Betemit's homer buries Cards
Clutch pinch-hit big fly carries Dodgers to series win
LOS ANGELES -- There are very few with the right to say "I told you so" about Wilson Betemit's sudden awakening, but Grady Little is one.Even after the promotion of Andy LaRoche, the Dodgers manager has called on Betemit in game-deciding situations, and Betemit came through again on Wednesday night with a three-run pinch-homer that proved the difference in the Dodgers' 5-4 win over the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. The fifth-inning blast came on the 120th pitch from Kip Wells (1-8) and was the latest in a remarkable run that began right around the time management had enough of Betemit and his .130 batting average and made the call for LaRoche. In five pinch-hit at-bats in less than two weeks, Betemit has four hits with three homers, a double and six RBIs. He's the ninth Dodger with at least three pinch-homers in a season. He's doing this in a job rarely entrusted to 26-year-olds, especially those not hitting their weight. Players struggling the way Betemit was offensively are usually sent to the Minor Leagues, but he was out of options, so in the Major Leagues he stayed. Even though Little started writing LaRoche's name in the starting lineup, the skipper never wavered from believing that Betemit would eventually regain the stroke that connected for 18 home runs last season. "Coming out of Spring Training, he was a big part of our club, and he continues to be a big part of our club," said Little. "It's a long season, and there's enough playing time for everyone. Right now, he's doing an awfully good job off the bench. There's no doubt in my mind if he was playing third base, it would be different than early in the season." Including one homer as a starter, he's got four this season, the same amount he had at this time last year while also fighting for playing time with the Braves. Since LaRoche got the call on May 5, Betemit is 7-for-16 with four homers, two doubles and seven RBIs, while LaRoche is 6-for-23 with no homers and three RBIs. "Wilson could have gone into the tank, but that says a lot about his character," said Nomar Garciaparra. "And I give a lot of credit to Grady for not giving up on him." As if his statistics don't show it, Betemit has handled the loss of playing time like a total professional. "I wasn't sure when I came up how he would be, but he's been awesome," said LaRoche, who went 0-for-3 with a walk in the game and bounced into a forceout preceding Betemit's homer. "He's been nothing but nice to me. That's great class." If Betemit has been bitter about sporadic recent playing time, he hasn't even shown it within the privacy of the dugout. If anything, he's used it as motivation to straighten out his game and regain everyday status. "He wants to show he can get the job done, no matter what he's asked to do," said Marlon Anderson, a veteran pinch-hitter. "Sometimes, you get sat down and it gets you fired up in other ways. He knows he can play; he just has to get the job done. Sometimes, it's mind over matter. "I'm glad to see him take it as a challenge. He hasn't pouted. He's found ways to help us. He's not at all down. He's been a professional. He came up through the Braves organization, where they teach you to do things the right way, and it shows." Betemit gave the Dodgers the lead, but it was their bullpen that secured a victory to conclude a 5-1 homestand. Chin-hui Tsao followed Randy Wolf's five innings with five outs and a run allowed. Joe Beimel finished off the seventh inning and the back end of the bullpen, Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito, finished it off. It was Saito's 13th consecutive successful save opportunity this year and the second straight game he and Broxton combined to lock it down. Together, they've created a perception on both sides of the field that a Dodgers lead going into the eighth inning is a Dodger victory (19-0 in those situations). "The way we feel in the bullpen, you better get to our starter, because we're just going to challenge you when we come in," said Broxton. "I was talking to [Chad] Billingsley and it's like, everybody in our bullpen feels that way. They will just come after you from the first pitch, see if you can hit it." The Dodgers were able to win this game despite a "slump" by Rafael Furcal, who had "only" one hit in four at-bats, after his hitting spree of three consecutive four-hit games. The Dodgers took the last two games of the series after losing the previous 10 games to the Cardinals dating to 2005.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.