Ho-Hum, Another Near-No Hitter

Dodgers fans may become accustomed to flirting with a no-hitter in the late innings. After Hiroki Kuroda had a perfect game through seven innings, followed by Chad Billingsley who took a no-hitter into the fifth, Lowe retired the first 18 Braves he faced before allowing a single and went on to win a 2-1 decision, Perhaps some Sandy Koufax magic dust has rubbed off on the starting staff after all.

Derek Lowe got some help from his friends, including Matt Kemp who homered in the sixth, Andruw Jones who knocked in a run in the seventh and both Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito who slammed the door in the eighth and ninth.

But with all those heroics, the spotlight was on Lowe, who pitched like one who has had a total of eight runs scored on his behalf in his eight losses, and knew he had to throw as if he knew he had to be perfect, or almost.

And he was, pitching the club back into a first place tie.

After hearing rumors that he was headed to Detroit in exchange for Tigers shortstop Edgar Renteria, Lowe lifted the Dodgers to their eight win in 12 games. Lowe wouldn't discuss the trade rumors after the game, other than acknowledge he was aware of them. However, they apparently didn't bother him on the mound.

The righthanded sinker-baller brought his "A+" game to the park and his stuff was so crisp that the Braves were unable to handle it at all over the first six innings, going down in order.

Lowe (7-8) gave up one run, walked two and struck out four in 7 2-3 innings. He needed to be sharp because Atlanta's Tim Hudson, who didn't allow a runner until the fifth inning, limited the Dodgers to two runs and four hits in seven innings.

Matt Kemp broke up the scoreless game when he caught a Tim Hudson fastball and drove it over the center field wall in the last of the sixth. It was his ninth home run of the season and only the second hit Hudson had allowed. Loney had broken up a Hudson's no-hit bid with a double in the fifth and at the time it was the only hit by either team.

Nomar Garciaparra, in the lineup for the third day in a row, opened the seventh with a single and Angel Berroa pinch-ran for him, moving to second on a groundout by Loney.

The Braves intentionally walked Russell Martin and pitch to former teammate Andruw Jones. Jones made them pay with a single up the middle to score Berroa and draw a standing ovation from the Dodgers fans.

Moments later, Jones took out second baseman Kelly Johnson with a slide to prevent a double play on a grounder by Blake DeWitt, and drew a second standing "O" from the crowd. Manager Joe Torre said, "There's a lot of that in him."

After waiting for more than three months for such a reception, Jones said, "It felt good."

"I think the big misconception about him is that he doesn't care," Lowe said of the $36-million center fielder. "He works really hard. He's going to turn it around. He has too much talent."

Leading 2-0, Lowe (7-8) took a perfect game into the seventh inning, getting 16 ground ball outs and striking out four. Atlanta leadoff man Gregor Blanco slashed a line drive past Lowe's ear and into center field to start the seventh for the first Braves hit.

Lowe, who pitched a no-hitter for Boston in 2002, said the thought a perfect game didn't enter his mind. "The closeness of the game didn't allow me to think that far ahead," he said. "You start doing that and you can get into trouble."

Blanco, who runs like Willie Davis once did, moved all the way to third on a slow-roller down the third-base line by Yunel Escobar. Blake DeWitt's throw to first was a bit high and James Loney made the catch but couldn't get set up to throw.

Lowe left him waiting at third, getting Chipper Jones and his .380+ average to hit a comebacker and retiring Mark Teixeira on a fly to deep left.

Lowe gave up his only run on a shot into the left field seats by Jeff Francoeur in the eighth and when he walked the next Brave, manager Joe Torre reluctantly came out to get him.

Broxton easily retired the side when Martin nailed Jeff Kotsay attempting to steal second and Saito saved his 17th game in 20 opportunities with a perfect 1-2-3 inning, ending the tense contest in exactly two hours.

Lowe, Kemp, Jones, Broxton and Saito moved their 45-46 club into a tie for first place in the National League West with Arizona for the second time in three days after Arizona had lost to Washington 5-0. The win was the Dodgers' second in the three-game set over the Braves and marked their fourth consecutive series victory.

"Lowe was locked in tonight. It was a good one for a while, but I gave up a couple of runs," Hudson said after the game. "It's unfortunate that two pitches can cost you the game, but that was the case. The runs were few and far between."

In his last 11 starts, Lowe lowered his ERA from 5.34 to 3.85 prompting Atlanta manager Bobby Cox to say, "They've got maybe the best total pitching staff that we've seen. Good pitching will shut you down."

"It's hard to have the kind of pitching we've had on such a consistent basis," Torre said. "That's something you can look back and say, 'Yeah, I remember that.' We've struggled scoring runs and the only reason we're sitting where we are now is basically because of our starting pitchers."

Lowe is a free-agent after the season and while the Dodgers are not exactly eager to move him, they do have a surplus starting pitching and he's likely to become a free agent after this year anyway.

