Kemp's walk-off HR just what Dodgers needed
LOS ANGELES — With one ferocious swing, did Matt Kemp erase all of the frustration built up in him since his amazing start this season was curtailed by a damaged hamstring?
"Well, I'm not sure about that," said a smiling Kemp, whose two-run, 419-foot blast into the right field stands off Jonathan Papelbon gave the Dodgers a 5-3, 12-inning win over the Philadelphia Phillies. "But I knew that I needed to do something big. It felt good to help my team win, and to do it at that moment.
"It had been a long time."
Nearly 11 weeks, in fact, since Kemp hit his last homer on April 28 against Washington. In measure of games, it was only 17, but that's not the way the Dodgers' leader looks at things.
"We needed that (badly)," he said, knowing how much the Dodger offense revolves around his production. "I've hit a couple balls hard that haven't gone out since I've been back, and I just wanted to hit it as hard as I could and watch Mark (Ellis) run. But it went out and we got a win that we really had to have."
The come-from-behind win — which snapped a four-game losing streak — was even more important as they get ready for a 10-game road trip, beginning with three in St. Louis; four against the New York Mets; then back to the West Coast for three with San Francisco, the current division leader.
"We've got a tough St. Louis team coming up," said Kemp, who also drove in the game-tying run in the bottom of the 10th. "New York needs to win and they're going to be tough and San Francisco is always (difficult) for us. We want to take this momentum with us (on the road) and get it going again."
The Dodgers had lost 15 of 21 coming into what promised to be a phenomenal pitching matchup between two of baseball's top left-handers — Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Cliff Lee of the Phillies. The past Cy Young Award winners didn't disappoint, both going eight innings and giving up just a single earned run. Kershaw struck out seven Phillies, walking none, while Lee K'd four and walked two.
"I felt good out there," said Kershaw. "I threw the ball the way I wanted and made them try to beat me. I threw … strikes and it worked well."
Kershaw was also impressed with the resiliency of his team against Lee and Papelbon, two of the best pitchers in the game.
"Down 3-1 (in the 10th) we really needed this one," he said. "We'll take them any way we can get them right now. We battled all the way through; Matty came up and won it for us, which we know he's capable of doing any time he comes up. The big inning for us was (the 10th), getting to Papelbon and getting back into the game. That's the sign of a good team."
Another good sign is when a career minor leaguer takes over a key spot in your lineup and comes through with a pair of big hits.
When shortstop Dee Gordon tore up his thumb, the Dodgers summoned Luis Cruz — who had just 56 games of major league experience — to take his place. He's been steady in Gordon's place, hitting .250 while driving in five runs and scoring five runs in 12 games.
In the 10th inning Wednesday afternoon, Cruz started the 10th-inning rally by doubling to left off Papelbon, who he'd never faced. He then came around to score on a single by pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu. Kemp then beat out an infield grounder to the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, scoring Abreu and sending the game to an 11th inning. Cruz then doubled again in the bottom of the 11th with two out, but remained stranded at second as pinch-hitter Matt Treanor grounded out.
"I felt really good (in all) my at-bats," said Cruz, whose father played 18 seasons in the Mexican League. "I try not to think about who is pitching; I don't really watch a (lot of video) because that would drive me crazy. I try not to over-think. I just try to get on base and let the other guys drive me in, trying to do my job."
Cruz said there was also a noticeable difference in the demeanor of the struggling Dodger team when they began to rally in the 10th inning.
"Yeah, people were getting excited," he said. "They were standing up and cheering when we got hit after hit, and we started feeling good about ourselves. I think it's going to change a lot of things for us and we'll keep playing the way we did today."
While it was a team victory, the spotlight belonged to perennial MVP candidate Kemp, who agrees with Cruz about the change in momentum for the Dodgers.
"We're definitely tough," said Kemp, who now has 13 homers and 31 RBI this season. "We're going to keep fighting no matter how much we struggle, or what the situation is. That really showed today.
"As bad as we have been playing this month, we're (not too far) back. We can't worry about what the other teams are doing; we just have to focus on ourselves, get as many wins as we can and be sitting (on top)."