Dodgers get much-needed lift from pitchers

Beckett, Howell, Withrow navigate middle-inning trouble in New York

Dodgers get much-needed lift from pitchers

NEW YORK -- It's the sort of thing that can get lost in the shuffle.

The Dodgers got clutch performances from starter Josh Beckett and relievers J.P. Howell and Chris Withrow in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings during their 9-4 win over the Mets on Tuesday night at Citi Field.

In the postgame chatter, that each was able to pitch out of potentially damaging situations was largely overlooked, which is understandable in a game that wasn't close at the end. But this was, after all, a two-run game until the Dodgers broke it open with three in the top of the ninth. Had any of those crucial situations turned out differently, the outcome could have changed as well.

It was an especially encouraging development for a relief corps that came into the game with a 4-11 record and a 4.38 ERA. Not only did they pitch out of jams, Dodgers relievers combined for four shutout innings.

"Our bullpen has taken a lot of flak. They've taken the brunt of things. But it's been a funny season as far as getting those guys on track," manager Don Mattingly said. "We've had to use guys just to get through games just because, early on, we weren't getting a lot of innings from our starters. Then as we started getting innings, we'd always hit a funky spot where we'd play a 13- or a 14-inning game. Or the doubleheader we had to play in Minnesota and our 'pen had gotten flattened right back out again.

"We haven't hit that stretch where our starters go deep enough and we're able to keep games in check and get guys in their spots. I think that's been the biggest issue with our bullpen."

With the score tied, the Dodgers scored four times in the top of the fifth and Beckett was cruising. But with one out in the bottom of the inning, the Mets loaded the bases on back-to-back-to-back singles. If New York had been able to answer with a rally of its own, there's no telling what might have happened.

Instead, Beckett got Daniel Murphy to strike out swinging, and he retired David Wright on an inning-ending grounder.

The Mets, to their credit, came right back swinging against Beckett in the sixth. This time it was up to Howell to limit the damage after Curtis Granderson led off with a homer, Chris Young doubled, Lucas Duda homered and Wilmer Flores walked.

"He had gotten in a little trouble the inning before and got out of that," Mattingly said. "We kind of felt like he had another inning in him, but he got in trouble right away. It happened quick."

Howell came out of the bullpen and stranded Flores at first with two strikeouts and a popup to preserve the lead.

"Those innings in these kinds of games are crucial," Howell said. "It's one of those things that can go either way. That's how you build momentum. We've had a different kind of start to the season. We've had to cover a lot of innings due to extra-inning games. And we found ourselves kind of looking in the mirror and not liking what we were seeing too much.

"So games like this are definitely crucial to kind of hit the ground correctly and not get off balance. And that's exactly what we did. It builds confidence for the bullpen. In the long run, it builds unity. Because it has been rough for us, man. I'm not even disappointed with it. It's just what it is. It's one of those kinds of deals. It's baseball and we bounced back and this was a game we needed for sure."

The Mets still didn't quit. They began putting together a rally against Howell in the seventh. With one out, Wright and Granderson singled. Mattingly responded by calling the right-handed Withrow from the 'pen to face righty-swinging Young.

That strategy didn't pay immediate dividends when he hit Young with a pitch to load the bases. But he popped up Duda and then got Flores to ground into a force play to keep the Mets off the scoreboard once more.

"When we come into the game, our goal is to keep the team in it," Withrow said. "When you get into trouble like that, you just try to keep them right there. Especially with our offense. We know they can be so explosive. So to get out of those innings felt good. Games can change so quickly, so we understand that we have to be ready for anything. Not every game is going to be smooth sailing, so you just have to be ready for it."

Said Mattingly: "Those were big innings for us. In the same breath, we were up, 6-1, and they got three runs on us in three hitters. That just changed the whole game. So at that point we're in one of those games where it's one pitch, a big out here, a big out there. And you try to get through that inning to get to your back end."

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