With Rafael Furcal out, perhaps for the season, they are desperate for an everyday shortstop like Renteria, and it will likely cost a pitcher like Lowe, or one of the top young players the Dodgers have refused to deal over the past years.

The Dodgers will host the Florida Marlins, currently 1 1/2 games behind the Phillies in the N.L. East, for a four game series before the All-Star break.

Los Angeles will send RHP Chan Ho Park (4-2, 2.36 ERA) to the mound to face RHP Josh Johnson who is coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and will be making his 2008 debut. Park has been brilliant over four starts, recording a 1.29 ERA.

 Score by innings
Atlanta	        000 000 010-1
Los Angeles	000 001 10x-2

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Kemp rf	        4  1  2  1  .281
Ethier lf	4  0  0  0  .282
Garciaparra ss	3  0  1  0  .250
 Berroa pr-ss	1  1  0  0  .191
Loney 1b	3  0  1  0  .302
Martin c	2  0  0  0  .298
Jones cf	3  0  1  1  .171
DeWitt 3b	3  0  0  0  .264
Maza 2b	        2  0  0  0  .213
Lowe p	        3  0  0  0  .162
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000	
 Lowe p	        0  0  0  0  .000
  Totals	28 2 5 2	
  Atlanta	28 1 2 1

 2b hit- Loney. RBI- Kemp (47), Jones (9).
CS- Kemp (6). LOB- Los Angeles 4, Atlanta

 Los Angeles	in  h  r-er bb so  era
Lowe (7-8)	7.2  2  1-1  1  4  3.85
Broxton	        0.1  0  0-0  0  0  3.58
Saito (sv 17)	1.0  0  0-0  0  1  2.33
 T- 2:00. Att- 39,815.
Mattingly In, Easler to roving coach
Mike Easler will be replaced as the Dodgers' hitting coach after the All-Star break by Don Mattingly and will become the roving hitting instructor in minor leagues. Easler will remain with the major league club until Mattingly takes over when the Dodgers start the second half of their season July 18 in Arizona.

"It doesn't feel good," Easler said, "but it's not a surprise. A manager has to have somebody he's comfortable with. I totally respect that. If I manage one day, I'll probably have somebody I'm comfortable with."

When Torre was hired to manage the Dodgers in November, he took the job on the condition that he could bring Mattingly and third base coach Larry Bowa with him from his staff with the New York Yankees.

"When Mike came on board, he was basically holding the fort down until Donnie was able to join us on a full-time basis, and this is that time," Torre said. "So we just let Mike know that this was going to happen and thanked him for all the time and effort he's put in."

Though the Dodgers rank near the bottom of the league in runs, hits, home runs, walks and slugging percentage, Torre said the reassigning of Easler wasn't performance-based, but simply a function of Mattingly's being available.

"I don't think you can blame anyone for that," Torre said of the Dodgers' offensive problems. Referring to the Dodgers' young lineup, he added, "You can blame that on experience."

Walter O'Malley to be Honored
Late Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, who moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958, was honored by the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, which unveiled a bronze plaque of him in the Coliseum Court of Honor. O'Malley will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 27.

Ethan Martin Introducedbr> Ethan Martin, the Dodgers' 2008 first-round Draft pick, was at Dodger Stadium on in anticipation of his signing, which could come as early as today.

Martin, a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher from Stephens County High School in Georgia, is in line to receive a bonus of around $1.7 million as the 15th overall pick.

Last year's first-round pick Chris Withrow, is still nursing a recurring sore right elbow. Club officials insist there is no structural damage but he has not pitched in a game this year.

Last month, Withrow was close to being assigned to a Minor League team, but suffered another setback. He currently is throwing at Class A Inland Empire.

After a series of injuries have sidetracked the careers of first-round pitchers Greg Miller and Scott Elbert, the club is being extra cautious bringing back Withrow. Miller continues to struggle at Triple-A, while Elbert is throwing hard again at Double-A.

The 19-year-old Withrow, who signed last year for a $1.35 million bonus, pitched only nine innings in six games last year.

Dodger Blue Notes-- The Dodgers did not allow a single hit in the first four innings of any game in their three-game series against the Braves, and Atlanta went 0-for-36 with three walks during those frames. ...Former U.S. Olympic swimming star Janet Evans threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Evans is the only female swimmer to have held world records in three events at the same time (400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle). ...Disabled pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney (right hamstring) will alternate between first base and designated hitter during his rehab stint at Triple-A Las Vegas, starting with first base on when he begins the assignment. ... The Dodgers have now won consecutive rubber games after losing their previous four. ...In partnership with Union 76, the Dodgers are offering fans a "Free Ride" to Dodger Stadium for the July 27 game against the Nationals through a $10 gas certificate with the purchase of each field-, loge- and reserve-level seat.