Dodgers Whiff Another Chance at NL Title

The Dodgers lead in the National League, once 15 1/2 games over Colorado, slipped to one after handing Los Angeles a 4-3 loss in the first game of a crucial three-game series. The Rockies Ubaldo Jimenez struck out 10 over his six innings and when the night had ended, nearly four hours after it started, 13 Los Angeles batters had been whiffed.

Randy Wolf again suffered from non-support and after allowing two runs with two out in the first inning, left after six trailing 2-1. The single Dodgers run had come on a wild pitch.

Relievers Scott Elbert and Ron Belisario surrendered a double and a homer in the sixth inning to inflate the Rockies lead to 4-1 and they beat off a late Dodgers rally in the bottom of the inning to earn the win.

Locked in an air-tight slump over the last eight games, the Dodgers managed only two hits off Jiminez and in fact hit only three balls out of the infield during his time on the mound.

The meat of the Los Angles lineup seemed more like soggy oatmeal. Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Casey Blake were a collective 0-for-19 with 10 strikeouts and a miserable 0-for-9 record with runners in scoring position. Ramirez left six runners on base, five of them in scoring position.

Ramirez and Blake each got the hat trick plus one, striking out four times each. Had it been a hockey game, they would have been buried under a barrage of dead octopus.

Rafael Furcal singled twice and walked, then lined out to end the game. Andre Ethier shook off a horrendous slump and singled, doubled and walked. The pair were on base six times and were left there each time.

Starter Randy Wolf struggled mightily, working all night without being able to get his big, slow curve over the plate, allowing two runs in the first inning on three walks, a single and a double. But he pulled himself together and held Colorado scoreless over the next five innings.

Yorbit Torrealba, perhaps the hottest Colorado batter, rapped a two-out double off the base of the right field wall to drive in both runs, recording his 17th RBI of the month after collecting only 14 the earlier part of the season.

Wolf got some help from his teammates, not with the bat but with the glove.

Andre Ethier threw out a runner at the plate with one out in the fourth inning and then Rafael Furcal went deep into the hole between second and third, gloved the ground ball and seeing he had not chance to get the batter, flipped the ball to Casey Blake at third base and he tagged a surprised runner advancing from second.

Blake, who was on a .393 tear when he went down with a tender hamstring, was playing his first game after missing eight contests in a row with the injury.

Other than Ethier's one out double in the first inning, Los Angeles only threatened twice.

In the third inning, Orlando Hudson, Furcal and Ethier walked with one out but the vast Sargasso Sea in the middle of the lineup left them on base, save for a wild pitch that put the Dodgers on the board.

Eleven of the next 13 L.A. batters went down in order after Ethier's walk, marred only by a walk to Russell Martin and a single by Furcal in the fourth and fifth.

Scott Elbert took over for the star-crossed Wolf in the seventh to face Todd Helton. The veteran Colorado first baseman looped an end-of-the-bat pop double the left field line for a double and manager Joe Torre went to Ron Belisario to go righty-on-righty with Troy Tulowizki.

The Rockies shortstop, who came into the game 2-for-25 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, picked on a 0-2, face-high fastball and drove it into the left field seats for a two run home run and a 4-1 lead.

Russ Martin retaliated with a home run to right center field in the bottom of the inning off Matt Daley, who replaced Jiminez. Then, with one out, pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz walked and Furcal and Ethier singled back-to-back to pull the game back to a one-run deficit.

Ethier's RBI single was off former Dodger Joe Beimel.

Then reliever XXX Betancourt took over, disposed of Ramirez on a strikeout and Matt Kemp on a drive to the warning track in right.

Houston Street, the Rockies reliever who sounds more like an address than a pitcher, came in with a stunning 70-15 ratio of strikeouts to walks and earned a four-out save, his 35th of the season.

Martin ended the eighth on a routine fly to right. Hudson was the 13th strike out victim of the night, Jim Thome rapped a liner to the left fielder and Furcal lined a shot to the second baseman.

Torre apparently doesn't have an answer to Ramirez's not only loss of power but his inability to hit. "All I can do is write his name in the lineup, pat him on the back and expect better things to happen," manager Joe Torre said. "We're committed to him. He's done tremendous things in the postseason."

The Dodger fans were on their feet each time he came to the plate with runners in scoring position and that was all four of his appearances,

After his fourth strikeout, the boos rained down on him as they have in nearly every road game since his suspension.

