Trouble appeared in the most unexpected of places for the Dodgers -- not with the offense, not with the middle relievers, but with their All-Star closer.
Takashi Saito blew a save to silence the crowd at Dodger Stadium on Monday night, serving up a three-run homer with two out in the top of the ninth inning to Nate McLouth that resulted in a 6-4 loss for the Dodgers.
Because of the team's recent slide -- Monday's loss was its sixth in seven games -- Saito had pitched in only four other games. Tightness in the right calf and buttocks had limited the 38-year-old right-hander to six appearances in the exhibition season, his workload up to this point so light that Manager Joe Torre used him in the ninth inning of an 11-1 victory over San Diego on Saturday.
Calling on him again Monday was automatic, Torre said. "With a one-run lead in the ninth, you throw in Sammy and there's nothing you can do."
Saito took the blame for what happened.
"The middle relievers did a great job of holding the lead, and I caused everything to collapse at the end," he said. "I feel really bad that I couldn't do my job."
The Dodgers didn't quite break out offensively Monday, but they seemed to do enough, collecting 10 hits and scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth to go ahead, 4-3. Rookie third baseman Blake DeWitt drove in James Loney, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games, for the go-ahead run with a single to right.
The game also provided glimmers of hope for Andruw Jones and Russell Martin, who entered the game batting .100 and .146, respectively.
Jones nearly cleared the wall in right-center in the fifth, settling for a triple that earned him his first ovation of the homestand from a crowd that continued to boo him every time he walked to the plate. Jones, who was one for four , scored on a double by notoriously poor-hitting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.
Martin was two for four, collecting his first hit in the second inning. He was balked to second, reached third on a passed ball by Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit, and scored on a groundout by Jones to get the Dodgers to within 2-1.
Martin had fortune on his side in the eighth, as Doumit dropped the Dodgers catcher's pop up behind home plate. Martin didn't waste the extra out handed to him, lining a pitch from Tyler Yates to left for his second hit of the evening.
Once the Dodgers went ahead in the sixth, the game was put in the hands of the part of the team that Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had recently expressed concern about -- middle relief.
Torre turned to his two favorite workhorses in the seventh, Scott Proctor and Joe Beimel, who turned in a 1-2-3 inning. The appearance was the sixth of the season for Proctor, who retired the only batter he faced, and the seventh for Beimel, who pitched the final two-thirds of the inning.
Kuroda endured a couple of rough patches in his first start in his new home stadium, particularly in the second inning, when he gave up Jose Bautista's two-run homer to left. Over six innings, Kuroda gave up three runs and seven hits.