Dodgers miss another chance to clinch West

September 28, 2009

This couldn't-get-any-easier clinching is becoming very hard for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They'll be playing one of the NL's best clubs in another week, yet they suddenly can't beat the league's worst.

Former Dodgers prospect Andy LaRoche homered twice, doubled twice and singled, driving in six runs as the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates again prevented Los Angeles from winning the NL West with an 11-1 romp Monday.

Zach Duke pitched shutout ball into the ninth inning against a patchwork Dodgers lineup, with manager John Russell drawing loud boos for pulling him one out away from a complete game. LaRoche set a career high for hits and RBIs in going 5 for 5 and scoring four runs.

Already assured of a playoff spot, the Dodgers lost three of four to the Pirates, who had dropped 23 of 26 going into the series - the franchise's worst stretch in 119 seasons. The Dodgers went 3-4 on a road trip against the majors' two worst teams, the Nationals and Pirates.

"It's always dangerous when you play those teams. I hate to say you should beat somebody, but the record tells you should beat them," manager Joe Torre said. "These are the types of teams you're not comfortable (playing)."

Uh, oh: The Dodgers get another such team Tuesday in the Padres, who trail them by 21 games. Technically, the Dodgers' magic number is two, but in reality it is one because they own the tiebreaker against Colorado, who trail them by 4 1/2 games. The Dodgers have five games remaining and the Rockies six.

The Dodgers blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning Sunday and lost 6-5, then got blown out in the series finale. They were missing the injured Manny Ramirez (hamstring), Ronnie Belliard (groin) and Casey Blake (hamstring) and their makeshift lineup included Mark Loretta at third, Juan Castro at short and Brad Ausmus catching.

They played like a team that couldn't wait to get out of Pittsburgh while having three runners thrown out on the bases and committing a key error in the first two innings alone.

"We'd give the Bad News Bears a run for their money," Torre said.

It was no day at the beach for the Dodgers, even if it might have resembled one as wind gusts of up to 30 mph created huge whitecaps on the Allegheny River behind PNC Park's right-field stands.

Orlando Hudson was caught in a rundown trying to advance on an errant throw in the first. In the second, Loretta was picked off first and Matt Kemp was caught too far off second on James Loney's popup and was thrown out.

"The first couple of innings, the baserunning was terrible," Torre said. "I have no excuse for it."

The Dodgers had champagne iced in their clubhouse, ready to celebrate on Sunday, but the Pirates scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth. Now, it must be toted to San Diego for the start of a two-game series.

"It's baseball, baby, it's baseball. It happens," Hudson said. "They just weren't going to roll over and let us celebrate on their field."

Duke (11-15) was in control from the start, allowing only three singles until Hudson tripled with one out in the ninth - a low total for a pitcher who has allowed an NL-high 225 hits.

Duke couldn't believe it when Russell lifted him following Chin-Lung Hu's sacrifice fly, with a 10-run lead and only one batter to get for the complete game, and the fans let Russell have it. Even Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa seemed surprised, saying something to Duke as he walked by.

"I wanted it pretty bad, I'm not going to lie," said Duke, who is arbitration-eligible and thus lost a complete game he could have used in negotiations.

LaRoche, traded to the Pirates in the three-team deal last year in which Los Angeles landed Ramirez, went 10 for 18 with three homers and nine RBIs during the series.

"I didn't care if it was the Dodgers or Padres," LaRoche said. "I don't feel like they just got rid of me, they traded me for Manny Ramirez."

LaRoche had a two-run double off Hiroki Kuroda (8-7) during the Pirates' big second inning that began with Loretta's throwing error on Lastings Milledge's grounder.

Garrett Jones had an RBI single in the second and homered, his 21st, in the fourth immediately after LaRoche went deep. Jones was called up June 30 and leads NL rookies in homers.

LaRoche had a chance for the cycle his final two times up. He rounded second sharply and thought about trying to advance after he doubled to center in the sixth, but pulled up. He hit a two-run homer in the eighth, his 12th.

NOTES: Duke was 0-4 with an 8.54 ERA in five starts since beating the Reds on Aug. 22. ... The Pirates' home attendance of 1,577,853 was their lowest since PNC Park opened in 2001.