Maddux the Magician Locks Up Playoff Slot

Greg Maddux outdid himself Saturday afternoon in hostile AT&T Park in San Francisco, holding the Giants to three hits and retiring the final 12 he faced in succession as the Dodgers earned a 4-2 victory that guaranteed them a spot in post-season play for the second time in three years. Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito added a perfect inning each. Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew had two RBI each.

Dodger pitchers were so overwhelming the allowed only three baserunners, two of them scoring and one left on base. Maddux had a 14-pitch second inning, the highest total of the afternoon, and used only 40 pitches over the final five innings. As a team, Dodger pitchers used only 90 pitches and a remarkable 70 of them were strikes.

The team accomplished something that none of the other Brooklyn/Los Angeles winners could do -- earn a playoff spot on the final weekend in the Giants home park. That includes the Polo Grounds, Candlestick Park, Pac Bell, SBC, AT&T or whatever the park might have been named Saturday.

Manager Grady Little started Maddux on three days rest, knowing that the crafty righthander is 22-7 with a 2.55 ERA and seven complete games in 39 career starts on three days' rest or less over his career.

Acquired from the Cubs on July 31 for Cesar Izturis, Maddux is 6-3 in 13 starts since the trade. He failed to record a decision in the Dodgers' 1-0, 10-inning win over San Francisco on Aug. 13, but is 26-14 in his career against the Giants.

The Dodgers won without injured first baseman Nomar Garciaparra, who was not only replaced by Julio Lugo, but was replaced in the third slot in the batting order.

It looked like insanity to use Lugo, with a .229 average and hitting just .170 (9-for-53) in September at all, let along bat him third but Lugo knocked in the first run with a sacrifice fly and doubled in the second run.

After winning five straight decisions, Matt Cain (14-11) lost his third consecutive game after going 5-0 with a microscopic 0.21 ERA from Aug. 17-Sept. 14.

Philadelphia beat Florida 4-3 earlier in the afternoon. San Diego

Little announced earlier that he would use his second line players Sunday if the team clinched a playoff berth, regardless if it was Division Title or wildcard.

That would not only give the players and extra couple days rest, it would save staff ace Derek Lowe for the first-round game.

If the Dodgers tie with San Diego, the Padres will win the title due to head-to-head records. If Los Angeles wins the division, they likely would be the host to the Central Division champion in Game 1 of the Division Series on Tuesday and Thursday, on the road Saturday and Sunday, them home gain if a fifth game is needed.

If they win the wild card, that series against the Mets would be Wednesday in New York, Saturday and Sunday in Los Angeles and then back to New York if a fifth game is needed.

But Little could change his mind before then.

Both teams scored in the first inning, Julio Lugo's sac fly scored Kenny Lofton after the veteran had slammed a triple. The Giants countered when leadoff man Todd Linden doubled and scored on a ground ball.

Los Angeles posted a pair in the third, Rafael Furcal doubled to right with one out and Lofton moved him to third with a soft single. Lugo recorded his second RBI with a stinging double to right and J.D. Drew's sac fly made it 3-1.

Maddux looped a single to right field with two out in the fourth and then surprised everyone, including manager Grady Little, by stealing second base. He was left there when Furcal fanned.

Perhaps a bit winded by his surprising baserunning, Maddux gave up a home run to Lance Neikro on his second pitch, but Maddux caught his breath and retired the next six in order.

The Dodgers got their fourth run in the fifth inning on a two-out single by Kent, a mishandled relay and Drew's line shot to left that gave him a career-high 100 RBI for the season.

Los Angeles threatened to put the game away in the top of the sixth when Andre Ethier singled, Russell Martin walked and Maddux bunted them into scoring position. But both Furcal and Lofton struck out to end the inning.

Maddux ran his string of outs to nine, retiring Niekro for the final out in the sixth on a ground ball on his 60th pitch of the game, with a remarkable 48 of them strikes.

The Dodgers missed another chance to add to the lead in the seventh when Kent walked with one out and advanced to third on Drew's single, however, J.D. was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double.

Maddux was now in his Darth Vader mode and nailed three Giants in order in the last of the inning, running his string to an even dozen. He left for a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth.

Jonathan Broxton took over in the eighth, and after watching carefully how Maddux was so stingy with his pitches (71, 55 strikes in seven innings), used only nine to retire three Giants in order.

