PHOENIX Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson made no secret Friday of the fact that night's game with the first place Los Angeles Dodgers was a big one, against reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
"If we could beat him tonight, that's the kind of thing that can set you on your way, just turn things around," Gibson said before the game.
The D-backs did just that, roughing the lefty up worse than they ever have in a 5-3 win that snapped a season-worst six-game losing streak. So could the win be the spark that lights a fire under these underachieving D-backs?
"We sure hope so," Gibson said. "We feel pretty good right now."
In topping the Dodgers to cut their lead in the NL West to six games, the D-backs got finally got the big plays they lacked during their losing streak. From the offense, the defense and the pitchers, the whole team contributed key plays to get the win.
The five runs Kershaw allowed Friday was the most he'd ever surrendered in 12 career starts against the D-backs. It was also the most he has allowed in a single inning since May 4, 2010.
Kershaw entered the sixth inning with a 2-0 lead, having allowed just one hit and two base runners. Reserve catcher Henry Blanco started things off with a walk and then went from first base to third on a Willie Bloomquist single. Aaron Hill then pushed Blanco across to set things up for Justin Upton, a career .045 (1-for-22) hitter against Kershaw who was the target of fans' frustration this week.
Upton finally came up big, knocking in two runs on his first triple sine Aug. 5, 2011, also against the Dodgers.
"He's been playing hard, I can't say enough about him," Gibson said. "As he sat up there in that situation before he hit the triple, as manager and a coaching staff (with) all the work and encouragement we give him, you just hope for something like that to happen."
Left fielder Jason Kubel kept the rally going by driving Upton in with a double and scoring on a wild pitch to cap the five-run inning, but it was his defensive play the next inning that impressed most.
After a walk and three singles in the seventh inning from reliever Bryan Shaw left the D-backs up 5-3 with the bases loaded, reliever Mike Zagruski got the next batter on a strikeout looking. He then got James Loney to fly out to Kubel as Tony Gwynn, Jr. tagged up and headed for home. Kubel fired a strike to Blanco to end the inning, notching his NL best 11th outfield assist.
"I was hoping the ball would come out to me," Kubel said. "That wasn't an easy one."
The eighth inning proved no less eventful, as D-backs reliever David Hernandez put two Dodgers on base right away. He then got a strikeout and a flyball out before Mark Ellis and three pitches and sending Chase Field into a frenzy.
"Youre going to be put in those situations with runners on in scoring position," Hernandez said. "It's just whether you're able to make that pitch. Fortunately I was able to tonight."
J.J. Putz also induced a crucial double en route to cap the wild three innings with his 15th save. All that came after fill-in starter Josh Collmenter posted his third consecutive strong start -- six innings, two runs (one earner) on six hits and six strikeouts -- since losing his rotation spot early in the season.
The win was Collmenter's first since Game 3 of the 2011 NLDS, when he helped the D-backs stave off elimination. He also threw a career high 111 pitches.
"I knew with it being the last start going into the break where you get a few days off that I wanted to give them everything I had," Collmenter said. "It's good to have a check in the 'W' column finally, not only for me but for the team."
So with impacts plays from all sides, the D-backs hope to parlay the win into something more. Perhaps, as Gibson suggested, the win can serve as the turning point that sparks the D-backs with the NL West race still wide open.
"We know we can't afford to lose anymore ground," Hernandez said. "This was essentially a must win game. I'm sure that people were already chalking this up as a loss, but we're just going to keep battling."
Added Collmenter: "We knew that eventually we were going to crack through. We want to get on some momentum going into the break and this gives us an opportunity to have a winning streak going in."