David..er..Haeger, who was tried and rejected by both the White Sox and Padres before signing with the Dodgers as a free agent in the spring, rode his fluttering knuckleball delightfully but the National League Most Valuable Player in waiting, Pujols, who could hit a butterfly with a fence post, connected in the fourth and Ankel added the winner in the seventh after Haeger's 50-mph flutter ball hit Ryan Ludwick and turned the game around.
At the same time, the 2008 Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter, was on the mound for the charging Cardinals and held the Dodgers to five hits and a pair of runs, recording his 13th win of the season against three losses and giving St. Louis their nine with in the last 10 games.
Carpenter is 8-0 with a 2.12 earned run average in his nine starts since the first of July. Haeger was making the second Major League start of his career.
San Francisco thumped the Mets 10-1 to cut the Dodgers lead a little thinner.
"They are a very tough club," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "They are very tough defensively and they pitch very well. You get a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning, you feel like you have a leg up against any ballclub, but unfortunately we couldn't take it home."
It seemed as if the Dodgers might give Haeger some real breating room in the first inning when Rafael Furcal led off with a single and Andre Ethier doubled with one out. Manny Ramirez was intentionally walked to load the bases, but although Casey Blake's sacrifce fly scored one, Ethier got thrown out trying to advance to third on the play.
"We had a chance to really do some damage in the first," Blake said. "But we let him off the hook right there."
Carpenter hit another slight snag in the fourth inning when Matt Kemp singled and James Loney knocked him in with a single for a 2-1 Los Angeles lead but the Cardinal right-hander retired the Dodgers in order five times and lasted at least seven innings for a seventh consecutive start.
In his first start of the season with the Dodgers and the second in his brief Major League Career, Haeger's knuckleball fluttered through the strike zone and baffled Cardinals hitters most of the evening. He rarely fell behind in the count. He induced a dozen ground-ball outs and didn't walk a batter in his seven innings. Quite impressive considering only two of Haeger's 80 pitches weren't knucklers.
Haeger said it was much easier pitching Los Angeles than in Albuquerque. "Pitching in Albuquerque is like pitching on the moon a little bit, with the thin air," he said. "I felt good. I was not walking anybody. Anytime I can throw the ball over the plate on a consistent basis I think I'm going to have some success."
But twice his knuckleball didn't knuckle and the resulting two home runs handed him his first Major League decision. "The first one to Pujols was a 1-0 count and it just came off my hand bad," Haeger said. "I was trying to throw a slower one to Ankel just to get strike one there, and the second it came off my hand I knew it was a bad one. It was in the middle of the plate on a tee for him and that's what good hitters do with pitches like that."
His seven strong innings could earn him another start Torre said. "I don't see why not, let's put it that way. Charlie has certainly earned another start."
Haeger could be available for the Dodgers as early as Thursday, due to the limited stress a knuckleball puts on your arm, and would be able to take Hiroki Kuroda's scheduled start.
"I could pitch tomorrow," Haeger said. "I've never done it before, but typically the day after I start, especially after throwing only 80 pitches, I'm not going to be sore or anything like that tomorrow. It would be new to me but I'd give it a shot."
Minor League Record Strong
Kunckleballers were much more prevalent in past years -- Washington once had four of them in the starting rotation -- but the trend recently is for bigger and stronger pitchers to hit triple numbers on the speed gun.
Haeger was the White Sos 25th selection in the 2001 draft and, excepting his rookie season, he has recorded a 57-59 record and a 3.80 earned run average over 177 minor league games and 937 innings.
He was 14-5 in 2005, 14-6 in 2006 and 10-13 in 2008 before posting an 11-6, 3.55 record with Albuquerque this season.
He just might be the fifth starter the Dodgers have been looking for since March.
Chad Billingsley, who injured his hamstring in early August, seems to be injury free and will start tonight against the Cardinals. Billingsley (11-6, 3.73 ERA)?Billingsley will be pitching for the first time in 11 days. The right-hander suffered a slight hamstring strain coming out of the batter's box on Aug. 7 and was skipped Wednesday. He received a platelet patch injection and reported significant improvement. Billingsley will be facing the Cardinals, a team he shut out on one hit for the first five innings on July 28 in St. Louis before being tagged with a six-run sixth inning.
The Cardinals will start RHP Mitchell Boggs (1-1, 3.78 ERA).
Score by Innings
St Louis 000 100 200-3
Los Angeles 100 010 000-2
Los Angeles ab r h bi ave
Furcal ss 4 1 1 0 .262
Hudson 2b 4 0 0 0 .290
Ethier rf 4 0 1 0 .281
Ramirez lf 3 0 0 0 .310
Blake 3b 3 0 0 1 .279
Kemp cf 3 1 1 0 .312
Ausmus c 2 0 0 0 .312
Pierre ph 1 0 1 0 .321
Broxton p 0 0 0 0 .000
Haeger p 2 0 0 0 .000
Kuo p 0 0 0 0 .000
Martin ph-c 0 0 0 0 .261
Totals 29 2 5 2
St Louis 33 3 6 3
Error (6). 2B- Ethier (30), Kemp (20).
RBI- Blake (66), Loney (70). S- Martin.
SF- Blake. LOB- Los Angeles 3, St. Louis
4. SB- Loney (7).
Los Angeles in h r-er bb so era
Haeger (0-1) 7.0 5 3-3 0 0 3.86
Kuo 1.0 0 0-0 0 1 3.77
Broxton 1.0 1 0-0 0 2 3.19
HBP- Haeger. T- 2:20. Att- 49,415.
Dodger Blue Notes-- After the 3-2 loss Monday, the shortest of the season, lasting only 2:20, the Dodgers have lost a season-high four straight games at home, their longest home losing streak since May 7-11, 2008. ...The Dodgers are 23-23 at home since they began the season 13-0 at Dodger Stadium. ...With catcher Russell Martin's eighth-inning throwing error, Los Angeles snapped its season-high streak of 85.2 consecutive error-free innings. ...Haeger became the 10th different Dodger pitcher to start a game this season, one behind last season’s total. In 1966, the Dodgers set a record by starting only Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Claude Osteen, Don Sutton plus eight starts by Joe Moeller. ...With his first-inning single, Rafael Furcal reached base in a season-high 26 straight games dating to July 20. Furcal is batting .296 (34-for-115) with two homers and 11 RBI during that span.