The spotlight was on for the return of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, but Mark Ellis came back with an impact.
By JOE McDONNELLFS West
LOS ANGELES -- It was supposed to be a celebratory evening at Dodger Stadium for the big boppers coming off the disabled list and the Dodgers ready to re-crank the offense that led them to one of baseball's best record prior to the injury plague.
Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier were making their comebacks from injuries that saw them miss a total of 62 games; 51 by Kemp with a pulled hamstring. However, while the spotlight was focused on the team's best hitters, it was the third injured starter who returned and won the game for his team.
Light-hitting Mark Ellis followed a bunt single by Tony Gwynn Jr. in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two-run homer to give the Dodgers a 2-1 win and keep them a half-game ahead of the Giants on top of the National League West. The pitching battle of the left-handed Claytons went to the Dodgers' Kershaw, who's now 7-5. San Diego's Richard drops to 6-10 after the loss.
Ellis missed 43 games following a freak leg injury on May 18th against St. Louis that not only sidelined the second baseman but nearly cost him the leg. Massive swelling and the accompanying pressure was causing muscle and tissue around his right knee and calf to begin dying, and without emergency surgery he likely would have had the leg amputated below the knee.
Tragedy was avoided, though, and after nearly six weeks of recovery and rehab, the dependable Ellis hit his third homer of the season to give his team a good start to the second half of the season.
"It's a lot of fun to be back and have nearly everybody back else, too," said Ellis, who hit his first home run in over seven weeks. "And it's always good to have (Kemp) in there to help us get back on track and start scoring runs again." Kemp went 2 for 4 with a single and a double, while Ethier went 0 for 2, but did get on base when hit by a pitch from Richard.
"It felt right having Matt, Andre and Mark all together and back in the lineup," said Manager Don Mattingly, who saw his team end a three game losing streak and win just its sixth game in their last 21 decisions. It allows us to get the right guys into the right sport in the batting order and have our players get back to the roles they were brought here to play."
All eyes were on the Big Two, though, and Kemp seemed like he was as relieved as he was happy to be back in the lineup.
"Man, it's been a long time since I was out there — a month and a half," Kemp said after the game. "I was nervous all day. I just wanted to get back out there and play my game.
"I needed to get back out there, get back to my teammates, and we're going to lead the team to the playoffs and do a lot of great things this year. We're just now getting healthy, and we're going to fight to get back to where we (were) and then keep it going."
Ethier will have much of the run-producing pressure square on his shoulders. Despite missing the 11 games, Ethier still leads the team with 55 RBI, ranking ninth in the National League, and the Dodgers will be depending on him not only to stay healthy but to shake off a prolonged slump he went through right before straining his oblique muscle.
"We need both of those guys to give us the same things they did before the injuries," said Ellis, who signed as a free agent during the offseason. "And everybody around here is confident they will."
And it certainly won't hurt to have Ellis and a few other teammates crash the party from time to time.