No matter the uniform, Shane Victorino can depend on one thing: rocking the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The newly acquired outfielder hit his first homer in Dodger blue and drove in three runs to lift Los Angeles to a 5-4 victory on Monday night.
Picked up from Philadelphia at the trade deadline to give the Dodgers an experienced bat as they try to make it back to the postseason for the first time in three years, Victorino was his usual pesky self at the top of the lineup as Los Angeles drew within 1 1/2 games of the Pirates for one of the two National League wild card spots.
”He’s been through it — playoff runs the last three or four years, World Series,” Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said. ”They just get hardened, and this is not going to overwhelm him down the stretch.”
Victorino never looks overwhelmed against the Pirates. He came in with a career .325 average against Pittsburgh, a number that rose after he doubled home A.J. Ellis in the third to give the Dodgers an early lead then drilled a two-run shot off Jeff Karstens (4-3) into the right-field seats to put them in front to stay.
”I just keep plugging along,” Victorino said. ”There’s nothing different that I’ve done. You know when you’ve got confidence and you feel good at the plate, yeah, things kind of keep going that way.”
Matt Kemp added two hits for the Dodgers while Aaron Harang (8-7) pitched six effective innings to snap a modest two-game losing streak. Kenley Jansen worked a perfect ninth for his 24th save.
Los Angeles has won four of five to keep pressure on NL West-leading San Francisco.
”I look at it like the NCAA tournament; you look at it like you can’t lose,” Mattingly said. ”I think that’s the way we want to play, is that we can’t afford to lose any games, so that’s just the way I look at it.”
Garrett Jones had four hits and drove in all three Pirate runs but couldn’t stop Pittsburgh from falling for the fourth time in its last five games.
The losses have, for the most part, taken on a similar theme. The opposition gets out in front early and the Pirates spent most of the time playing catch-up. Los Angeles built leads of 2-0 and 5-2 before holding on.
”It’ll always be a challenge coming back,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ”But sometimes that’s how the game is laid out for you and you’ve got to keep battling.”
It’s what the Dodgers are doing now that their new guys have started to settle in.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez played lights out over the weekend as the Dodgers took a weekend series in Miami. On Monday, it was Victorino’s turn. The two-time All-Star had gotten off to a bit of a sluggish start in his new digs but came to life against the Pirates.
Then again, he always does.
”It was an all-around good performance,” Victorino said. ”We jumped out early, scored some runs, they came back and answered.
”But we answered back.”
Victorino’s play helped Harang on a night when he wasn’t quite as crisp as usual. The right-hander was virtually flawless against everybody not named Jones, giving up two runs on five hits in six innings, walking three and striking out four to improve his career record against the Pirates to 15-6.
”You’ve got to be excited; it seems like, with this team anybody can step up at any time, and that’s what it’s going to take to stay competitive in this division and try to win this division,” Harang said.
Karstens, who hadn’t lost since June 25, couldn’t keep pace. Normally one of the most efficient pitchers in the game, Karstens needed 100 pitches to get through seven innings, giving up four runs on seven hits, striking out four and walking one.
The Pirates had several chances to tie it up. But Neil Walker lined out at reliever Randy Choate’s head with two on to end the seventh.
”Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Choate said. ”I guess maybe that makes up for those bleeders that people get that you can’t get, to maybe snag one. If I was Walker, I’d sure be (upset) because he really hit the ball well. Luckily for me, my glove was there, and I know my face is surely appreciative.”
Run-scoring singles by Jones and Mike McKenry drew Pittsburgh within one in the eighth, but Clint Barmes grounded to third to end the threat.
NOTES: Pittsburgh’s James McDonald had his next start pushed back from Wednesday to Friday in St. Louis to give his right arm a little rest. McDonald has struggled since the All-Star break, going 1-2 with an 8.89 ERA … The series continues Tuesday, with Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia (9-6, 4.49 ERA) facing Chad Billingsley (8-9, 3.84). … The Dodgers are 10-1 in games played in the Eastern Time Zone this season. … The Pirates now trail Cincinnati by five games in the NL Central.