Bookend Homers Beat Dodgers

Takashi Saito had only let four leads get away in his last 43 save opportunities and had an earned run average of 1.40, so everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he took over in the ninth with the Dodgers leading 4-3. But two outs and three runs later he had served up a home run that dropped the reeling Dodgers to 5-8 on the season and into last place in the N.L. West.

Los Angeles had won 14 of its last 18 against Pittsburgh at Dodger Stadium but numbers like that mean little on the field. The Dodgers banged out 10 hits with only Russell Martin collecting more than one.

Off to a 4-2 start, the Dodgers have dropped six of their last seven and the offense is wildly inconsistent. The lost 1-0 to Arizona after beating them 11-1 the night before.

Hiroki Kuroda was making his Dodger Stadium debut but he was tagged with a two-run homer in the first inning by Jose Bautista. Los Angeles scored single runs in the second, on Andruw Jones' ground ball after Russ Martin had reached on an infield hit, went to second on a balk and moved to third on a wild pitch.

They tied the game in the fifth when Jones tripled off the right field wall, his first extra-base hit of the season, and scored on Kuroda's first major league hit, a double.

Kuroda coughed up another run in the top of the sixth but James Loney extended his hitting streak to 13 games to drive in Jeff Kent, whose 541st career double had tied Rogers Hornsby for 23rd place on the all-time list, with the tying run and Blake DeWitt singled off the first baseman's glove to drive in and give L.A. a 4-3 margin.

Loney's RBI single gave him the Dodgers' third-longest hitting streak to open a season since the team moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. Ron Cey opened the season with a 17-game run in 1977 and Steve Garvey hit in 21 straight in 1978.

Manager Joe Torre did all the right things from that point on, using Scott Proctor, Joe Beimel to finish the seventh and and Jonathan Broxton, who worked around a leadoff single in the eighth to shut them down again, striking out two of the next three batters to give him 14 strikeouts in 7.1 innings this season, and then passed the lead to Saito, the one constant in an inconsistent season.

But this time Saito faltered and Nate McLouth, one of three players to hit safely in each of his team's first 13 games this year, along with Kansas City's Bill Butler and Loney, followed a pair of singles with a two-out home run.

L.A. went quietly in the ninth.

Torre saw some good things in the stinging defeat. "Even though it's a hell of a dry spell for him, the thing about Andruw [Jones] is the fact that you signed him, and you signed him for a reason. I just can't see how benching him solves the problem, because you're never going to get what he has to offer.

"We're dealing with only about a dozen games, and it's really tough to bury somebody in that period of time," he added. "I still believe that he's got to be the center fielder. The only way he's going to break out of his slump is between the lines."

The slumping slugger got only his second extra-base hit as a Dodger in the fifth. The right fielder misjudged Jones' towering opposite-field drive while attempting a leaping catch at the fence. Jones ended up with a triple and scored the tying run when Kuroda bounced a double over the third base bag for his first major league hit.

And about the ninth inning? "With a one-run lead in the ninth inning, you bring in Saito, and there really isn't much to do at that point other than put your hands in your pockets," Torre said. "I'll take my chances every time in that situation. ... You lose as a team, and I think every single one of the guys in the clubhouse will tell you how much they trust Sammy in that situation. He will continue to get the ball.

And of Kuroda? "He had good stuff, he just wasn't locating it as well as he had in his first two starts. He had trouble throwing the ball where he wanted to. He didn't have as good as stuff as he had last time, but he battled and put us in a position to win."

Of course, Torre wasn't happy with the result, but he did think that it was an important step toward learning about what kind of club he has. "It's tough, but it's what makes a ballclub a better ballclub. I'm a firm believer that the failures that happen work towards making you a better team, if you're going to be a better team."

The Dodgers and Pirates have another go at each other tonight as, the Dodgers and Pirates honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson and the 61st anniversary of when he broke baseball's color barrier. All uniformed personnel will wear Robinson's retired No. 42 in tribute. LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (0-0, 0.00) will oppose the Pirates RHP Matt Morris (0-1, 5.25). 

