Blake and Lowe Help Trips Pirates

A balanced attack keyed by Casey Blake, a strong starting effort by Derek Lowe and a controversial call at first base helped the Dodgers to a 6-1 win over Pittsburgh and a 14-2 record over their last 16 games as they continue their march toward the NL West title. Their magic number is eight, although none of the Dodgers admit to counting, with 11 games left on the schedule.

The three-way trade between the Dodgers, Boston and Pittsburgh has left the Pirates holding the bag. The Dodgers got Ramirez, Boston received Jason Bay and Pittsburgh, well, Pittsburgh got Andy LaRoche whose future once seemed unlimited but who is now hitting .169 for the Pirates.

The unexpected trade for Manny Ramirez from Boston on July 31 has resulted in gallons of ink and made a gigantic difference. He has a .401 average with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 43 games.

The deal with Cleveland five days before that brought Blake to the Dodgers didn't get much mentioned as at the time, but the third baseman has 10 homers and 23 RBIs in 48 games.

And manager Joe Torre is pointing at the deal that brought Blake to Los Angeles in exchange for a pair of outstanding minor league players, catcher Carlos Santana and pitcher Jonathan Meloan, as the one that solidified the infield.

"When we got Casey Blake, it sort of became some glue we needed for this ballclub to mesh," Torre said. "Just the way he prepares and goes about his business. I know you've heard the expression, he's a blue-collar guy who just goes and plays baseball."

Blake got thing started in the second of four games in Pittsburgh when he homered leading off the second inning. The Dodgers went on to score four times and Blake later added a single and a triple before bouncing to short on his final at bat while looking for a double to complete the cycle.

Derek Lowe (14-11) has upheld his reputation as a late-season warrior, and his personal pennant drive down the stretch has demonstrated just that.

He has has won his last four starts, allowing two runs and 14 hits in 26.1 innings —a 0.68 ERA— and the Dodgers have won each game by at least four runs. In the last 16 games, Dodgers starting pitchers are 12-1.

The big righthander held Pittsburgh to five singles over seven effective innings, walking none and striking out three while throwing 97 pitches, 61 of them strikes. His sinker provided 13 ground ball outs.

The Pirates, down 4-0 in the fourth, scored their only run on three consecutive singles before Lowe got a double play on a ball that bounced a few feet in front of the plate, Catcher Russell Martin started a 2-6-3 double play and then Lowe retired 11 of his final 12 batters.

The reliable Chan Ho Park worked a scoreless eighth and Joe Beimel and Jonathan Broxton mopped up in the ninth.

After missing two games with lower back stiffness, Blake homered and triple in his first two trips. Manny Ramirez again added three hits, a double in the four-run second and a pair of singles, to boost his average to .401. Blake DeWitt and Angel Berroa each had a pair of singles.

"We're doing what we need to do — keep winning and don't worry about what anybody else is doing," Lowe said. "It's hard to get caught if you keep winning. That's our mentality, don't get lazy, don't get complacent and keep trying to win."

"Our staff has been pretty incredible game in and game out during this stretch, going deep into the game and being able to use the bullpen in the right way," Lowe said.

The Dodgers got on the scoreboard in the second inning when Blake homered. DeWitt singled to right and with one out, Berroa also singled.

Lowe then dropped a sac bunt and when the pitcher nearly threw the ball away, beat the play at first. The replays seemed to indicate that the second baseman picked the ball up in time for the out, but Lowe was called safe.

Pittsburgh manager John Russell argued the call but, as usual, the umpires ruling stood. "You hate to argue a routine play," Russell said, "but Lowe was out."

That seemed to open up both the inning and the game. Martin added a sac fly, Andre Ethier, back from maternity leave, singled home another run and Ramirez drove in Lowe for a 4-0 lead.

Blake tripled to deep center field in the third and scored on DeWitt's sacrifice fly an inning later. The final Dodgers run came in the sixth when Martin walked, Ramirez singled to center before Martin stole third and Blake's single made it 6-1.

The Dodgers improved to 79-72, first time this year they have been seven over. 500. They were seven under .500 on June 15 after being swept in Detroit. Arizona beat the Giants 2-0 in the third, but the Dodgers still lead by 4 1/2 and their magic number is a combination of eight wins or eight Arizona losses.

The young Pirates lost their eighth game in their last 11 and are 6-19 over the last 25 games. They are 13-30 since the three-team deal that involved Ramirez and Bay.

Tonight, in the third game of the series, the Dodgers will start RHP Chad Billingsley (15-10, 3.02 ERA), the club leader in wins, ERA and strikeouts, who has gone 12 straight outings without allowing more than three runs, during which time he's 7-2 with a 2.52 ERA.

The Pirates send LHP Zach Duke (5-14, 4.84 ERA) has thrown at least six innings in six consecutive starts, although he lasted just 4.2 innings against Houston in his last outing.

