James Loney, left, celebrates his three run home run with teammate Aaron… (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)
What's gotten into James Loney?
The Dodgers first baseman has caught fire of late, and he slugged his second three-run home run in as many at-bats as the Dodgers defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-1, Saturday night.
Juan Rivera added a two-run home run, and Dodgers starting pitcher Ted Lilly held the Pirates to one run and four hits in his seven innings of work.
Lilly, who entered the game 9-14, was attempting to win his 10th game for his ninth consecutive season.
Regardless, the Dodgers were officially eliminated from postseason play before Lilly threw his first pitch.
Already knocked out of National League West contention — the Dodgers were 12 1/2 games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks when the game began — the Dodgers also were eliminated from the wild-card race when the Atlanta Braves won earlier in the day.
Loney now has 11 home runs for the season, one more than last year. But he spent much of this season struggling to show the power he had in 2008 and 2009, when he hit 13 home runs and drove in 90 runs in each of those years.
"I feel good, I'm trying to stay with my timing and put a good swing on it," Loney said. "I just feel like I'm in control up there, I just feel nice and I'm battling."
Mattingly said Loney "has had a good little run here; it's what we thought James was capable of. And with that comes confidence."
Early this season he struggled to hit, period. Mattingly placed a "Loney fly-ball jar" on his desk, and the left-handed Loney had to put one dollar into it every time he flied out to left field instead of hitting line drives to the opposite field.
Loney also acknowledged that he frequently tinkered with his swing and labored to find consistency at the plate.
But that's changed in the last month. He's hit safely in 19 of his last 25 games since Aug. 21, batting over .360 during that span with six home runs and 12 doubles.
He got the Dodgers started with a bang Saturday with his three-run homer in the first inning off Pirates starting pitcher and former Dodger James McDonald. Loney's blast to the right-field pavilion came after Justin Sellers walked and Rivera singled.
In his prior at-bat Friday night, Loney also had slugged a three-run home run as a pinch-hitter to seal the Dodgers' 7-2 win over the Pirates.
Rivera added his home run, a shot into the Dodgers' bullpen in left field, in the third inning after Matt Kemp had singled.
Rookie catcher Tim Federowicz had his first big-league RBI in the fifth inning, when he singled home Aaron Miles off Pittsburgh reliever Daniel Moskos.
In the sixth inning, Kemp singled again against Pirates reliever Jared Hughes and stole second base — Kemp's 40th steal of the season, a career high.
Dodgers rookie Jerry Sands also stayed hot with three hits; he was batting .524 (11 hits for 21) in the current homestand.
Pittsburgh scored in the second inning when second baseman Josh Harrison doubled to drive in Derrek Lee from second base.