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Balk in ninth extends woes for D-backs

Balk in ninth extends woes for D-backs

LOS ANGELES -- The D-backs' losing streak reached eight Monday night, and the level of pain associated with it reached another level.

Reliever Esmerling Vasquez balked home the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 5-4 win.

"Losing this way is pretty excruciating," D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. "I'm frustrated for our club. We've met, we've gone over it, there's no more talking to do. We need that break to get us through."

It sure looked like they were going to get it Monday, as the D-backs hit three home runs in the first two innings to build a 4-0 lead against Chad Billingsley.

Even though the Dodgers pulled to within 4-2 by the third inning, Arizona starter Rodrigo Lopez was still able to limit the damage and keep his team in the lead through seven.

"Lopey was very good," Hinch said. "I thought he went pretty deep in the game and battled. He escaped damage when they had guys on base. He did everything you could ask. We didn't play a complete game."

With a bullpen that came into the night with a Majors-worst 7.68 ERA, Hinch left Lopez in to pitch the eighth.

The right-hander made the decision look good, as he retired the first two hitters before giving up an infield hit to Rafael Furcal and a double to left by Matt Kemp.

That put runners on second and third, and Lopez appeared to be on his way to getting out of the inning when Andre Ethier hit a grounder to Kelly Johnson at second. Johnson, though, booted the ball, which allowed Furcal to score, and then compounded the mistake by throwing the ball past first baseman Adam LaRoche to allow Kemp to score from second with the tying run.

"It did unfortunately," Johnson said, when asked if the ball hopped up on him. "But still, obviously, I want to get an out afterward and I rushed it. There's really no excuse for rushing a throw when you can make a good one and get an out or at least save one run."

Said Hinch, "He made an error at a really bad time. He's been very sure-handed; he's played every day and done a nice job for us. It's unfortunate that it came at that time. It's a killer. The ball was hit pretty hard and things like that happen, but it's a play he normally makes."

Yet the score was still tied and the D-backs were still alive.

Hinch went to Vasquez to start the ninth and he quickly found himself in a jam when he walked James Loney to lead off the frame and allowed Casey Blake to reach on a single.

The D-backs caught a break when Loney ran into an out with a baserunning gaffe. So with two outs, Blake was at third and Vasquez had a 2-2 count on Blake DeWitt. As Vasquez came to a set position, Blake, a cagey veteran, danced a bit off the bag, and the young Vasquez flinched.

"Both his legs buckled and he balked," Hinch said. "It was pretty plain and simple to see."

Had Vasquez come set and then stepped off the pitching rubber, he would have been OK. But as he brought his hands up, he moved them back down again before they had reached the set position.

"I took a couple of hard steps, to see if I could startle him a little bit," Blake said. "Most of the time it doesn't work, but sometimes it does. I could probably count on one hand how many times I've tried it."

Said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, "That's experience. Especially with two outs, the pitcher's really not paying a lot of attention to you, so anything you see out of the corner of your eye is going to get your attention, and that's what it looked like happened."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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