It's Crunch Time in the N.L. West

The Dodgers built up a six-game lead (in the lost column) and now move into the money end of the schedule where they meet the Giants, Padres and Cardinals 19 times over the final 29 games. While it is not at all easy to lead the league at any time, it's considerably tougher to hang on during the September portion of the schedule when body and mind is tired and that nagging feeling can be felt in your belly.

In the first of six games in 10 days against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Dodgers ran into Matt Morris at his best. He allowed only two-hits and outdueled Jose Lima, striking out 11 and handing out no walks. Morris retired 13 of the first 14 Dodgers he faced and 27 of 29 overall while facing two over the minimum.

Lima (11-5), who pitched about as well as a man can against the powerhouse St. Louis lineup, worked seven strong innings. He and and Robin Ventura had the only hits against Morris, and the Dodgers did not have a runner advance to second base.

The only good thing that can be said about the game is that it lasted only 1-hour and 58-minute.

Second-place San Francisco pulled within 5 1/2 games of the Dodgers in the National League West and San Diego kept pace with a win.

The Cardinals, winners of seven in a row, have the major leagues' best record at 90-44. The NL Central leaders lead the league in runs and batting average.

Lima is 1-4 with a 7.11 ERA in 14 career appearances against the Cardinals, whose lineup includes NL most valuable player award candidates Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.

The Dodgers give it another shot tonight, wondering which Kaz Ishii (13-6) will show up for the start.