Cruz finds redemption as he shuts door
Gonzalez wins first game of '08; Salazar hits two-run homer
LOS ANGELES -- As he sat in Dodger Stadium on Thursday night, Juan Cruz hoped for a chance to get back on the mound.
The D-backs reliever gave up a two-run single on Wednesday night at a crucial moment and he wanted an opportunity for redemption.
It came in the sixth and the right-hander capitalized on it by pitching out of a crucial jam as the D-backs beat the Dodgers, 6-4.
The win gave the D-backs a split in the two-game series and they maintained their six-game lead in the National League West.
There were plenty of other things to talk about from the game. There was a two-run homer by Jeff Salazar, some nice defensive plays and another strong outing by the bullpen.
So it's easy for Cruz's contribution to get somewhat lost in the shuffle, but with his team clinging to a 5-3 lead in the sixth, the slightly-built right-hander came on in relief of starter Edgar Gonzalez with one out and runners at first and third.
Cruz hit Andre Either to load the bases and it looked like the Dodgers might be able to break through.
Cruz, though, struck out Matt Kemp with a breaking ball to bring up pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney.
After falling behind Sweeney 2-1, Cruz surprised him with a breaking ball that Sweeney took for a called strike.
"I think the biggest pitch tonight was the 2-1 breaking ball to get back to even in the count against Sweeney," pitching coach Bryan Price said.
Sweeney wound up flying out to center to end the threat and Chad Qualls, Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon were able to hold the Dodgers to one run the rest of the way as the D-backs managed a split of the two-game series.
"I didn't do my job yesterday," Cruz said. "I wanted another chance. It meant a lot to me that [D-backs manager Bob Melvin] had confidence in me. I like when they trust that I can do my job."
It's a confidence that Cruz has earned over the past two-plus seasons in a D-backs uniform. While much of the attention last year was given to the team's Big Three relievers of Pena, Lyon and Jose Valverde, Cruz quietly put together an impressive season while filling a variety of roles in the bullpen.
"He's a kid that really wants to be a big contributor to the team," Price said. "He takes it real hard when he doesn't get the job done. I think there are some really good things that have come from him being here for three years. I think it has allowed him to get comfortable and feel like he's a part of something. And he's a big part of what we're doing here. He's a bridge in the middle and also a guy that can spell Qualls or Pena. He really has a chance to be a force in the game if he can harness his command."
"My role?" Cruz said. "My role is to pitch when they tell me. I just like to pitch. Every time for me when I come into the game it's an important situation to me. "
The D-backs survived some anxious moments in the seventh when with one out and a runner on second, Nomar Garciaparra hit a grounder back to the mound. Qualls fielded the ball and with Rafael Furcal caught between second and third, the right-hander fired the ball to Mark Reynolds at third. Furcal started to head back to second and Reynolds' throw hit off Furcal's helmet and bounced into right field to put runners at second and third.
A bloop single by Jeff Kent scored Furcal and cut the D-backs lead to 5-4. But in what has become standard operating procedure for Qualls this year, he got James Loney to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.