While NL West rivals Colorado and San Francisco face off in a high-tension series up the California coast, the Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping to knock a few digits off their magic number while enjoying a slight letup in the September grind.
Andre Ethier hit a tiebreaking homer, Manny Ramirez had an early RBI double and the Dodgers opened their penultimate regular-season homestand with a 6-2 victory over the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night.
Jon Garland (10-11) persevered through six rocky innings to remain unbeaten since joining Los Angeles last month, winning the NL leaders’ first of seven games in 15 days against the Pirates. In fact, 10 of Los Angeles’ final 18 games are against last-place clubs Pittsburgh and Washington, putting the Dodgers in prime position for their race with St. Louis and Philadelphia for the NL‘s best record.
The Dodgers extended their division lead to four games and reduced their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to 11. The Giants, who beat the second-place Rockies 9-1 to open their important series in the wild-card race, visit Los Angeles this weekend – and the Dodgers hope their biggest rivals are properly tenderized.
“We knew coming in that this was a great opportunity for us to get some distance from Colorado and San Francisco, and let them beat up on each other a little bit,” Ethier said. “You can’t take an opportunity lightly just because of the name across their jerseys.”
The Pirates ended a 13-game road losing streak with a win at Houston on Sunday, but it’s late in their 17th consecutive losing season. Ramon Vazquez had an RBI double for the Pirates, who have lost 15 of 17.
“You have to treat every game like it’s important,” Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. “You can’t just go through the motions, because that’s not going to do anything for you. So just for yourself, you need to go out there and treat this game like there’s a purpose behind it, and there is a purpose behind every single game.”
Orlando Hudson had three hits and drove in two late runs as the Dodgers (86-59) got hits from all eight starting position players to move back to a season-high 27 games over .500 with their fifth victory in seven games.
Ethier put the Dodgers ahead 4-2 in the fifth with his 29th homer off rookie Daniel McCutchen, and Hudson added a long RBI double in the sixth. Hudson twice drove home Casey Blake, who reached base four times.
After two solid outings, Garland scuffled through his third start since joining the Dodgers for the playoff chase in a trade with Arizona on Aug. 31. The right-hander yielded six hits and two runs while walking three, never retiring the side in order until the sixth.
“It was definitely a grind out there,” Garland said. “As long as we keep playing good baseball, things are going to work out. The speed, the power, the ability to get on the basepaths – it’s great to play with these guys.”
The Dodgers secured Garland’s second win with the club by tagging McCutchen (0-2) for seven hits and four runs in the right-hander’s third career start. Less than three weeks after making the big leagues, McCutchen soaked up the chance to pitch at Dodger Stadium – even if the result wasn’t great.
“I definitely went out there with not my best stuff,” McCutchen said. “That’s a great ballclub, and pitching in front of this crowd and this atmosphere, I really would have liked to come out with my good stuff. I’ve never pitched in an atmosphere like this.”
Los Angeles scored in the first inning on Ramirez’s double toward the Mannywood sign near the left-field foul pole, but Lastings Milledge and shortstop Ronny Cedeno teamed up to nail Matt Kemp at the plate as he attempted to score a second run.
Pittsburgh tied it when Cedeno slid headfirst to beat out a two-out infield single and later scored on No. 8 hitter Vazquez’s double off the wall. The Dodgers went back ahead later in the fourth inning when James Loney scored on Hudson’s double-play grounder.
The Dodgers haven’t lost a season series with the Pirates since 2000, winning eight straight. The clubs meet for four games in Pittsburgh starting next weekend. … Pittsburgh’s last visit to Dodger Stadium was in April 2008. … Manager Joe Torre hopes LHP Clayton Kershaw will throw a simulated game during the Dodgers‘ homestand, which would put the 21-year-old about a week away from returning from a separated shoulder.