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Dodgers Remain Hangers-On

Alvarez has a strong start, Cora knocks in the winning run and Gagne gets his 54th save in a 2-1 victory over Padres.

September 24, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Even positive steps at this point could lead nowhere for the Dodgers, who moved closer to another early vacation Tuesday night despite a 2-1 victory over San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Dodgers scored twice in the final three innings to overcome a 1-0 deficit against the National League West's last-place team while taking the second game of the four-game series before 20,044, but didn't make progress in the NL wild-card race with the finish line in sight.

Adrian Beltre hit his career-high 23rd home run to tie the score in the seventh, and the smooth-fielding Alex Cora made his biggest contribution at the plate in the ninth. Cora delivered on a hit-and-run play with one out against reliever Rod Beck, doubling into the gap in left-center to drive in Jeromy Burnitz from first.

That enabled Manager Jim Tracy to make his favorite move, summoning baseball's most dominant closer to save the game.

Eric Gagne was as overwhelming as usual, relying on a pinpoint 97-mph fastball in a 1-2-3 inning for his major league-leading 54th save.

Gagne extended his record for consecutive saves to 62 while finishing the victory for Tom Martin (1-2), who was perfect in the eighth after Wilson Alvarez established a positive tone for the Dodgers in another strong seven-inning outing.

"The big guy in the ninth inning ... to me, he's raised his performance, if it's possible to do something like that," Tracy said. "The fastball he was throwing tonight ... it was about as good as we've seen all year."

The Dodgers, however, couldn't stop the clock from ticking with only their third victory in eight games. They remained 3 1/2 games behind Florida in the NL wild-card chase with only six games to play. They also trail Philadelphia and Houston, providing multiple hurdles to achieving the only goal that would salvage their season.

"We need to win every day and keep building on that," center fielder Dave Roberts said. "Obviously, we know we need help, but the only way to give ourselves a chance is to keep doing our part."

The Dodgers held up their end after dropping the opener to the Padres (62-95). After leaving the bases loaded in the eighth, the Dodgers got the run they needed in the ninth against Beck (3-2).

On a half swing, Burnitz singled to shallow center with one out. Cora then delivered on a 2-and-1 pitch, doubling into the gap.

"Our second baseman executing the hit-and-run play to drive in the winning run ... that was pretty indicative of him," Tracy said. "It's indicative of what he's all about, and what he represents to winning baseball."

Cora figured he would be on the spot.

"When Burnie [Burnitz] got on, I had a feeling that a hit-and-run was coming if I got ahead in the count," Cora said. "The way we play, you've got to execute.

"Burnie got a great jump. Luckily, I put it in the gap, but [Alvarez] was the story tonight. He's so relaxed and you become relaxed."

The Padres took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Alvarez's wild pitch. The run ended Alvarez's scoreless-inning streak at 25 -- the Dodgers' longest streak since Chan Ho Park worked 25 scoreless to close the 2000 season.

Alvarez pitched at least seven innings for the fourth time in as many starts, giving up only five singles. Alvarez had five strikeouts and one walk while throwing 61 strikes in 89 pitches.

"I tried to keep us there, in the race, the best I can," Alvarez said. "Nothing is impossible; we're still there in the race.

"Hopefully, this game will make all the guys play a little harder tomorrow. We can't lose from now on. We have to win every day."

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