Beckett takes the ball and runs with it

Beckett takes the ball and runs with it

Beckett takes the ball and runs with it
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp, watching college football with teammates before they played the first baseball game of September, laid out the down-and-distance for the Dodgers.

"I think Matt was the first one to start calling it the fourth quarter for us," catcher A.J. Ellis said after Josh Beckett delivered a clutch home debut and Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier homered for a 2-1 Dodgers win over the Diamondbacks on Saturday night.

"It's the end of the year," said Ellis. "Time to make a move. All the pieces are here. Everybody knows it's the end, the last chance."

This was a critical win for the Dodgers, a club scuffling to find itself and stay alive in the pennant race. They had lost five of their previous six games while dropping 4 1/2 games behind the Giants, who had won earlier Saturday, and their last eight to Arizona.

"It's good to hear the music out there," said manager Don Mattingly.

Beckett -- essentially a giveaway by the Red Sox in the nine-player blockbuster deal keyed around Adrian Gonzalez -- kept his first Dodgers victory winnable with 6 2/3 innings, tying a season high with nine strikeouts.

With Chad Billingsley on the shelf, Beckett has become the default No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw, and Mattingly said he sees Beckett as the money pitcher he was before things went south in Boston.

"I've never really seen him pitch bad," said Mattingly. "His stuff is pretty consistent. I expect him to be like this. He locates, changes speeds, he's not afraid."

Randy Choate got one out and Jamey Wright pitched a perfect eighth inning to set up interim closer Brandon League, who picked up his first save as a Dodger with Kenley Jansen sidelined by an irregular heartbeat. League has seven straight scoreless outings, but this was the first in a save situation.

"It's not new to me, but it's been awhile," said League, acquired by the Dodgers after he lost the closer job in Seattle. "Unfortunately, with Kenley's health issues, all we can do is step up as a bullpen and pick him up."

September is the time that winners step up. Even if there's truth to the notion that the Dodgers shook up the chemistry with the recent radical makeover, there's no time for excuses.

"We've got to figure out some way to win some series," said Beckett. "Hopefully, we can come out tomorrow and split this one. Obviously, we don't have a chance to win it. From here on, we've got to win some series. We've got some tough ones coming up against the Giants. I'd like to sit back one day and read up where everybody is at because I have to keep asking every time we play someone.

"I've been on the other end where we've got guys, but I've never been on the end that I'm on now. We're trying to get to know each other and this is a really good group of guys. We just need to make that translate into on the field performance."

"He showed why he's a big-game pitcher," Ellis said. "He had an attitude in the bullpen, an edge about him. I guess you could call it a game face. He was just locked in, even before he stepped in the 'pen. And he was all-business on the bench."

Ramirez put the Dodgers on the board with a 445-foot homer with one out in the second inning off SoCal native Tyler Skaggs, the eighth Ramirez home run in the last 16 games, ninth as a Dodger and 23rd on the season.

Justin Upton tied the game with an equally impressive 432-foot blast off Beckett that cleared the Dodgers bullpen in the third inning. The key play for the Dodgers came two pitches earlier, when Ellis threw out Aaron Hill trying to steal second. Ellis nailed Chris Young and Gerardo Parra on Thursday night.

Ethier, with two out in the bottom of the sixth, broke the tie with his 15th home run, an opposite-field shot on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Matt Albers. He's hitting .474 in his last 10 games despite dealing with a bad blister on his right palm.

"This month pretty much sums up the season for us," said Ethier. "We know what we have, we know what the games are and we know what we have to make up. We have to give it our best shot and don't leave anything out there."

The Dodgers had a chance for an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when Shane Victorino led off with a walk, stole second and continued to third on catcher Miguel Montero's throwing error.

But the Diamondbacks pulled off two defensive gems. Left fielder Parra raced in to make a diving catch of Adrian Gonzalez's blooper, then right fielder Upton caught Kemp's fly to right, gunned to Montero, who short-hopped the ball and held on as Victorino bowled him over for a double play.

"I short-hopped it and all I was thinking was stay with the ball and catch it," said Montero. "I never saw it. I was watching the ball and as soon as the ball came into my glove it was pretty much, 'Boom.' "

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