After the Dodgers lost to the Houston Astros Thursday and Friday nights, they won Saturday when Jonathan Broxton struck out the side in the ninth with the bases loaded.
And they won Sunday when Broxton struck out two batters in the ninth after Jeff Kemp broke a 3-3 tie with a home run in the eighth.
Broxton’s success was particularly encouraging because he had been ineffective the previous weekend, had reluctantly admitted he was bothered by a toe injury and didn’t pitch in the all-star game.
At that time, Manager Joe Torre said Broxton might be bothered by the toe injury the rest of the season. Torre explained that the injury would require considerable rest to heal.
So far, Broxton has been able to put aside his problem and continue providing the Dodgers with a major weapon in their championship drive. An outstanding closer is one of the most important members of a baseball team. He has the ability to insure victory — the ability to turn the efforts of teammates into a win despite anything the opponent can do.
Although every major league team would like to have a first-rate closer some don’t have anyone like that. But the Dodgers have had three in a row.
First there was Eric Gagne, who concerted 84 consecutive save opportunities to earn the nickname of “game over.”
When Gagne moved on along came Takashi Saito. He wasn’t quite as good but good enough.
And now there is the 6-foot-7, 290-pound Broxton, who earned his 22nd save of the season Sunday featuring an overpowering fastball.
“Just before the all-star break (coach) Larry Bowa noticed Broxton limping as he came off the field,” said Torre.
Since Broxton had been ineffective in San Diego and then a second time the Dodgers were watching closely. The toe injury served as an explanation of what was wrong.
The Dodgers have the best record in the major leagues this season. If they are to continue winning their division and enjoy success in the playoffs Broxton must continue to play a key role. Because if he doesn’t, those late inning leads he protects could begin disappearing.
Relief pitching has been a main reason the Dodgers are doing so well, and not just Broxton.
The game Sunday provided an example. The Dodgers fell behind, 3-0, but their relievers didn’t give up any runs and the Astros’ relievers did.
Rookie Ramon Troncoso earned his fourth win against no losses as he was the pitcher of record when Kemp homered.
The Dodgers, who succeeded while Manny Ramirez served a 50-game suspension, managed to split the four-game series despite little help from Ramirez. And Juan Pierre, who has filled in so well for Ramirez, went into a rare slump, going 0-for-9 on the homestand.
But Kemp scored all four runs Sunday and backup catcher Brad Ausmus drove him in twice with doubles.
Ausmus seldom plays because Russell Martin is the Dodgers’ regular catcher. But Ausmus, who was a regular elsewhere when he was younger, appeared Sunday in his 1,903rd major league game as a catcher, the ninth most of all time.
In 15 starts for the Dodgers this season he’s hit safely in 11 games and batted .305.
It’s that type of depth that helped the Dodgers begin this week with a 58-34 record – the Dodgers’ best record at this stage of the season since 1977.