Haren puts Dodgers in Freeway Series driver's seat
Veteran righty busts out of slump with 7 1/3-inning gem vs. Angels
ANAHEIM -- No one could have reasonably expected Dan Haren to do what he did on Wednesday night.
Not after five straight losses with a 10.03 ERA. Not after the constant questions about his place in the starting rotation. Not after the dogfights Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw faced the previous two nights against an aggressive and potent Angels lineup.
Not even Haren himself expected he would carry a perfect game into the sixth inning or that he would stall the high-powered Angels the way he did.
"I've just been trying to have a perfect inning," Haren joked after his first win in more than a month. "I told someone in the outfield yesterday, I was just going to do a George Costanza and whatever my instincts are, do the opposite."
In a 2-1 Dodgers win, Haren retired the first 16 batters he faced, putting away the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton with relative ease and finishing the night with 7 1/3 innings of one-run, three-hit baseball.
After closer Kenley Jansen closed the door on the Angels in the ninth for his 32nd save, Haren (9-9) earned his first win since June 30 -- and perhaps answered the questions surrounding his slot in the rotation.
"I don't have to answer that. But you just don't pick guys off trees," manager Don Mattingly said regarding Haren's spot.
"I'm really happy for Danny. A lot of guys have been thinking, 'What should we do?' and justifiably. He knows he hasn't pitched well lately. But you know Danny is going to give you everything he's got."
Haren said he's worked with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt on tinkering his mechanics, staying back a little bit more. And both he and catcher A.J. Ellis said his pitches seemed to have more life -- even during long toss before the game.
After the Angels put up four runs in the first inning against Greinke on Monday and three runs in the first three innings against Kershaw on Tuesday, they struggled to make solid contact against Haren.
They put the ball in play -- Haren didn't record a strikeout until the fourth inning -- but failed to hit a ball out of the infield in the first and didn't pose much of a threat until Hank Conger broke up the perfect game with a single to left field in the sixth.
Conger used to catch Haren when he pitched for the Angels. For him, it wasn't surprising to see his former batterymate bounce back the way he did.
"To me it's not really weird," Conger said. "Even with a guy like him, you disregard past starts. Because any day, he can step on the mound and just throw what he did tonight. He's a proven pitcher. He's been an elite pitcher for such a long time, so he knows what he's doing out there."
After the hit, Conger was soon erased trying to advance to third on a pinch-hit single by David Freese. Center fielder Yasiel Puig launched a strong, perfectly located throw to third base to catch the Angels catcher, and a lineout by Kole Calhoun one batter later allowed Haren to walk away from the inning unscathed. He then came back out for the bottom of the seventh and retired the trio of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton for the third time in the game.
After allowing a bunt single to Erick Aybar to lead off the eighth, Haren gave way to relievers J.P. Howell and Brandon League with one out. Aybar would come around to score on Chris Iannetta's sacrifice fly later in the inning, but the Dodgers bullpen was able to maintain the lead from there.
Mattingly said before the game that he appreciated the chance to have Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all in the starting lineup. Thanks to an American League ballpark, Mattingly was able to start Kemp at designated hitter and play Crawford and Ethier in the outfield corners.
All three hitters contributed in a major way in the top of the second against Angels starter Matt Shoemaker. After working the count full, Kemp launched a home run to left field -- his sixth home run in nine games -- on a 3-2 count. Then Crawford singled and stole second, creating an RBI opportunity for Ethier, who promptly doubled in a run.
But the rest of the night belonged to Haren, who -- for his own psyche -- came in needing a win.
"I think that's probably the understatement of the year," Haren said. "I just want to do good for these guys. You can't just go out here winning all of Kershaw's games and losing all of mine.
"I mean, it's really hard. We get paid a lot of money to do what we do, but we're out there being judged by millions of people. I just wanted to do good for my team, and I didn't want to be just a weak link."
On Wednesday night, he wasn't. Haren's teammates spoke highly of the work the right-hander has put in as he's tried to turn around his season.
"It's a huge lift for us," Ellis said. "A huge lift for our ballclub. I'm happy for Danny tonight. Lots of long talks, a lot of tinkering a lot of trying to figure what's been going awry. A night like this to happen for him here, it's his former team and a big environment, it's huge for us."
Haren said he isn't quite sure exactly what the difference for him was Wednesday -- maybe it was his mechanical adjustments, maybe it was the Angels' intimidating lineup forcing him to lock in.
"Whatever it is," Haren said, "I'm going to watch it over again and try to do it again on Monday."