Nationals avoid loss No. 100, edge Dodgers
Showing some late-inning life, the Washington Nationals prevented the possibility of a Los Angeles Dodgers' celebration and put off a dubious achievement of their own.
Andre Ethier booted pinch-hitter Pete Orr's fly to right field in the ninth inning, allowing Justin Maxwell to easily score, and the Nationals averted their 100th loss of the season with a 5-4 victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday night.
"It was bizarre, but at the same time, you've got to win those games," Orr said. "Those are the games that if that slips away from us and we don't win right there, it's a pretty big downer."
Maxwell started the decisive rally with a single down the left-field line off James McDonald (5-5) to open the ninth. Alberto Gonzalez bunted Maxwell to second and Maxwell stole third on a curveball before Jorge Padilla walked.
Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman said Maxwell had the green light. Maxwell wanted to catch the Dodgers off-guard.
"I thought it was a good time to go," Maxwell said. "I figured (McDonald) wasn't really worried about me after us moving the runner on the bunt."
Orr, who was 2 for 13 as a pinch hitter, hit a fly to medium right and the ball bounced off Ethier's glove as he backtracked, scoring Maxwell. Orr was credited with a sacrifice fly and Ethier was given an error on the play.
The Dodgers' magic number to clinch a spot in the postseason remained at two, but its magic number to clinch the NL West title for a second straight season, a feat last accomplished in 1977-78, dropped to six with Colorado's 6-3 loss to San Diego.
"Just because they're however many games out don't mean they're just going to roll over and let everybody come in and stomp them," said Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson, who left the game with a jammed left wrist after reaching on an error to open the ninth.
The Nationals, who lost a major league-high 102 games last year, temporarily avoided reaching triple figures in losses for a second straight year.
"Are we at 99?" asked Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who reached 100 RBIs for the second time in his career. "We just try and win every game. I think we made some strides in the second half. The young guys that have come up in September have looked pretty good and I think that's more important than anything. All of are obviously disappointed in this season, but we're excited about what we have coming in the future."
Saul Rivera (1-3) got two outs for the victory after the Dodgers had tied it 4-all against Mike MacDougal.
Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley had a no-hitter for 5 2-3 innings before Zimmerman hit a tying three-run homer, his 31st. Billingsley, who retired the first 14 Nationals before consecutive walks to Adam Dunn and Zimmerman in the fourth, allowed three runs on one hit over six innings, walked four and struck out nine.
"Just that one pitch, if you take away that one pitch, it's a gem," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. "You give up one hit, you make one mistake and pay a price for it."
Ethier had an RBI grounder and Martin a bases-loaded single in the first to make it 2-0 and James Loney's RBI single in the sixth chased Nationals starter Ross Detwiler.
Detwiler allowed three runs on six hits, walked three and struck out none.
The Nationals finally got to Billingsley in the sixth. With two down and Cristian Guzman on first after a fielder's choice, Dunn drew a walk and Zimmerman blasted Billingsley's up-and-in, first-pitch curveball into the Dodgers bullpen in left-center.
Guzman gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead in the eighth, racing home from second base when Orlando Hudson's throw on a potential inning-ending double play by Dukes pulled first baseman Loney off the bag. Guzman kept running, sliding home ahead of Loney's late throw.
But Guzman's two errors in the ninth allowed Los Angeles to tie it.
The Dodgers loaded the bases off MacDougal on Guzman's first error, a pinch-hit single by Jim Thome and a walk to Furcal. Belliard hit a high chopper to short, but Guzman, who was playing in, threw offline, pulling catcher Josh Bard off the plate and pinch-runner Jason Repko scored to tie it.
NOTES: Hudson tripped over Dunn's leg at first and went sprawling, hurting his wrist when he broke his fall. His last two seasons have been shortened by left wrist surgery. ... 3B Casey Blake was held out of the Dodgers lineup Wednesday with a left leg injury. ... When LHP Clayton Kershaw starts Sunday at Pittsburgh, he'll be on a to-be-determined pitch count, Los Angeles manager Joe Torre said. ... Dukes has a team-high 12 outfield assists.