Choi blasts lead LA past Twins

Three Choi blasts lead LA past Twins

LOS ANGELES -- The box score shows a Hee-Seop Choi home-run barrage the likes of which Dodgers fans haven't seen since Shawn Green went off in 2002.

But after slugging three homers Sunday (and six in the weekend Interleague series), Choi said the hero of the Dodgers' 4-3 win over Minnesota was the new second baseman who supposedly was a defensive downgrade from those he replaced.

Jeff Kent's heads-up running catch of a popup that Choi lost in the sun was the biggest play of many that preserved a second victory for rookie D.J. Houlton, who pitched out of enough jams to earn another start next weekend against the Chicago White Sox.

"That catch [was] better than my three home runs," said Choi, who homered each time off Twins starter Brad Radke, who rejected the Dodgers' overtures as a free agent last winter.

"If I lose [the] ball, we lose [the] game. Before [the] inning, we talk [about the sun]. [A] tough sun comes out. Kent says he can't get [the] ball, I [can] get it. I can't get [the] ball, he [can] get it. That catch ... big, big catch."

And a big, big win. It was the club's sixth in the last eight games and cut their deficit behind San Diego to 2 1/2 games as the Dodgers leave for the longest trip of the season -- 13 games in 14 days -- beginning Tuesday night in Kansas City.

As Choi pointed out, his three solo homers weren't enough, as J.D. Drew added a fourth solo homer. Houlton battled through six innings for a quality start, escaping messes in three different innings with a pair of strikeouts each time en route to eight strikeouts, tying a club season-high.

Two of the runs he allowed in the second inning might have been prevented if Drew had a better jump on Jacques Jones' double to center. Houlton made 101 pitches, and clearly has been more comfortable in two recent starts than he was pitching out of the bullpen, having been a starter his entire Minor League career.

"We found out a little something about him," manager Jim Tracy said of Houlton, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Houston organization. "He got through a lot of adversity today, some of it our defense put him in."

Kent's play was the ultimate saver, as the Twins had tied the game at 3 in the top of the sixth, had two outs and runners on second and third. Radke lifted his popup near the first-base bag, but Choi never saw it through the hazy sun. Kent saw the ball and the fact that Choi didn't.

"I was waiting for him to get out of trouble, but as it came down I could tell he couldn't and I felt I could get it," said Kent, who sprinted from his second-base position and seemed to come out of nowhere, reaching out on the run to make the inning-ending catch near the first-base bag. "You just have to understand what's going on. It was an emergency situation."

It meant as much to Houlton as the four home runs of support.

"It was pretty amazing, but he's a smart, veteran player who's been playing forever," said Houlton. "I'm glad he got there, because I wasn't going to do anything like that."

Big game for Choi
Twins at Dodgers, June 12
After going 3-for-4 with three solo home runs, Hee-Seop Choi is batting .263 with 12 homers, through June 12. He's belted six home runs in the past three games. His complete line:
Choi increased his season RBI total to 28 and career total to 106, through June 12. He now has 37 homers in his career. Sunday's three-homer performance was the first of his career and his fourth multihomer game. Six homers in three games is also a career high for Choi, whose previous high was three, last accomplished when he hit home runs in four consecutive games, April 26-30, 2004.

With Houlton getting through six innings and Choi's final home run in the bottom of the sixth inning providing a lead, Tracy was able to go into his bullpen "prevent defense." Five Dodger relievers retired the final nine Twins, with Eric Gagne getting his eighth save.

Of course, all that would have been different if Choi hadn't played home run derby in the first, fourth and sixth innings. He hit six homers in the three-game series, but streaks are his style. Last year, he hit nine home runs in 61 April at-bats, but finished the season with 15 and had none after July 28.

"The pitchers adjust, and sometimes my problem is pitches inside, and sometimes I'm not aggressive," said Choi. "I know more now. I know how they pitch to me."

The book on Choi also reads that he's patient to a fault for someone possessing such power. It has been a project of hitting coach Tim Wallach to preach a more aggressive approach and Choi was proud to announce that four of the six home runs came on the first pitch of the count, all fastballs.

"Sometimes, I think too much," said Choi. "I watch the video and Minnesota pitchers throw a lot of strikes, [and] no walks. I don't want to take. I want to swing."

Now Choi has 12 homers and 28 RBIs, and is on pace for a 31-73 full season. This was his fourth multihomer game overall and third this season. It was the first time he's hit three home runs in a Major League game, but said he did it in the Minor Leagues. It was also the first time for a Dodger since Green's record-setting four home run game in Milwaukee on May 23, 2002.

He had a chance to tie Green in the eighth inning with two out and runners on first and second. Facing former Dodger Terry Mulholland, who served up Choi's walk-off homer Friday night, Choi struck out.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.