Ramirez is 0-for-10 with eight strikeouts in his past three games. He's hitting just .216 (16-for-74) over September and October, and Ramirez's current .290 batting average is the lowest it's been since April 17.

After missing a curveball by for strike three on his third appearance, he adjusted his helmet, rearranged his elbow pad and took a deep breath before the umpire finally pointed out that he had struck out.

"That was funny," Jimenez said. Some 54,131 disappointed fans in attendance wouldn't have agreed with him.

After leading the Rockies by 15 1/2 games on June 3, the Dodgers find themselves with a one game lead with two to go.

However Casey Blake, for one, doesn't seem stressed. "It's unfortunate, but I don't think anyone's worried too much," he said. "It's kind of brutal the way it's going down. We're frustrated, but whether we win the division or not, we're going to the playoffs. And that's what it's all about."

It starts all over again tonight with LHP Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.89 ERA) getting his second start after missing 11 days with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.

He is difficult to hit -- his opponents batting average is .201, the lowest in the league and his 2.89 ERA is eighth, but the key to his success is his command. Torre is hoping to get at least five innings and hopefully six from him.

He will face LHP Jorge De La Rosa (16-9, 4.45 ERA) who needs one win to match the club record of 17. He will bother left-handed swingers Andre Ethier and James Loney.

 Score by Innings
Colorado	200 000 200-4
Los Angeles	001 000 200-3

 Dodgers	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	4  0  2  0  .269
Ethier rf	3  0  2  1  .273
Ramirez lf	4  0  0  0  .290
Kemp cf        	4  0  0  0  .299
Loney 1b	4  0  0  0  .281
Blake 3b	4  0  0  0  .281
Martin c	3  1  1  1  .250
Hudson 2b	3  1  0  0  .283
Wolf p        	0  0  0  0  .162
 Pierre ph	1  0  0  0  .305
 Troncoso p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Elbert p	0  0  0  0  .200
 Belisario p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Mientkiewicz ph 0  0  0  0  .214
 Hu pr        	0  1  0  0  .000
 Sherrill p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Thome ph	1  0  0  0  .247
 Totals	        31  3  5  2
 Colorado	33  4  8  4

 2B- Ethier (42). HR- Martin (7). RBI- Martin 
(53), Ethier (106). S- Wolf. LOB- Los Angeles 7, 
Colorado 10. SB- Furcal (12). 	

 Dodgers	 in  h r-er bb so  era
Wolf (11-7)     5.0  5  2-2  4  2  3.32
Troncoso 	1.0  1  0-0  1  1  2.64
Elbert	        0.0  1  1-1  0  0  5.12
Belisario	1.0  1  1-1  0  2  1.93
Sherrill	1.0  0  0-0  0  0  1.72
Broxton	        1.0  0  0-0  1  3  2.64
 HBP- by Wolf. T- 3:42. Att- 54,131.
Kuroda Has a Pain in His Neck
The Dodgers lack of hitting has been a pain in manager Joe Torre's neck and now Hiroki Kuroda probably won't pitch in the National League Division Series next week because of a small disk herniation in his cervical spine.

Its been that sort of a season for Kuroda, who missed two months this season because of muscle strain in his side and then three weeks after getting struck on the head by a line drive.

Kuroda reported "tightness and discomfort" in his neck and upper back since being hit by the line drive Aug. 15, but while running in the outfield at PETCO Park in San Diego that he noticed pain.

Dodger Blue Notes-- The loss was the first five-game losing streak of the season. Los Angeles still holds a 12-4 advantage over the Rockies in the 18-game season set. ...Andre Ethier's 42nd double moved him into a tie for 10th on the Dodgers' single-season doubles list with Babe Herman, Raul Mondesi, Dixie Walker and Zack Wheat. ... The Dodgers had their 10th home sellout of the season. ...Matt Kemp's average dipped to .299, the first time it's been under .300 since May 29. ...Hall of Fame manager and Special Advisor to the Chairman Tommy Lasorda was honored for his 60 years with the Dodgers. As part of the celebration, the first 50,000 fans at the game received a commemorative Tommy Lasorda Hall of Fame replica plaque, presented by Farmer John. Lasorda began his career with the Dodgers in 1949 when he was drafted as a left-handed pitcher from the Philadelphia Phillies.  

The battle for the coveted home-field advantage is as close as the N.L. West race. The four NL playoff teams:  

Rank  Team   Record Opponent 1. Dodgers 93-67 vs. COL 2. Phillies 92-68 vs. FLA 3. Rockies 92-68 at LAD 4. Cardinals 91-69 vs. MIL