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Martin helps Dodgers sweep Mets

Martin helps Dodgers sweep Mets

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' 8 1/2-game lead in the NL West is their largest since 1988.

Remember how 1988 turned out?

OK, May is a little early to draw comparisons to the last Dodgers world championship season, but after Russell Martin snapped an 0-for-12 slump with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to sweep the Mets with a 2-1 win, the resulting stats provide tempting food for thought.

They've won four in a row and seven of their past eight for the best record in baseball, the best start for the organization since 1983 and, with a 17-3 home record, a share of the modern-day MLB record for the first 20 home games.

Included in this most recent run, the Dodgers went 7-2 against three solid teams in the National League East -- Philadelphia, Florida and New York.

Without you-know-who in the lineup.

If this has been a test, they passed.

"We play every inning, and that sounds pretty simple, but it's not easy to do," manager Joe Torre said. "We've been a patient ballclub and we've played well under pressure. That says a lot to me."

They're playing without Manny Ramirez and, except for a handful of games immediately after he was suspended, during which the Dodgers seemed to be in a state of shock, they've gone back to the way they played when they still had him.

Orlando Hudson returned with two hits and a run scored after bruising a shoulder the night before. Casey Blake had a single and walk on his bobblehead night.

"It's not like we beat their A-team [with Carlos Delgado out from hip surgery and Jose Reyes in and out of the lineup], but as I thought, we've got a quality team," Martin said.

Martin got the game-winning RBI, but the bullpen carried the night from the first pitch to the last. Swingman Jeff Weaver, subbing for the injured Eric Stults and draining a bleeding blister between innings, allowed one run over five innings until Torre decided that was enough and went to Ramon Troncoso, who threw two scoreless innings.

Weaver tried to downplay the blister and tucked his right hand under his leg during the postgame interview so reporters couldn't see the finger.

"It's not an issue," he said, later adding: "It's something you deal with, like sometimes you don't have a fastball or a changeup. This time it was something with the finger. You grind it out and find a way to make things happen. I didn't lose command, I was able to pound the strike zone, it didn't affect me too much. If it had, things would have been different early in the game."

Meaning, he was able to pitch out of jams the first three innings, sticking with a game plan of throwing off-speed pitches in fastball counts.

After Troncoso got the game to the eighth inning, Torre bypassed struggling free-agent acquisitions Will Ohman and Guillermo Mota to throw rookie Brent Leach into the fire and he extinguished a one-out threat inherited from Ronald Belisario to pick up his first Major League victory. Jonathan Broxton finished it off for his 11th save.

"I can't say enough about Leach," Torre said of the left-hander, who came on with runners on second and third and one out and got ground balls from Daniel Murphy and pinch-hitter Fernando Tatis.

Leach is 26, a sixth-round pick out of Delta State who was pitching at Class A Inland Empire a year ago and appeared in only five spring games before being sent out with an 8.31 ERA.

Leach and Belisario (who was sent out of camp even earlier) were victims of the Dodgers' offseason strategy to sign a large number of journeymen with Major League experience in hopes that one or two would stick. The downside to the strategy was that talented youngsters like Leach and Belisario were shortchanged in opportunities.

Belisario was given a second chance the last week of Spring Training and stunningly made the club as the journeymen were unimpressive. Meanwhile, Leach reported to Double-A Chattanooga and was lights-out, so when Scott Elbert struggled and the Dodgers needed an arm with the latest injury to Hong-Chih Kuo's elbow, Leach got the call.

He came into Wednesday night's game with a 7.36 ERA in six appearances, but that didn't faze Torre.

"Initially, I only wanted to put him in games with five-run leads and it turns out I put him in with the game on the line," Torre said. "But I had no problem bringing him in today. He's able to throw strikes. I really enjoy watching this kid grow."

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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