 Score by innings
Los Angeles	041 001 000-6
Pittsburgh	000 100 000-1

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Martin c	3  1  1  1  .276
Ethier rf	5  0  1  1  .301
Ramirez lf	5  0  3  1  .401
 Beimel p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000
Loney 1b	4  0  0  0  .297
Blake 3b	5  2  3  2  .269
DeWitt 2b	4  1  2  1  .264
Pierre cf-lf	4  0  1  0  .274
Berroa ss	4  1  2  0  .244
 Lowe p	        3  1  0  0  .143
 Park p	        0  0  0  0  .111
 Repko cf	0  0  0  0  .200
  Totals	37 6 13 6
  Pittsburgh	33 2  7 2

 Error- Berroa (7). 2b hits- Ramirez (12). 
3b- Blake (1). HR- Blake (10). RBI- Blake 2 
(23), Martin (64), Ethier (72), Ramirez (44), 
DeWitt (44). S- Lowe. SF- Martin, DeWitt. 
SB- Martin (17). LOB- Los Angeles 9, Pittsburgh 
5. DP- DeWitt, Berroa and Loney; Martin, Berroa, 
 Los Angeles	in  h  r-er bb so  era
Lowe (14-11)	7.0  5  1-1  0  3  3.40
Park        	1.0  1  0-0  0  1  2.85
Beimel	        0.2  1  1-1  0  0  2.23
Broxton	        0.1  0  0-0  0  1  3.23
 T- 2:30. Att- 12,741.
Blake Feels at Home
Reports that Casey Blake wants to return to Cleveland after the season when he becomes a free agent are not true. "I never said that," Blake insisted after is three hits helped the Dodgers top the Pirates.

Blake said his back felt fine, and as far as next year is concerned, he said the Dodgers need to want him back.

"I'm happy to be here right now. I couldn't be in a better situation," said the third baseman, who has 10 homers in 48 games with the club. "I was unsure at first. It had never been traded before. I've gotten to know everybody and fit in and get comfortable. My answer now might be different than when I first got here. I like it here. I'll keep my options open."

Double Your Fun
With the next double by James Loney, the Dodgers will have three teammates with 35 or more doubles for the first time in franchise history. Matt Kemp (37) and Andre Ethier (36) have already reached that mark this season.

Incredibly, not a single Dodger player had 35 or more doubles in a season since 1953 when Duke Snider and Carl Furillo each had 38. Jackie Robinson nearly made it three but finished with 34 doubles.

Elite Company
Should the standings remain the same for the final two weeks of the season, the Dodgers would be one of just two National League teams to reach the postseason in three of the past five years, joining the St. Louis Cardinals. In the American League, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Angels will have reached the postseason four of the past five seasons while the Twins could earn a third playoff berth in five years if they overcome Chicago.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Los Angeles is 22-6 in Pittsburgh since PNC Park opened in 2001 and has never lost any of its nine series there. The Dodgers are 46-19 against Pittsburgh since 2000. ...Ramirez, facing the Pirates for the first time since the trade, is 6-for-9. ...After missing two months of the season with a partially torn right elbow ligament, Takashi Saito came out of Monday night's first appearance saying he felt fine. Manager Joe Torre said he would try to use Saito again in Thursday's day game. "He felt fine, just the normal soreness," Torre said. "My sense is we'll wait until Thursday. He made 21 pitches. We may not have to, but I'd just as soon give him the extra day. We can throw him out there and I don't think the score will affect what we do." ...Catcher A.J. Ellis made his major league debut by catching in the ninth inning Monday night with his father in the stands at PNC Park. Ellis' parents live in Kentucky, but his father, Gary, happened to be in the area because he had a business meeting in Ohio the next day. "It was a last-minute thing," Ellis said. "He called me up and said he'd be there. The fact that he was here for my major league debut made it that much more special." ...Andre Ethier rejoined the Dodgers from a three-day absence to tend to the birth of his first child and was back in the lineup. Ethier's return to the lineup didn't send Juan Pierre to the bench, as Torre opted to sit a slumping Matt Kemp instead. ...Andruw Jones is back in his suburban Atlanta home to rest his irritated right knee. ...Jason Schmidt, who underwent minor surgery on his shoulder last week, has started physical therapy in Arizona. ...Since Spring Training, the Dodgers have turned over half of their projected lineup – second baseman Jeff Kent, shortstop Rafael Furcal, third baseman Nomar Garciaparra and center fielder Andruw Jones. ...On this road trip, the Dodgers have traveled with 38 players, nine coaches (including Jeff Pentland and Jim Slaton) and three bullpen catchers. They have used 40 different players this season, with James McDonald yet to make his big league debuts. The Los Angeles Dodger record is 53 players used in 1998 while the franchise mark is 55, set in 1944.