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Helene Elliott

Taking nothing for granted after tough loss

September 22, 2008|Helene Elliott

Isn't this interesting, the Dodgers losing for the third time in five games and the Arizona Diamondbacks, last seen careening toward oblivion, suddenly looming large in the Dodgers' rearview mirror after winning six of seven games.

If the Dodgers needed a reminder of how quickly leads can vanish and command can crumble, their 11-inning, 1-0 loss Sunday to the San Francisco Giants drove that home.

"This was a tough loss," a subdued Joe Torre said after the Dodgers' National League West lead had shriveled to 2 1/2 games, their smallest margin since Sept. 9.

They were on an upward swing then, on the way to a 4 1/2 -game cushion they owned for four days.

After splitting the final two games at Pittsburgh and losing two of three to the Giants at home, the Dodgers' main concern is maintaining their lead, not extending it.

"Everyone in here has been around the game long enough to know how important these games are, but nobody's panicking," third baseman Casey Blake said.

"We're in the driver's seat right now. These guys are playing good too. You've got to give them credit. They're not just going to roll over for us."

There are many reasons to believe the Dodgers won't blow this, that Manny Ramirez's bat and their starting pitching will keep them afloat. Derek Lowe did his part admirably Sunday with a five-hit, seven-strikeout gem over seven innings, but four Giants pitchers matched his effort and raised it a notch.

The Dodgers left the bases loaded in the first and fifth innings and stranded eight runners in the first six innings before going down in order 16 times in a row. Six of those were strikeouts.

"They're not going to give it to us that easy," Ramirez said. "You can't take anyone for granted."

The Dodgers uttered their last peep on Blake DeWitt's two-out single in the sixth. That was silenced by Nate Schierholtz's fine catch of Angel Berroa's line drive to sun-drenched right field, one of three superb defensive plays Sunday by Giants outfielders.

A few weeks ago, when the Dodgers could do no wrong, those drives probably would have fallen in.

"We were just finding the wrong places," first baseman James Loney said.

Their batting famine included swinging strikeouts by Ramirez to lead off the eighth and 11th innings. Ramirez, Loney and Blake -- the third, fourth and fifth batters in the order -- were a combined 0 for 12 Sunday.

If not a cause for concern, it's a reason for increased concentration.

For the Dodgers to get this far only to collapse so close to the end would be worse than if they had never overtaken the Diamondbacks at all.

Torre, asked before the game whether he had set his playoff pitching rotation, refused to discuss postseason plans.

"We still have some work to do and we still have to qualify," he said, and those weren't empty words.

The Dodgers' magic number remained at five, with six games left on their schedule. The Diamondbacks have seven games left -- a four-game series that starts today at St. Louis and a three-game series at home against Colorado.

"They were in first place for most of the year and they have a great team. They have a good idea of what they're trying to do over there," Loney said. "We expect them to be right on our heels."

And so they are, although the Dodgers aren't alarmed.

"We just haven't played as well as we would have liked the last few games," said Blake, who struck out three times and popped up twice. "It's frustrating. A day like this you've just got to battle.

"We're all right. I mean, shoot. Like I've said before, you need all the games right now and you want to win them all, but you're not going to, and it's part of this game."

Blake, 35, said he'd tell any teammate who asked for advice not to change anything because this isn't the time to get away from the habits or approach that carried them into the lead.

"I think that's the time to kind of just stay loose and relaxed as you can. Nobody plays better when they're more uptight," he said.

"Let's just keep doing what we've been doing, have confidence, know that we're going to get the job done."

They should be able to finish it off.

The Diamondbacks, though surging, are still suspect in too many areas.

Torre said he wished the Dodgers had a game today so they could quickly erase the sting of Sunday's defeat but conceded they could use the day off.

A few more results like Sunday's and they will have all the days off they want from October to February.

--

Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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