In a scheduling oddity, after the series concludes Wednesday, the two teams won't meet up again for another 152 days.  The teams are slated for a four-game set in Pittsburgh from September 15-18. 
 Score by innings
Pittsburgh	020 001 003-6
Los Angeles	010 012 000-4

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	4  0  0  0  .360
Ethier lf	4  0  1  0  .286
Kemp rf	        5  0  1  0  .273
Kent 2b	        4  1  1  0  .238
 Hu 2b	        0  0  0  0  .222
Loney 1b	4  1  1  1  .375
Martin c	4  1  2  0  .178
Jones cf	4  1  1  1  .114
DeWitt 3b	4  0  1  1  .256
Kuroda p	2  0  1  1  .167
 Young ph	1  0  1  0  .250
 Proctor p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Beimel p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Sweeney ph	1  0  0  0  .100
 Saito p	0  0  0  0  .000
  Totals	37 4 10 4
  Pittsburgh	39 6 12 6

 2b hits- Kuroda (1), Kent (4). 3b hits-
Jones (1). RBI- Jones (2), Kuroda (1),
Loney (5), DeWitt (5). LOB- Los Angeles
8, Pittsburgh 5. 

 Los Angeles	in  h  r-er bb so  era
Kuroda	        6.0  7  3-3  0  2  2.89
Proctor	        0.1  0  0-0  0  0  7.71
Beimel	        0.2  1  0-0  0  1  1.80
Broxton	        1.0  1  0-0  0  2  1.42
Saito (1-1)	1.0  4  3-3  0  1  5.40
 T: 2:57.
 Att- 37.334.
Loney Moving Up the Chart
Loney's season-opening streak has earned him 13th place in Los Angeles history. The complete list:

Games Player, Dates
21- Steve Garvey , April 7-May 2, 1978
17- Ron Cey, April 7-27, 1977
13- James Loney , March 31-present
12- Eric Karros , April 25-May 8, 1995
12- Raul Mondesi, April 25, May 8, 1995
12- Wally Moon, April 11-23, 1961
12- Gary Sheffield, April 3-16, 2000
12- Jimmy Winn, April 7-19, 1975

Bad News for Blake
Andy LaRoche could be ready for game action by the end of the week, and it will soon be decided whether he will be sent to extended spring training in Vero Beach or straight to a rehabilitation assignment. "If someone would have told me we'd be throwing five weeks post-op, I'd have said, 'no way,'" Conte said. The secret could be in the video game he's been playing while rehabbing. It appears Guitar Hero might have healing powers.

Nomar Garciaparra, who had three hits last night for Las Vegas, is scheduled to play one more game for Las Vegas today before returning to Los Angeles. He's expected to be activated from the disabled list in time for the start of the road trip beginning Thursday in Atlanta.

That probably means that rookie Blake DeWitt's remarkable riad will come to and end and he will be optioned to Las Vegas or Jacksonville. But he has left a lasting impression on the Dodgers and will certainly figure in their future.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Torre recounted a conversation he had with young slugger Matt Kemp in San Diego. "I told him just be patient," Torre said. "I know that's not part of any young man's vocabulary. I told him you'll be playing most of it the rest of the way." I have a sense he's going to get a good amount of time." ...Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal had his nine-game hitting streak stopped, going 0-for-4. Furcal did draw a walk and has now reached base via a walk or hit in all 13 games. The native of the Dominican Republic is still hitting .351 (13-for-37) on the season. ...The Dodgers tonight begin a stretch of playing eight consecutive games outside the NL West. Following Thursday's off day, the team heads to Atlanta for three and then Cincinnati for a pair. ...Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and his wife Jo are celebrating their 58th anniversary.  Tommy and Jo and are the proud parents of their daughter Laura and son-in-law Bill, and are proud grandparents to their granddaughter Emily.  Lasorda is in his 59th season in the Dodger organization, his third as Special Advisor to the Chairman Frank McCourt.