When the Dodgers arrived in San Francisco the last time, on June 25, they led the division by three games. Three shutouts later, the race was tied. It continued to trend the Giants' way -- until Friday night.
That's when San Francisco's streak of consecutive scoreless innings against Los Angeles ended at 31, as the Dodgers claimed a 5-3 victory in 10 innings at AT&T Park to pull back within two games. The stakes remain high for Saturday afternoon's contest, which will pit the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley against the Giants' Barry Zito.
"The last time we were here, we were three up; now we're [two] down," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It's a lot bigger series for us than for them."
The Dodgers struck a potentially big blow with their recent acquisition of Hanley Ramirez, who provided the go-ahead two-run home run in the series opener. Earlier in the evening, the Giants made a move of their own, picking up Marco Scutaro from the Rockies. Scutaro has split time between second base and shortstop this season but also could help out at third.
If he makes his Giants debut Saturday, it will be against Billingsley, who came off the disabled list to snap a five-start losing streak Monday in St. Louis. The right-hander battled through 100-degree heat to hold the Cardinals to one run over six innings, showing no ill effects from the right elbow inflammation that sidelined him for one start.
"I felt good -- ready to go," Billingsley said afterward. "I made good pitches, kept them off balance with off-speed pitches."
Zito comes in on a roll, having posted a 2.25 ERA over his past five outings. The run started at AT&T Park on June 25, when Zito shut out the Dodgers over seven innings, although the Los Angeles lineup was missing Matt Kemp and Mark Ellis.
"They're banged up right now over there. We have to capitalize on that," Zito said after allowing only three hits. "We were banged up early in the year and they capitalized on that. That's the nature of the game. It's a marathon."
Dodgers: Searching for protection
Mattingly has been batting Ramirez fifth and wants to make sure he gets some pitches to hit.
Dodgers No. 6 hitters are sporting a .255 average with five home runs this season, but are 5-for-13 in the first three games behind Ramirez. On Friday, James Loney started and picked up two hits, then gave way to Juan Rivera, who notched two more.
"We'll try to get guys behind [Ramirez] that can hit the pitcher that game," Mattingly said. "We'll line them up the best we can. You hope guys are all over the bases and they've got to pitch to him."
Infielder Luis Cruz extended his career-high hitting streak to 10 games Friday. At the start of the day, he led the Dodgers with 10 RBIs since the All-Star break.
Giants: Sandoval in wait-and-see mode
A decision was supposed to come by Friday regarding whether to place Pablo Sandoval on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain, but the Giants instead chose to delay that process.
Sandoval incurred the injury while stretching for a throw at first base Tuesday. The muscle has improved enough that the team felt comfortable keeping Sandoval active Friday, although he didn't play against the Dodgers. Instead, he will continue to receive treatment and might return before the weekend is over.
"He's making progress and feels better," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're going to hold off here before we decide what we want to do. We'd like to get him as soon as we can, and he's making progress."
First baseman Aubrey Huff has been dealing with knee injuries and last played for San Francisco on June 10. Bochy acknowledged that Huff could be activated at any point, but the club hasn't decided whether to send him on a Minor League rehab assignment or find a way to clear Major League roster space.
The Giants' Buster Posey is 11-for-23 (.478) against Billingsley, with two doubles and five RBIs. Kemp is 22-for-49 (.449) against Zito, with eight walks, a double, a triple, two home runs and seven RBIs.
Billingsley has a 4.50 ERA in two starts against San Francisco this season and a 3.45 mark in 14 career games at AT&T Park.