LOS ANGELES — Marco Scutaro is hardly a home run threat. So when he came up in the ninth inning with the potential tying run at second base, Matt Kemp played him shallow enough in center field to have a play at the plate on a single.
Scutaro, however, got the fat part of the bat on a pitch from Paco Rodriguez and launched it toward the warning track, where Kemp — in his first game off the disabled list from a right hamstring injury — chased it down and made a sliding grab for the final out of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-5 victory over the slumping San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.
“I thought it had a good shot to go out,” Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “It looked like he hit it well, but I knew Kemp was out there and he’s a good center fielder. So he was going to do all he could to not let it drop. It was bad luck for us. That’s kind of what’s been happening a lot to us lately.”
The loss was the third in a row and eighth in 11 games for the defending World Series champions, dropping them under .500 for the first time since losing to the Dodgers on opening day. It’s the latest the Giants have been below the break-even mark in any season since 2008, when they finished 72-90 in Bruce Bochy’s second year as manager.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know we were under .500. I just knew we haven’t been playing well. That’s a wake-up call in itself,” Crawford said.
Mark Ellis and Hanley Ramirez each hit a two-run homer against Giants rookie Mike Kickham (0-2), while Dodgers rookie Stephen Fife pitched effectively into the seventh inning.
Kickham was charged with six runs — five earned — and eight hits over 5 1-3 innings in his second big league start. The 24-year-old lefty was recalled from Triple-A Fresno to fill in for Chad Gaudin, who was struck on his pitching elbow by a line drive off the bat of Miami’s Derek Dietrich last Thursday and placed on the 15-day disabled list shortly before Monday night’s series opener.
The Dodgers broke a 2-all tie with four runs in the sixth. Adrian Gonzalez doubled and Ramirez followed with a drive off the left-field foul pole for his fifth homer. Kickham gave up singles to his next two batters before rookie Jake Dunning gave up an RBI single by Tim Federowicz.
Nick Punto kept the inning alive when he beat the relay throw to first base with a headfirst slide on a potential double-play grounder. Andre Ethier then scored on Dunning’s wild pitch to Fife.
Brandon Belt, who was 3 for 4 after coming in 4 for 43 lifetime at Dodger Stadium, got one of the runs back for the Giants in the seventh with his eighth homer.
Fife (2-2) allowed three runs and four hits in 6 2-3 innings, including solo homers by Belt and NL MVP Buster Posey. The 26-year-old right-hander struck out three and walked two in his 11th major league start, only the second in which he gave up more than two runs.
Fife retired his first 11 batters before Posey drove an 0-1 pitch barely over the left-field fence for his ninth homer. The Giants tied it in the fifth on a run-scoring groundout by Andres Torres.
Ellis opened the scoring with his fourth homer, a two-run shot with two outs in the third after Federowicz led off with a double.
With Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen unavailable after pitching three consecutive days, demoted closer Brandon League came on in the ninth to protect a 6-3 lead and did not retire any of the three batters he faced before the crowd booed him off the field.
Belt hit an RBI double and Torres added an RBI single off League before Rodriguez earned his first major league save — with a huge assist from Kemp.
“He made a great catch,” Bochy said. “Marco smoked it. I thought it was over his head.”
Kemp, a two-time Gold Glove winner, returned to the lineup after missing 24 games with a right hamstring strain. He was injured May 29 while running down a double in right-center by Mike Trout at Angel Stadium. It was the fourth time in his career that Kemp landed on the DL, including two stints last season because of a left hamstring strain that cost him a combined 51 games.
“I had to beg him to let me play today,” Kemp said, referring to manager Don Mattingly. “I was telling him I was just sick of watching my team play without me. It kind of feels like you’re not part of the team when you’re on the DL, so I just wanted to get back out there with the guys.”
NOTES: Scutaro is homerless in 142 career at-bats against the Dodgers. ... The Giants have been outhomered 19-5 in their last 15 games. ... Giants CF Angel Pagan had surgery in Los Angeles to repair a tendon in his left hamstring, an injury that has sidelined him since May 26. ... Ellis’ home run was the 103rd of his career and fourth against San Francisco. When he was on the other side of the Bay Bridge with the Oakland A’s, he set a franchise record for second basemen with 19 in 2007.