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BASEBALL'S STRETCH RUN

Dodgers Let One Get Away

They score three runs in the first inning but give it all back and more, losing to Arizona, 9-3, to fall 1 1/2 games behind San Diego in NL West.

September 24, 2006|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Turn out the lights, the Dodgers played their last regular-season night game at home Saturday.

And if they continue to play as poorly as they did in a 9-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a lullaby and the deep sleep of winter are next.

For the first time all season, the Dodgers no longer control their destiny. Their two competitors on the out-of-town scoreboard continued their seemingly inexorable march to the playoffs by winning again. The Dodgers trail the San Diego Padres by 1 1/2 games in the National League West and the Philadelphia Phillies by half a game in the wild-card race.

"Right now we will be doing a lot more scoreboard-watching," Manager Grady Little said. "And that's not necessarily a good thing."

The Dodgers played more like a team preparing off-season vacation plans than one fighting for a postseason berth. They made two errors and several other ugly defensive plays. They were outhit, 17-7, unable to solve right-hander Miguel Batista, who pitched seven scoreless innings after giving up three runs in the first by exploiting the impatience of Dodgers hitters.

Brad Penny, a pitcher the Dodgers leaned on for months, was beaten up by Diamondbacks bats and broken by the unsteady gloves and erratic arms of his teammates.

Staked to a three-run lead after one inning, Penny gave it all back in the second, then surrendered runs in the third and fourth innings while hiking his pitch count to the point he had to depart after five.

The bullpen provided nothing more than a slow leak. Mark Hendrickson gave up a run in the seventh inning and Elmer Dessens three in the ninth.

No surprise there -- Dodgers relief is often an oxymoron. But an unexpected problem surfaced as well.

Rookie catcher Russell Martin, seemingly indefatigable for so long, showed clear signs of needing a break. His passed ball sparked the Diamondbacks' three-run second inning, he nearly made a foolish baserunning mistake after hitting a double and most alarmingly gave up three stolen bases and made a throwing error.

"He's not the freshest person in the world," Little said.

Little went to the mound in the first inning because Penny was grimacing with a stiff back, and the discomfort affected his command.

"He was [missing spots] a lot," Little said.

Penny got through the inning without damage and the Dodgers offered the false promise of an easy victory in their first at-bat. Rafael Furcal and Kenny Lofton greeted Batista with singles and each stole second, setting the table for Nomar Garciaparra's two-run double. J.D. Drew continued his hot streak with a double that drove in Garciaparra and prompted the first "J.D. Drew" chants from the crowd in months.

Penny tied a major league record with four strikeouts in the second, but gave up three runs because Martin couldn't handle strike three to the first batter of the inning, Chad Tracy. Carlos Quentin, a rookie whose promise prompted the Diamondbacks to trade Shawn Green at midseason, capped the inning with a two-run home run.

A leadoff double by Orlando Hudson and a single by Johnny Estrada produced a run in the third and Penny dug another hole in the fourth by walking Quentin and giving up one-out singles to Eric Byrnes and Hudson to load the bases.

Luis Gonzalez hit a potential double-play ground ball, but Furcal booted it and Quentin scored.

"We got outplayed, outhit and outscored," Little said. "It was a bad ballgame all around."

The way the Padres and Phillies are playing, the Dodgers can't afford more bad ballgames. In the Greek alphabet, PHI is the 21st letter. In advanced mathematics, PHI is known as the golden number.

To the Dodgers, PHI signifies trouble and potential heartache. It is the symbol for the Phillies on the scoreboard, and because their games are played on the East Coast, their final score is usually posted before the Dodgers step on the field.

While the symbol SD hasn't been kind to Dodgers fortunes either, it is PHI that threatens to keep them from a postseason berth. Peeking at the scoreboard has become part of the Dodgers' edgy daily routine.

With only seven games left in the regular season, they might want to keep both eyes on the ball beginning today.

steve.henson@latimes.com

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