Dodgers First After Lofton's Walkoff Single

The mark of a pennant contender is that there is a different player each game providing an important hit or a scoreless inning. Thursday it was Kenny Lofton's turn and the veteran outfielder, who was 3-for-4 on the evening, singled home the winning run that put the Dodgers in first place for the first time since June 26. Andre Ethier's home run had tied the game in the eighth.

Lofton finished with three hits, a walk and two RBI, boosting his average to .309. Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra had a pair of hits each, meaning the top three hitters in the order went 7-for-10.

Rookie starter Chad Billingsley would have made a good high wire artist. He managed to keep from falling for five innings despite walking a remarkable six batters.

He allowed only a single run -- a second inning shot by Matt Holliday -- and two more hits, but left after 96 pitches in a 1-1 tie having allowed nine baserunners.

But battling a middle finger blister, the youngster turned what could have been a disaster into another win, helped by a pair of double plays.

Remarkably, he has a 3-1 record and has allowed only seven earned runs in 29 innings, but has been plagued with poor control all season although he retired five of six Rockies in one stretch.

Lofton's RBI groundout in the first inning cashed in Furcal's leadoff triple. Garciaparra broke a 1-1 tie with a sacrifice fly to center but the Dodgers couldn't manage much more against Colorado starter Jason Jennings, who allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings.

The Rockies tied the game against newly minted reliever Aaron Sele in the sixth, Joe Beimel took over with two out in the seventh and Brett Tomko worked a scoreless eighth.

Rookie outfielder Andre Ethier hit a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning. It was Ethier' 11th of the season and his only hit so his average "slipped" to .346. The youngster is only one short of Garciaparra's team-leading 12 home runs, even though Ethier spent the first month of the season at Las Vegas.

Todd Helton opened the ninth with a long drive to right field and when Jason Repko slipped as he picked up the ball, Helton tried to stretch it into a triple. Second baseman Jeff Kent took the relay and fired the ball past Wilson Betemit at third, allowing Helton tie the game.

Saito (4-2) stoically never changed his expression and retired the next three Rockies, including two on strikeouts and earned the win after Lofton's heroics.

The tying run in the ninth didn't seem to depress this bunch of Dodgers and with one out in the ninth reliever Jose Mesa walked pinch-hitter Julio Lugo. He moved to second on Furcal's single to left and with a 2-0 count, Lofton lined another single to left. Holliday's throw beat Lofton to the plate but was well down the first base line and Lugo scored easily.

"See the ball, hit the ball. It was a sinker," Lofton told the Los Angeles Daily News. "We still have a lot of ballgames to go. I'm the kind of guy who looks to be in first at the end of the season."

In a remarkable turnaround, the Dodgers have gained eight games in the standings in two weeks, after losing 13 of 14. The Dodgers have now won 12 of 13 and hold a 10-3 record against the Rockies.

The victory elevated them a half-game ahead of both Arizona and San Diego for first place, the Dodgers' first time alone in first place since June 26.
  Score by innings
Colorado  010 001 001-3
Dodgers   100 010 011-4

  Dodgers     ab r h bi ave
Furcal, SS     3 2 2 0 .288
Lofton, CF     4 0 3 2 .309
Garciaparra,1B 3 0 2 1 .331
Kent, 2B       4 0 0 0 .262
Ethier, LF     4 1 1 1 .346
Betemit, 3B    4 0 1 0 .283
Martin, C      4 0 0 0 .296
Repko, RF      4 0 0 0 .263
Billingsley, P 1 0 0 0 .062
 Drew, PH      1 0 0 0 .277
 Sele, P       0 0 0 0 .208
 Beimel, P     0 0 0 0 .000
 Loney, PH     1 0 0 0 .262
 Tomko, P      0 0 0 0 .120
 Saito, P      0 0 0 0 .000
 Lugo, PH      0 1 0 0 .300
    Totals    33 4 9 4
    Rockies   33 3 8 2

  Error- Kent. 2B- Betemit (19). 
3B- Furcal (5). HR- Ethier (11). 
RBI- Lofton 2 (28), Garciaparra 
(58), Ethier (47). SF- Garciaparra. 
LOB- Dodgers 9, Colorado 11. 
SB- Furcal (27). DP- 2 (Garciaparra, 
Furcal and Billingsley; Furcal, 
Kent and Garciaparra).

  Dodgers  in h r-er bb so era
Billingsley 5.0 3 1-1 6 3 3.52
Sele        1.2 3 1-1 0 3 3.98
Beimel      0.1 0 0-0 1 0 3.50
Tomko       1.0 1 0-0 0 2 4.82
Saito (4-2) 1.0 1 1-1 0 2 2.40
 WP- Sele. T- 3:05. Att- 48,699.
Dodger Blue Notes-- J.D. Drew's painful left quadriceps kept him out of the starting lineup but he did pinch-hit. Without Drew the Dodgers did not have a true fourth outfielder available, although Ramon Martinez could have been pressed into duty and both Julio Lugo and James Loney have played in the outfield his season. "He'll probably be back in there tomorrow, hopefully," Little said of Drew. "We're not taking any chances with an injury like that." …The Dodgers, with 97 home runs, are last in the National League and the only team not to reach triple figures. They haven't finished last in the league in home runs since 1970. The individual leader is Nomar Garciaparra with 12, putting him on pace to hit 17. That would be the lowest team-leading total for a full season since Bill Grabarkewitz hit 17 in 1970. The all-time Los Angeles Dodgers low was Len Gabrielson with 10 in 1968. In the strike-interrupted 1981 season, Ron Cey led the club with 13. …Mark Hendrickson (5-12, 4.13 ERA) opposes Noah Lowry (5-7, 4.21 ERA) in the opener of a three-game series with the Giants.

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