Dodgers protect lead with Kuroda's help

Dodgers protect lead with Kuroda's help

SAN FRANCISCO -- A line drive off his head in August didn't make Hiroki Kuroda forget how to pitch in September.

With Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw sidelined by injuries suffered in batting practice, Kuroda got the ball in only his second start back from a concussion and pitched a masterpiece, allowing only three hits over eight innings as the Dodgers thrashed the Giants on Friday night, 10-3.

His hamstring healed, Casey Blake homered and joined James Loney with three RBIs each, and Russell Martin doubled home a pair as the Dodgers improved their record after a loss to 40-18.

"We're in the last 20 games of the season and as long as we win, there's not much anybody else can do about it," manager Joe Torre said only moments after another comeback win by the Rockies kept the Dodgers' lead at two games.

While all eight Dodgers position players had at least one hit, it was Kuroda's pitching that was the difference, as Giants starter Matt Cain fell to 0-7 lifetime against the Dodgers.

Kuroda allowed back-to-back hits and a run in the second inning, then set down the next 19 Giants batters, needing only 70 pitches to get through seven innings before allowing a second run in the eighth.

"That's the guy we know him to be," said Torre. "He's really what got us in the situation to win the game. The second half [last year] and what he did in the playoffs, we couldn't have done it without him.

"This was a game, playing this club we know is tough. We know they haven't scored lately, but we haven't, either. This kid shut them down, basically. We know the Giants have had trouble scoring runs. But he was throwing strikes where he wanted to. In and out, his offspeed stuff was good."

There must be something about the big games that brings out the best in Kuroda. He won his last four decisions down the stretch last season and both postseason starts, earning a clutch reputation that led Torre to name Kuroda his starter for Opening Day this year, when he also beat the Giants.

But two days later, he strained an oblique muscle in a bullpen session, missed two months, spent two more months searching to recapture his rhythm, and just when it seemed he had, he was nearly beheaded by Rusty Ryal's line drive in Arizona and sent to the sidelines again.

"You never know what the reaction of a guy's going to be after getting hit," said Torre.

Kuroda (6-6 this year, 5-1 lifetime against the Giants) had an uncertain return last week against the Padres, allowing four runs with three walks in five innings and a loss. The Dodgers were hoping it was the rustiness of time off and not some psychological scar preventing him from being himself. Kuroda's start Friday night seemed to eliminate the latter.

"I would like to finish as strong as I did last year," said Kuroda. "We're in first place and Colorado is really close, and my thought is to pitch my game and contribute to the team so we can win a championship and the World Series. I've gone through a lot, the DL twice, I got hit in the head for the first time in 13 years of professional baseball. I'd like to finish really strong."

Sort of what the Dodgers had in mind, especially with the Rockies keeping the heat on and Wolf and Kershaw on the sidelines.

One thing Kuroda isn't is timid. In the third inning, Cain's bat exploded and a large wedge of the barrel came flying over Kuroda's right shoulder. He went diving for cover toward first base, his glove in front of his face, as Blake fielded the ball and threw Cain out. Eugenio Velez, the next batter, sent a liner toward left field that shortstop Rafael Furcal snared with a dive, but Kuroda remained aggressive with his sinker and mowed through the Giants lineup.

"I didn't know if it was a ball or a bat coming at me," he said. "If I get hit by a bat, I think I'll retire."

Loney cashed in first-inning singles from Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp with a two-run, two-out double off Cain. The Giants scored in the second off Kuroda, Juan Uribe's double setting up an RBI groundout by Nate Schierholtz.

Blake, returning after missing five days with a tight left hamstring, followed Loney's two-out single in the sixth with a two-run homer, his fifth in the last 16 games. The Dodgers broke it open with a five-run seventh on RBI singles by Manny Ramirez and Blake, Loney's sacrifice fly and Martin's two-run double.

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