Belt­way elite

Dodgers, re­dis­cov­er­ing them­selves, beat Na­tion­als for fourth straight.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Andy McCul­lough andy.mccul­lough@la­times.com Twit­ter: @McCul­loughTimes

WASHINGTON — The so­lu­tion lurked be­neath their noses, but as the Dodgers me­an­dered through a 116 skid ear­lier this month, the group at­tempted a se­ries of stunts to ex­or­cise their demons.

Yu Darvish sprin­kled salt in the Dodger Sta­dium dugout. Adrian Gon­za­lez car­ried the lineup out be­fore one game. Some­one stashed a statue of Jobu, the voodoo doll from “Ma­jor League,” in the bat rack. The club­house at­ten­dants served as bat boys. A mem­ber of the train­ing staff took a fast­ball in the ribs as a mo­ti­va­tional ploy.

None of the tricks worked. The an­swer resided in­side their club­house, in the ex­plo­sive bat of rookie sen­sa­tion Cody Bellinger, in the depth of their lineup, in the stout­ness of their pitch­ing staff. The team suf­fered through weeks of fu­til­ity be­fore it be­came clear that rit­u­als to ward off spir­its, fic­tional totems and sup­port staffers wear­ing bruises would not solve their woes.

The mantra the play­ers of­ten used — “Play bet­ter” — felt un­ful­fill­ing dur­ing an 11game los­ing streak. But it felt ob­vi­ous af­ter Satur­day’s 3-2 vic­tory over the Na­tion­als, the fourth in a row for the Dodgers, in which Bellinger supplied fire­power, Rich Hill stymied his hosts and Yasiel Puig dived to save the lead.

“We’ve been play­ing ex­tremely good base­ball,” Hill said. “You can see the con­vic­tion be­hind ev­ery play, be­hind ev­ery swing, be­hind ev­ery pitch.”

Af­ter los­ing six se­ries in a row, the Dodgers (96-52) are still “try­ing to get that swag­ger back” that sus­tained them ear­lier in the sum­mer, man­ager Dave Roberts ex­plained. Satur­day helped. Bellinger tied the Na­tional League record for home runs by a rookie with his 38th blast of the sea­son. He added an RBI sin­gle to pad the lead. Chase Ut­ley dou­bled twice and scored both times. Hill struck out seven and per­mit­ted only a solo homer in five in­nings.

In the eighth, af­ter a pair of ground balls evaded the grasp of short­stop Corey Sea­ger, Tony Wat­son hun­kered down to re­tire former Dodger Howie Ken­drick and All-Star sec­ond base­man Daniel Mur­phy to pre­serve the lead. Puig sprawled across the grass in right field to steal a game-ty­ing hit from Mur­phy.

“Hats off to Puig,” Wat­son said. “That was a huge out for us.”

In turn, the Dodgers re­duced the magic num­ber to win the Na­tional League West to five games. They have se­cured a se­ries vic­tory over the Na­tion­als, the cham­pi­ons of the East, whom they could see in the sec­ond round of the play­offs.

The ad­van­tage started with a fa­mil­iar source. Bellinger crushed a waist-high, 93-mph fast­ball from A.J. Cole in the sec­ond in­ning. He now shares the NL rookie homer record with Hall of Famer Frank Robin­son and former Bos­ton Brave Wally Berger.

When the sea­son be­gan, he said af­ter the game, he had hoped to join the Dodgers as a Septem­ber call-up. He has be­come a force who car­ries them.

In the third, Ut­ley sparked the of­fense from the lead­off spot. Ut­ley had started Fri­day against Ed­win Jack­son, an­other righthanded pitcher, as the Dodgers ap­pear to have set­tled on a pla­toon at sec­ond base. Ut­ley will face righthanders, for the most part, with Lo­gan Forsythe set to play against left-han­ders.

Ut­ley opened a rally by pulling a dou­ble into right field. Three bat­ters later, Cole tossed a changeup on the outer edge of the plate to Bellinger. Af­ter the homer, Cole ap­peared wary of test­ing Bellinger in­side. In­stead, Bellinger coun­tered by flick­ing an RBI sin­gle into left.

“They’re a great team with a great lineup,” Bellinger said. “To come out and win th­ese two games, I think that means some­thing.”

Hill cruised through the first three in­nings. He ben­e­fited from the zone of um­pire Gary Ced­er­strom, who af­forded both pitch­ers some gen­er­ous strikes. Hill would not com­plain — he struck out six in the first three in­nings and did not give up a hit un­til there were two outs in the fourth.

Hill could not put away Washington third base­man An­thony Ren­don, an MVP can­di­date. Ren­don took a nine-pitch walk in the sec­ond. Two in­nings later, he launched a fast­ball into the Dodgers’ bullpen to give Washington its first hit and its first run.

Ut­ley helped for­mu­late a re­sponse in the fifth. He yanked an­other dou­ble into right. An in­field sin­gle by Sea­ger moved Ut­ley to third. He scored on a sac­ri­fice fly by Justin Turner.

Hill re­tired the side on a trio of grounders in the fifth. He had thrown only 74 pitches. But with a pair of run­ners aboard in the top of the sixth, Roberts re­moved him for a pinch-hit­ter. De­spite the early exit, Hill was sat­is­fied with the vic­tory.

“We got the win to­day, and that’s all that mat­ters,” Hill said. “The bullpen did a hell of a job. Ev­ery­body looks like they’re com­ing back to form.”

Nick Wass Associated Press

CODY BELLINGER, catch­ing a pop f ly in the fourth, tied the NL rookie record with his 38th home run.

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