LOS ANGELES - The Diamondbacks turned a slapstick laugher into a white-knuckle Hollywood thriller Saturday before finding yet another way to win and putting even more daylight between themselves and their scuffling division foes.
Arizona scored eight times in the first six innings to build a seven-run lead, and then had to hang on as the Dodgers used timely hits and two errors by jittery rookie Justin Upton to roar back.
The D-Backs had just enough of a stagger to escape with an 8-7 victory, winning for the 12th time in their past 14 games and clinching their fifth straight series victory.
“We knew this series was big, but I didn’t think this was necessarily a make-or-break series for us because there’s almost two months of baseball to play,” said Eric Byrnes, whose first-inning, two-run home run gave the D-Backs a 2-0 lead. “But to take the series in the second game going into tomorrow, that’s big. It’s a good feeling. Hopefully, we’ll come out here and play relaxed and take one more.”
Closer Jose Valverde pitched a spotless ninth to allow Arizona to record its 25th one-run victory of the year — the most in the majors — and second in two nights.
“He’s throwing strikes and he’s going at guys,” Byrnes said. “He’s got a second and third pitch now that keeps everybody off his fastball, and his cutter’s unbelievable. So when you have an arsenal like that, it’s just a matter of going out there and getting more experience.”
Meanwhile, the fading Dodgers fell for the 11th time in their past 15 tries and three full games behind the D-Backs. Suddenly, the pressure is on L.A. ace Brad Penny to beat Arizona’s best, Brandon Webb, today to keep his team from getting even smaller in the rear-view mirror.
Arizona veteran Livan Hernandez emerged from a nasty June and July to pitch six strong innings in his first August start.
But Upton, who had an infield single and a wall-shaking double to collect his first two major league hits, botched a fly ball in the sixth leading to one Dodger run and dropped another in the seventh to set the stage for Nomar Garciaparra’s three-run homer.
While Upton endured cat-calls from the fans in the bleachers for his blunders, the Dodgers were back in the game at 8-6 and inched closer when ex-Arizona State player Andre Ethier pounded a solo home run to lead off the eighth.
A night after the two teams combined for just one run, Byrnes’ 17th home run of the season and catcher Miguel Montero’s two-run shot of his own in the sixth dave Arizona an 8-1 lead. In between, the Diamondbacks scored four times in the fifth and needed only one hit to leave the infield to get it done.