LOS ANGELES – Dodgers veteran Josh Beckett needed 81 pitches to get through the first three innings Tuesday night against the Braves, a hard slog of an outing that demanded some context.
In light of former Braves Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine being inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, consider: Maddux threw a 78-pitch complete game (nine innings) against the Cubs in 1997, and Tom Glavine fired a 79-pitch, nine-inning complete game against the Mets in 1993.
But here’s the problem: The Braves didn’t make Beckett pay much of a price for missing so often in his 4 1/3 innings of work, and neither was Braves starter Aaron Harang a model of efficiency. After he threw 112 pitches in six innings, the Dodgers teed off on reliever Anthony Varvaro for three runs in the seventh in an 8-4 win to open the series at Dodger Stadium.
Matt Kemp’s second two-run homer of the night came against Varvaro, who allowed two groundball singles to start the inning and the go-ahead run on Carl Crawford’s ground out. That gave the Dodgers a 5-4 lead, and Kemp’s homer made it a three-run margin and spiked the decibel level from a crowd of 49,630.
Harang was charged with nine hits and four runs in six innings. He threw 112 pitches and had three strikeouts and one walk.
Beckett also gave up nine hits and four runs, and had four walks with two strikeouts while piling up 105 pitches. Neither starter factored in the decision.
The Braves had leads of 1-0 after one inning, 3-2 after Freddie Freeman’s two-run homer in the third inning, and 4-2 after 4 ½ innings, but Braves pitchers kept making mistakes and the Dodgers kept hitting them.
Yasiel Puig had four hits including a double and a triple for the Dodgers, who kept up their momentum after reclaiming first place in the West Division with a weekend sweep of the rival Giants.
Puig went 4-for-5 and has an astounding .526 average (20-for-38) with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs in nine career games against the Braves, including the Dodgers’ four-game division series win last year.
The night got off to a promising start for the Braves when B.J. Upton reached on an infield single off Beckett’s glove to start the first inning. Tommy La Stella, the rising rookie who had another three-hit game, followed Upton with a walk in the first inning. One out later Upton stole third base and scored on a sacrifice fly by his brother, Justin Upton.
The Dodgers moved ahead on Kemp’s homer in the second inning, snapping is string of 104 homerless plate appearances. Harang paid a price for walking Crawford to start the inning. Kemp’s homer was a fence-scraper to right field, where Ryan Doumit waited at the edge of the warning track to play it off a carom that never came.
Doumit filled in for Jason Heyward, out with a sore back Tuesday. The tall (6-foot-5) and athletic Heyward, a former Gold Glove winner, might’ve had a shot at catching the ball. Doumit did not.
Freeman answered with a two-run homer in the third after La Stella’s leadoff single. Freeman is from Orange, south of Los Angeles, and had family and friends at the game. His .362 average (17-for-46) in 11 games at Dodger Stadium his second-highest average at any ballpark where he’s played more than three games (.400 in 12 games at Arizona’s Chase Field).
The Braves pushed the lead to 4-2 in the fifth when Chris Johnson hit a leadoff single and scored on Andrelton Simmons’ double to the right-center gap. Harang and B.J. Upton struck out consecutively with Simmons at second base, the second of three strikeouts in the game for Upton.
Harang worked out of several tight spots, but not in the fifth inning. After Puig scorched a one-out triple to the right-center gap, Adrian Gonzalez followed with a double. One out later, Crawford’s single drove in the tying run.
The Braves also had scoring opportunities in the seventh, when Simmons grounded into an inning-ending double play with two on, and the eighth, when Justin Upton flied out with two on to end the inning.
For a postgame write-thru version of this story, please go to MyAJC.com or use this link.