Enter Herrera, who followed his go-ahead RBI single in the ninth inning Monday night with Tuesday night's go-ahead double. It was the first run Lee had allowed the Dodgers in 22 2/3 innings and the first Dodgers win this year when trailing after seven innings.
"The double off the wall was a bad pitch," said Lee. "A 2-2 curveball that was belt high, inner third. I mean it was a horrible pitch. At that point in the game, I've definitely got to make a better pitch than that."
Still, it was no easy at-bat for a rookie against Lee, who struck out 12 in 7 2/3 innings. A deafening Citizens Bank Park sellout crowd, two outs, two on (singles by Bobby Abreu and Dee Gordon), and Herrera fell behind Lee in the count, 1-2, then fouled off a pair of tough 2-2 pitches.
"That's kind of been his M.O.," said Mattingly, "He fouls balls off. Cliff got ahead early with breaking balls but got that one up, and the kid made a nice pass at it and Juan [Pierre] almost caught it."
Herrera drove the double off the wall in left-center as Pierre, the former Dodgers outfielder, bounced off the wall trying to make a catch, chasing Lee.
"It's funny," said Herrera, about to explain the poise that is making his clutch play possible. "I'm laughing, smiling inside, while everybody [in the crowd] was making noise. I was happy. I thank God for this moment. It's crazy, but I was happy."
And that was before the hit. Herrera is happy because the Dodgers, in spite of themselves, finally gave him a chance after he languished in their system for nine Minor League seasons.
Nobody even thought enough of Herrera to offer a Major League Spring Training invite four months ago. Now the 27-year-old is beating Lee and Jonathan Papelbon while displaying the defensive versatility to allow Mattingly to play him at second base, third base and center field.
He has nine RBIs in 20 games and a .304 average since Juan Uribe was put on the disabled list. Uribe is expected to return Monday to his third-base job, but Mattingly hinted that he'll find a way to keep playing Herrera.
"He's had some huge hits," said catcher Matt Treanor, who spent 10 years in the Minor Leagues and started the winning rally with a double off Lee. "Back-to-back hits in Colorado and here again. If it was just one at-bat we're talking about, but it's not. And he's solid defensively and mentally there. He's a solid player."
In the winning rally, the Dodgers had two runners thrown out at third base leading up to Herrera's heroics.
"It didn't seem to be going our way that inning," Mattingly understated.
Treanor led off the inning with a double, but he was nailed at third on Tony Gwynn's attempted sacrifice bunt, with Gwynn safe at first. Abreu batted for Billingsley and singled to right fielder Hunter Pence, who threw out Gwynn trying for third. Gordon singled Abreu to second and both scored on Herrera's double.
The win was Billingsley's first since Apr. 11, a nine-start drought.
"The first inning I was kind of in a rush, amped up a little, but found a rhythm and located well and threw my offspeed for strikes," Billingsley said. "With Cliff out there painting, I knew I had to throw up zeros and pitch right with him."
Right fielder Andre Ethier saved that first inning from turning real ugly with a leaping catch of Ty Wigginton's drive on an 0-2 pitch to the out-of-town scoreboard to strand two runners.
"That could have blown the whole thing open," said Mattingly. "An 0-2 pitch and he leaves something to hit hard, 'Dre makes a nice play and it seemed like Bills settled down with his command.
"It was one of those games -- after the second inning I turned to [bench coach Trey Hillman] and said, 'Bills got a roll going.' You could see it coming. It's what we had to have with Cliff throwing the way he was."
Lee made 122 pitches, 92 strikes and only 30 balls.