Sorry, Ponce, Lofton Beat You to It

Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wandered all over Florida and points north some 500 years ago, looking for the fountain of youth. Perhaps the Dodgers, despite being laced with great young talent, have found it as 39-year-old Kenny Lofton slugged a pair of singles and a home run and played as young as 40-year-old Greg Maddux looked the night before.

Lofton's effort was equalled by Derek Lowe who didn't discover no stinking fountain but rather his lost sinkerball just in time to boost the Dodges to their seventh straight win, a 6-2 decision over Florida.

Lowe worked seven innings, allowing one run on five hits without walking a batter. He finished with a flourish, retiring the final six batters he faced, using his previously-lost sinker to record 14 groundball outs.

He won his second consecutive start, but this one was vintage Lowe, performing as he did June 22, when he mastered Seattle.

In seven starts since then, Lowe had gone 2-4 with an 8.27 ERA. Friday he retired the first six batters he faced, with three groundballs in the first inning and three strikeouts in the second.

Lowe mostly abandoned his cut fastball against a predominantly right-handed Marlins lineup, and he was particularly pleased by working out of trouble in the sixth to protect a 3-1 lead.

Lowe (9-7) pitched around a leadoff single in the fourth with three consecutive groundball outs, the first on a diving play by second baseman Julio Lugo that took a hit away from the Marlins.

The Dodgers (54-55) continued to get the sort of timely hitting on which their winning streak has been built.

Rafael Furcal's two out single gave them a 1-0 lead in the third, and Kenny Lofton's first hit, a single, put Furcal on third base, from where he was easily able to score when a pickoff throw to first misfired.

Another pair of hits by Furcal and Lofton in the seventh scored Lowe after he had drawn a two-out walk. That gave the Dodgers a 5-1 lead and they rolled in with the win.

Wilson Betemit homered also for the Dodgers before Brett Tomko and Giovanni Carrara closed out the game, with the only other Marlins run scoring on a sacrifice fly off Tomko.

"The defense was tremendous," Lowe said after the game. He singled out several plays by shortstop Rafael Furcal and second baseman Julio Lugo that snuffed out possible rallies. "I just tried not to mess it up."

Lowe actually had his best start since the June 22 complete-game win over Seattle. He struck out five without a walk and came out because he was gassed from running the bases in the seventh inning when he walked and scored on Lofton's single.

Only one little cloud marred the victory.

Reliever Elmer Dessens, acquired from Kansas City in the Odalis Perez trade, turned his left ankle during batting practice and was taken off the field in a golf cart. X-rays were negative. Dessens has allowed only one run in seven innings since rejoining the Dodgers.
  Score by innings
Dodgers 002 001 210-6
Florida 000 001 010-2

  Dodgers  ab r h bi ave
Furcal, SS  5 1 2 1 .283
Lofton, CF  5 1 3 2 .299
 Carrara, P 0 0 0 0 .000
Lugo, 2B    4 0 0 0 .299
Drew, RF    4 1 2 0 .278
Ethier, LF  4 0 1 1 .344
Betemit, 3B 3 1 1 1 .284
Martin, C   4 0 1 0 .300
Loney, 1B   4 1 1 0 .259
Lowe, P     2 1 0 0 .068
 Tomko, P   0 0 0 0 .120
 Ledee, PH  1 0 0 0 .255
 Repko, CF  0 0 0 0 .282
    Totals  36 6 11 5
    Florida 31 2  6 2 

  2B- Martin (20), Ethier (15). 
3B- Loney (2). HR- Lofton (2), 
Betemit (11). RBI- Furcal (39), 
Lofton 2 (25), Betemit (32), 
Ethier (43). LOB- Los Angeles 
5, Florida 4. CS- Martin (2).

  Dodgers   in h r-er bb so era
Lowe (9-7)  7.0 5 1 1 0 5 0 4.15
Tomko       1.0 1 1 1 0 1 0 4.98
Carrara     1.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2.16
  WP- Tomko. T- 2:28. Att- 15,416.
Movin' Up-- The Dodgers, after being flat on their back looking up at the rest of the National League West after a stumbling 2-14 start after the All-Star Game break, have closed the gap in a division so tightly packed they could hold a meeting in a phone booth. San Diego, Arizona and San Francisco lost Friday night, L.A. is two games out in third place and the standings now are:
    
  National League West
               w-l   pct  gb
San Diego     56-53 .514  -- 
Arizona       55-54 .505  1.0 
Los Angeles   54-55 .495  2.0 
Colorado      53-55 .491  2.5
San Francisco 52-57 .477  4.0
Dodger Blue Notes-- Manager Grady Little was lavish in his praise of Julio Lugo, obtained from Tampa Bay for minor leaguer Joe Guzman. Little said he plans to play Lugo every day somewhere, but hinted that it likely will mean moving him around the field. Lugo, a shortstop and want's to stay one, knows it won't happen with the Dodgers, who signed Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $39-million contract last winter and are so committed to keeping him at short that they traded former Gold Glove winner Cesar Izturis to Chicago for Greg Maddux. Little hinted that he might, in the future, use him in center field to keep his bat in the lineup. …Jeff Kent is expected back from a strained left oblique muscle when the Dodgers return from their current road trip, and Nomar Garciaparra a few days after that from a sprained right knee. The Dodgers officially released Jose Cruz Jr. on Friday, three days after designating him for assignment. By doing so, the Dodgers are responsible for the $900,000 remaining on his $2.91 million salary this year, as well as a $300,000 buyout for next year. …Olmedo Saenz, who slugged a two-run homer off Eric Milton in support of Maddux on Thursday night, is batting .417 (18-for-43) against left-handers, with four homers and 17 RBI. …Chad Billingsley (2-3, 3.93 ERA) opposes fellow rookie Josh Johnson (9-5, 2.52 ERA) this afternoon in the second game of the weekend series with the Marlins.

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