and when he came into the dugout, he went back to the clubhouse in part for a dry shirt, in part because he needed to take a walk.

"I just had to regroup and clear my head," he said. "I looked up at the pitch count and decided, all right, I had to at least get to the fifth inning. I never expected to get to the seventh, but I kept us in the game."

But after making 77 pitches the first three innings, Billingsley cruised through the next three on only 28 more.

"I settled in, got a good rhythm and my curveball came around," he said, now 6-1 to lead the National League in wins.

Billingsley and Blake even teamed for a run in the fourth inning, Blake singling with two outs and testing the hamstring by scoring on Billingsley's double.

Torre said the key to the game was the bullpen that took over with one out and one on in the seventh. Brent Leach got one out, then Ronald Belisario got Gary Sheffield to bounce out and end the seventh with two on.

"A huge out," said Torre.

Cory Wade pitched himself into and out of an eighth-inning jam by getting former Dodger Ramon Martinez on an inning-ending double play. Jonathan Broxton pitched a perfect ninth for his 10th save.

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