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Happy Blake hits his stride

Third baseman falls a double short of hitting for cycle in Dodgers' 6-2 win over Pittsburgh and says he no longer feels like an outsider.

September 17, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Casey Blake was laughing again.

For the third baseman, who returned after a two-game absence because of tightness in his back, coming up a double short of hitting for the cycle in the Dodgers' 6-2 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday was only part of the reason for his happiness.

In a clubhouse that he walked into for the first time in the week leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, Blake said he no longer feels like an outsider.

"It's fun now," said Blake, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians. "I feel I can come in here and be myself, act like an idiot, be loud and joke and laugh."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 18, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 96 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball: The chart on the magic number for the Dodgers to clinch the National League West championship in Wednesday's Sports section said any combination of eight victories by the Dodgers or eight losses by the Arizona Diamondbacks would give the NL West title to the Dodgers. In fact, as of Wednesday morning, both the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies were mathematically still in the race; if either of those teams won all of its remaining games and the Dodgers lost all of their remaining games, that team would be tied with the Dodgers for first.

What he does on the field hasn't changed. He was three for four on this night, scoring two runs and driving in two others.

Blake's solo home run marked the start of a four-run second inning for the Dodgers, sending them on their way to their 14th victory in 16 games and reducing their magic number to win the National League West to eight games.

The home run was the 10th for Blake in his 48 games with the Dodgers, a team he said he started to feel increasingly a part of when it started its previous 10-game trip with a season-long eight-game losing streak.

"For whatever reason that helped," he said. "When you go through something like that as a team, you rely on each other more and you become closer."

Derek Lowe, who tossed seven innings of one-run ball Tuesday night to win his fourth consecutive start, has also noticed a shift in the team's mind-set.

"It's hard to get caught if you keep winning," Lowe said. "That's our mentality: Don't get lazy, don't get complacent."

The Dodgers certainly didn't look lazy or complacent Tuesday as they played in the kind of conditions that Manager Joe Torre had previously warned them about, as they faced a completely overmatched team in front of a nearly empty ballpark.

"You learn from what you go through," Blake said in reference to being swept in Washington on the Dodgers' last trip by a team with an even worse record than the Pirates'.

Continuing their pounding of bad teams and bad pitching, the Dodgers battered starter Jeff Karstens for five runs (two earned) and 11 hits over five innings.

With the Dodgers ahead, 4-0, in the second inning and 5-0 in the third, Lowe cruised.

"It makes your job a lot easier when you get an early lead," said Lowe, echoing the comments of fellow starter Hiroki Kuroda the previous night.

"It seems like over the last month, in my games, it's been that way every time out."

For Blake, the atmosphere rid him of any reservations he had about his move to Los Angeles.

Blake said he wants to listen to whatever the Indians have to tell him when he becomes a free agent this winter, but he said he would also consider re-signing with the Dodgers if they want him back.

"I like it here," Blake said. "I'm going to keep my options open. These guys have been great to me."

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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Magic number

8 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 79 72 523 -- 6 5 Arizona 74 76 493 4 1/2 5 7 *--*

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