for this game

Pirates' mistakes help Dodgers keep pace

Sep 22, 2006 - 5:29 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- The Los Angeles Dodgers kept pace in the hunt for a postseason berth thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates' return to ineptitude.

The Pirates squandered three outstanding scoring chances, handing the Dodgers a 5-2 victory.

Three relievers combined for six strikouts in four scoreless innings for Los Angeles (80-73), which stayed within one-half game of San Diego (80-72) for first place in the National League West Division and moved one-half game ahead of idle Philadelphia (79-73) for the top spot in the wild card race.

After taking the first two games of this set and winning 35 of 62 games since the All-Star break, Pittsburgh's play Thursday more resembled the club that lost the first six games of the season and dropped 13 straight in June.

"This game boils down to what we could not get done offensively," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "We had opportunities in the second, fifth, and eighth innings and did not cash in. What we did this series was an absolute complete reversal from the latter part of June, we just couldn't cash in today."

The Pirates had runners on second and third with none out in the second against Los Angels starter Chad Billingsley but came up empty. After a run-scoring single by pitcher Shane Youman tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth, Pittsburgh had runners on first and second with none out but could not push across any more runs.

"I was just trying to put the ball in play," Youman said. "It felt good because of the situation, down by one run and a guy on third. We just couldn't get anything else going."

In the bottom half, Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit, a catcher playing first base, had a grounder by Kenny Lofton bounce off his glove for a generous single, putting runners on the corners with one out.

Josh Sharpless replaced Youman and, after striking out Olmedo Saenz, walked Jeff Kent to load the bases. He then walked J.D. Drew on four pitches to force in the go-ahead run.

"We played three good games. Unfortunately we walked a few guys, walked that one run in," Tracy said.

Pittsburgh had runners on the corners with one out in the eighth, but hard-throwing rookie Jonathan Broxton struck out Doumit looking and got rookie Ronny Paulino to fly out to right.

"That's the thing about Broxton," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "He's got the ability to strike somebody out and he got a big strikeout there."

The Dodgers got a pair of insurance runs in the eighth, when rookie Russell Martin singled in a run and Marlon Anderson executed a perfect squeeze bunt for a 5-2 lead.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to win a baseball game," Anderson said. "That extra run is a big run in that part of the game."

Billingsley (6-4) yielded two runs and six hits in five frames to improve to 5-1 over his last eight starts.

"Everything was working well for me today," Billingsley said. "It was nice to go out there with a two-run cushion and just try to hold onto the lead. It was a great all-around effort by the pitching staff coming in behind me."

Former Pirate Joe Beimel tossed two scoreless innings and, after Broxton escaped the eighth, closer Takashi Saito struck out the side in the ninth for his 20th save.

Youman (0-2) allowed three runs, three hits and four walks in 4 1/3 frames.

"I felt good in the bullpen, but once I got in the game, I didn't feel like I had my good stuff," Youman said. "I just wanted to have a good quality start and keep the team in the ballgame and that's what I did. But I went deep into a few too many counts."

Having had plenty of success against the Pirates in the past, Saenz continued the trend with a two-run homer in the first inning for the Dodgers, who have won just seven of their last 18 games. Saenz is 22-for-47 with six homers and 21 RBI all-time against Pittsburgh.

"It's just one of those things you do well," Saenz said. "There is no room for a loss at this point in the season. It is do or die now. Getting ahead on the scoreboard was big."

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