Lofton singled, his third hit of the game, with one out in the top of the ninth but Lugo grounded out and although Lofton stole third, Kent fanned to end the inning.

Takashi Saito was called upon to finish the Giants in the last of the ninth. It took him 10 pitches, eight strikes, to run the Dodger string to 18 straight Sam Francisco batters retired in succession after Niekro's homer leading off the fourth.
  Score by innings
Los Angeles   102 010 000-4 11 0
San Francisco 100 100 000-2  3  1

  Dodgers    ab r h bi ave
Furcal, SS    5 1 1 0 .300
Lofton, CF    5 2 3 0 .301
Lugo, 2B      4 0 1 2 .279
Kent, 1B      3 1 2 0 .292
Drew, RF      3 0 2 2 .283
Betemit, 3B   4 0 0 0 .261
Ethier, LF    4 0 1 0 .311
Martin, C     3 0 0 0 .282
Maddux, P     2 0 1 0 .132
 Anderson, PH 1 0 0 0 .297
 Broxton, P   0 0 0 0 .000
 Saito, P     0 0 0 0 .000
    Totals   34 4 11 4 
    Giants   29 2  3 2 

  2B- Furcal (32), Lugo (22), Drew (34). 
3B- Lofton (12). RBI- Lugo 2 (36), Drew 2 
(100). S- Maddux. SF- Lugo; Drew. LOB- 9, 
San Francisco 1. SB- Maddux (2), Lofton (31).

  Dodgers      in h r-er bb so era
Maddux (15-14) 7.0 3 2-2 0 4 4.20
Broxton        1.0 0 0-0 0 1 2.59
Saito (sv 24)  1.0 0 0-0 0 2 2.07
  T- 2-21. Att- 42,769.
Hall Gets 'Assist'-- Rookie James Loney, who had a record-tying nine-RBI performance against the Rockies, should give teammate Toby Hall an assist. "During batting practice, he asked if he could use one of my bats and I told him I didn't really need them, let it fly," said Hall. "So, he's tearing it up and I'm sitting in the dugout thinking, 'If he breaks the record, the Hall of Fame will want the bat, and it'll be my bat with his signature on it!' The last at-bat, he thought my bat had a crack in it, so he grabbed his own bat and struck out."

Collins leaving for Japan?--Ken Gurnick of MLB.Com reported Dodgers farm director Terry Collins is the leading candidate to be named manager of the Orix Buffaloes in the Japanese Baseball League. The Buffaloes have a working relationship with the Dodgers.

Collins, who managed the Houston Astros and California Angels for three years each, has always wanted to return to the dugout. He became the Dodgers' Minor League field coordinator in 2002 and was promoted to farm director two years ago.

Collins, 57, has earned industry-wide praise for his role in reviving the Dodgers' farm system, which is now considered one of the most productive in the game. But a field manager job in Japan would pay a considerably higher salary than that earned by a farm director for a Major League team.

"I talked to [Orix], but nothing's been decided," confirmed Collins. "I think any decision will be held off for a few days. Right now, our organization is in the thick of a pennant race, and I don't want to do anything to interfere with that. That's the No. 1 thing right now."

But Collins said the opportunity to return to the dugout, whether in Japan or the Major Leagues, remains his primary goal.

"It's always flattering when someone calls you," he said. "[Orix has] interest and I'm very flattered. They interviewed me, and they probably have interviewed others. It's an honor."

There currently are three Americans managing in Japan: former Dodgers player and Major League manager Bobby Valentine, Trey Hillman and Marty Brown.

Rare Feat-- The Elias Sports Bureau, Inc. reported that when the Dodgers trailed the Giants 3-0 on Friday night in San Francisco and scored two runs in the seventh inning and two more in the ninth to win 4-3, it was the third straight game in which the Dodgers overcame a deficit of at least three runs to win.

They won the last two games of their series in Denver despite trailing by three runs in each game. It's the first time in 81 years that the Dodgers have won three consecutive games in such fashion. The franchise, then representing Brooklyn, last strung together three straight wins in that manner in June 1925, all against the Cubs in Chicago, winning 7-6, 12-9 behind pitcher Burleigh Grimes who homered, and 10-9.