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Pierre has a rare blast

The Dodgers outfielder's first home run in nearly two years and the return of Saito punctuate an 8-2 victory over Pirates.

September 16, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- For most of this season, Juan Pierre couldn't force himself to smile. Monday night, he couldn't stop.

Pierre hit his first home run in almost two years in the Dodgers' 8-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, sending his first ball over an outfield wall for a team that signed him to a five-year, $44-million contract two winters ago but relegated him to the bench this season.

Standing in front of his locker, the often-reserved reserve outfielder tried to suppress a grin -- naturally, to no avail.

"I smiled enough in the dugout," he said. "I'm trying to calm down."

Takashi Saito was also smiling. The 38-year-old closer tossed a scoreless eighth inning in the Dodgers' 13th victory in 15 games, which kept them 4 1/2 games ahead of Arizona in the NL West, delivering what he said were 21 pain-free pitches in his first game back from a sprained elbow ligament that sidelined him for two months and threatened to end his career.

Whereas Saito wasn't overly excited about the way he pitched -- "At this point, I don't think I can get in a situation where the game's on the line," he said -- Pierre spoke like someone who sensed that this could be the highlight of his season. Pierre's run of consecutive starts could be over at three today, as Andre Ethier landed in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, back from Arizona, where he was with his wife for the birth of their first child.

Until Pierre smacked an inside fastball from Marino Salas, his homerless streak was at 281 games, 1,070 at-bats and 1,162 plate appearances. His last home run was as a member of the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 18, 2006.

"Jon Lieber, Phillies," Pierre said, giggling with the reporters in front of him. "I could run all 13 of them down for you if you want to."

For the streaking Dodgers, Pierre's parabolic shot six rows into the right-field stands provided the latest light moment for an increasingly loose team that has regularly ignored Manager Joe Torre's pregame music ban over the last two weeks.

Pierre said he thought the ball had a chance when he made contact with the pitch, but he sprinted down the first base line nonetheless.

"With my luck a bird would've come out and hit it or something," he said.

Luck also hasn't sided much with Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda, who seemed to be in shock that he was handed a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning. Kuroda (9-10) gave up three hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings against the punchless Pirates, who dumped salary, as well as any pretense that they could be competitive, when they parted with Xavier Nady and Jason Bay leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline.

Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf (0-2), who was acquired from the New York Yankees in the deal for Nady, was charged with three runs (two earned) and five hits over three innings. He walked four.

By extending their lead to 8-0 in the eighth inning on James Loney's third run batted in, the Dodgers set the stage for Saito to enter the game without any pressure of protecting a lead. He struck out two and walked one, ending the inning on a backdoor breaking ball to Nyjer Morgan that was called for a strike.

"The classic," Torre called the pitch.

Clearly not in classic form was Brad Penny, who gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning to Adam LaRoche. Penny complained of tightness, saying he had trouble loosening up in the bullpen.

For the sake of his bid to be part of the playoff rotation, Penny said he hoped the Dodgers clinched the division soon so that he could start a game instead of being forced to continue pitching in relief.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Magic number

9 Combination of Dodgers wins and Arizona losses that will clinch the West.

H: home games left

R: road games left

*--* NL WEST W L PCT GB H R DODGERS 78 72 520 -- 6 6 Arizona 73 76 490 4 1/2 6 7 *--*

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