Braves survive to down Dodgers in 10
After Johnson's homer, Escobar's play preserves win
LOS ANGELES -- After Kenshin Kawakami delivered what manager Bobby Cox termed "the game of his life," and Kelly Johnson proved he still possesses clutch power, the Braves ended another chapter of what has been a tremendous series with Yunel Escobar producing a breathtaking defensive gem.
Twenty-four hours after delivering the decisive hit in a 12-inning victory, Escobar robbed Matt Kemp of a game-tying RBI single in the 10th inning and prevented Rafael Soriano from marring his team's sensational pitching performance with his second blown save in 48 hours.
As Cox sat behind his desk after the Braves completed their 2-1 win over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night, he breathed a sigh of relief and attempted to determine where it was most appropriate to deliver his praise.
"That was a great game, that's about all that I can say," Cox said after his team produced just three hits while capturing a second consecutive extra-inning victory.
Inserted into the game in the eighth inning, Johnson preserved Kawakami's determined seven-inning effort with a 10th-inning, two-run homer that only proved decisive when Escobar dove toward the second-base bag, stopped Kemp's potential game-tying grounder and fired a perfect strike to end the game.
"I don't know if that's the best play I've made, but it's definitely the most important today," said Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia while interpreting the words of Escobar, whose game-saving gem came just moments after Andre Ethier foiled Soriano again with a two-out RBI double.
Minus the walk-off homer that Soriano surrendered to Ethier during Thursday's series opener, the Braves have spent the past three days thriving during a pressure-packed series against a Dodgers team that had owned the Majors' best record before blowing a ninth-inning lead and losing on Friday night.
"We had plenty of chances to win the game -- we didn't capitalize on it," Kemp said after the Braves moved to within 5 1/2 games of the front-running Phillies in the National League East race while remaining 4 1/2 games back in the NL Wild Card race.
After Kawakami ended his career-high 125-pitch effort with consecutive strikeouts to end the seventh with the bases loaded, Kris Medlen provided the best effort of his young career with four strikeouts during a two-inning performance that kept the game scoreless until Johnson drilled Guillermo Mota's 1-1 changeup into the right-field seats.
Johnson's game-winner was the first hit the Braves had recorded since Garret Anderson singled with one out in the fourth inning against an impressive Clayton Kershaw.
"It's a lot easier to play the game when you feel good about what you're doing out there," said Johnson, whose two clutch homers during the past two nights have allowed him to forget about the fact that just a month ago he'd been sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to regain his swing and confidence.
After Adam LaRoche drew a 10-pitch walk off Mota, Johnson, who has hit .348 (8-for-23) in the backup role he was given after returning to the Majors, delivered the blast that preserved yet another clutch performance by Kawakami, who once again rose to the occasion while presented the challenges of matching a dominant Kershaw and protecting a taxed bullpen.
"Kawakami was just outstanding," said Cox after watching the Japanese hurler prove perfect through three innings and allow the first of his four hits with two outs in the fourth inning.
When Kawakami issued consecutive four-pitch walks to load the bases with just one out in the seventh, it appeared that he may be tiring. But instead, he confirmed that he was pitching around Orlando Hudson and carefully after falling behind Tony Abreu. This set the stage for the righty to end his outing in dramatic fashion with back-to-back strikeouts of Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta.
"I was sticking with him; he was still throwing fine," Cox said of Kawakami, who had thrown at least 100 pitches in just three of his previous 15 starts.
With Kawakami staying strong through the seventh inning, Cox was able to stick to his plan to rest Peter Moylan and Mike Gonzalez. This set the stage for Medlen to highlight his two-inning performance by following Rafael Furcal's eighth-inning leadoff walk with three consecutive strikeouts of Ethier, Manny Ramirez and Kemp.
Medlen's performance prolonged the pitching duel set up by Kawakami and Kershaw, who was facing the Braves for the first time in his career. The 21-year-old southpaw began his evening by allowing a double to Ryan Church and then surrendered just one more hit over his seven scoreless innings, which included 10 strikeouts.
While Kershaw and Kawakami set the stage for this impressive pitchers' duel, Johnson found a way to provide the blast and Escobar allowed the Braves to gain yet another potentially pivotal victory by getting to a grounder that initially seemed destined to find the outfield grass.
"I think it's just huge for us," Johnson said. "It's one of those things where you're looking for a break. But at the same time, you make your own luck, and that's the case with these games."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.