Except for Wes Helms‘ sinus infection, the Florida Marlins are thoroughly enjoying the West Coast.
Just when they seemed in danger of falling back in the NL East race, they’re on a roll – and not even Manny Ramirez could slow them down.
Pinch-hitter Jeremy Hermida drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan homered in the eighth and the Marlins won their fourth straight game in California, 6-3 over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
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All-Star Josh Johnson (9-2) pitched seven resilient innings as the Marlins followed up a three-game sweep in San Diego with a victory over the major league-leading Dodgers, whose five-game winning streak ended.
Helms hit a run-scoring double in the fifth to get Florida started against Clayton Kershaw, the 21-year-old left-hander who hasn’t lost since June 10. The Marlins then won it with several big hits off Los Angeles’ bullpen, pulling them within 5 1/2 games of NL East-leading Philadelphia, which swept the Marlins in Miami last weekend.
“It’s real big after that Phillies series,” Helms said. “(This trip) was pretty much make-or-break. We could have fallen down and got 10 games back real quick.”
Johnson allowed five hits and three runs while winning for the sixth time in seven decisions. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in 17 consecutive starts – and the right-hander even put the Marlins ahead in the sixth, getting a hit and eventually scoring on Kershaw’s wild pitch.
He also handled Ramirez, with eighth-inning help from Brendan Donnelly. Two days after Ramirez’s pinch-hit grand slam beat Cincinnati, the slugger went 0 for 3.
Johnson got an earful of boos after hitting Ramirez with a pitch in the first inning, but he also got Ramirez to ground back to the mound with two runners on in the sixth.
“That’s what you play this game for – for moments like that,” Johnson said. “You can’t be tentative. You can’t get behind. You’ve got to make him hit a pitch you like.”
But Andre Ethier, batting after Ramirez, hit a two-run double to tie it at 3 for Los Angeles. The Marlins went ahead to stay moments later in the seventh, when Cody Ross singled off reliever James McDonald (2-2) before Hermida drove him home with a single off Brent Leach.
Coghlan then led off the eighth with the first pinch-hit homer of his career. Jorge Cantu added an RBI single moments later for Florida, which had 14 hits.
“It was big for us to be able to come off the bench and do that,” said Hermida, who homered along with Coghlan in Wednesday’s win at San Diego. “A lot of times this year, we haven’t given J.J. quite the run support he deserves, so it felt good to score some for him.”
Leo Nunez pitched the ninth for his seventh save.
Although Kershaw was solid, he never retired the side in order, allowing nine hits and three walks in six innings while yielding two earned runs for just the second time in eight starts.
“I give them a lot of credit, but they didn’t necessarily tear the cover off the ball tonight,” Kershaw said. “They just kind of found some holes. Those hits they got tonight were outs last time.”
Casey Blake tripled and scored on an early wild pitch for the Dodgers, whose bullpen follies emphasized their need for another reliever. Ramon Troncoso was particularly ineffective in the eighth, giving up three hits and hitting two batters with pitches.
“We couldn’t make the pitches when we needed to,” Los Angeles manager Joe Torre said. “(If) we have a tie game in the seventh inning at home, I feel that’s where we’re at an advantage. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get the job done in the bullpen.”
Kershaw gave up just his second earned run in 28-plus innings on Helms’ RBI double, and Johnson catalyzed the Marlins‘ two-run rally in the sixth with a two-out single. After Johnson scored, Emilio Bonifacio walked home moments later when Orlando Hudson‘s cutoff throw bounded into the Dodgers‘ dugout.
LHP Hong-Chih Kuo was scheduled to make a rehab appearance with Class-A Inland Empire on Friday night. If it went well, Torre said the setup man could be back in the Dodgers‘ bullpen during next week’s road trip. Kuo went on the disabled list in April with a strained left elbow after pitching just 5 1-3 innings. … Kershaw, who began the night with the majors’ best home ERA, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his previous start against Florida.