Lose two, win one, gain ground. What a division.
The Dodgers put four runs on the board in the first inning on Sunday, took the rest of the afternoon off, and took a step toward first place. With one good week, they could get there.
"Our division is up for grabs," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said.
They beat the Cleveland Indians, 4-3, using a two-run home run from Russell Martin and a two-run double from James Loney to salvage the final game of a weekend series at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers improved, if you will, to 35-40. But the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks were swept in Minnesota, so the Dodgers climbed to within 3 1/2 games of the lead in the National League West.
"I'm happy about being 3 1/2 out," center fielder Matt Kemp said. "It could be way worse."
Said Martin: "It's crazy. We haven't played that good. If we can turn it up a notch and play the kind of baseball we want to, things can change in a hurry."
The way Torre sees it, his players have no need to apologize for being in a pennant race. The manager even said he catches himself watching the scoreboard, and why not? On Sunday, every other team in the NL West lost.
"If you win five games in a row, it changes the whole complexion of it," Torre said. "We need to make sure we don't get discouraged because we haven't played well."
As the Dodgers left the stadium to enjoy a relaxing Sunday evening, the Diamondbacks flew to Fenway Park, for three games against the Boston Red Sox. The Diamondbacks are 19-29 outside the NL West. They have lost a series this month to the Kansas City Royals, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins.
Of course, the Dodgers have lost a series this month to the Indians, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies. And the Dodgers are 2-7 against the American League, with the Chicago White Sox in town starting Tuesday.
On Sunday, Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley lasted five innings, fighting the heat and his pitch count, forcing a bullpen exhausted from consecutive extra-inning games to toil far too early in the game. But Hong-Chih Kuo, Joe Beimel, Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito picked up the slack, with each pitching a scoreless inning.
Billingsley (6-7) became the Dodgers' first six-game winner, giving up three runs on eight hits, one walk and two hit batters, with Saito earning his 11th save. Andre Ethier and Luis Maza each ought to get a save too, for the two cut down the would-be tying run at home plate.
With two out in the fifth inning and Jhonny Peralta on first base, David Dellucci doubled into the right-field corner. Ethier slid past the foul line to intercept the ball without crashing into the wall, then scrambled to his feet and fired a strike to Maza, who fired another strike to Martin. Peralta was out, for the third out, and so was Billingsley.
Paul Byrd (3-8) took the loss, giving up four runs before getting an out.
Juan Pierre started the first inning with a single, the first of his three hits. Kemp doubled him to third, Loney doubled in both runners, and Martin followed with a two-run homer.
"That was huge, obviously," Torre said. "That was all the offense we could muster."
It was good enough. In the NL West, good enough is plenty.