Dodgers done in by long ball again

Dodgers done in by long ball again

LOS ANGELES -- With a 5-2 loss to Atlanta on Sunday, the Dodgers fell out of first place and landed in third, behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres.

After spending 32 of 36 days in first place, they've lost four of their last five against first-place teams, and it won't get easier for awhile, as the Florida Marlins open a three-game series in L.A. on Monday night, followed by three against the Angels.

"I could feel it today. We're pressing a little bit," said Milton Bradley. "Guys are trying too hard. We've got to relax. It's not panic time yet. It's way too early. I think we'll turn it around."

Starting pitcher Scott Erickson turned it around. With his spot in the rotation on the line, he retired the first 11 batters and pitched on even terms with $48 million Braves ace Tim Hudson, allowing only a two-run homer to Chipper Jones in his sixth, and last, inning.

Then the Dodgers bullpen gave it up, with Wilson Alvarez drawing the first Dodgers bullpen loss in five weeks.

"You can't ask for any more than Scott Erickson gave us," said manager Jim Tracy. "If we need a starting pitcher on Friday (pending the condition of Odalis Perez's shoulder), we know who it'll be, and if we get to the 28th of the month (the next time a fifth starter is needed), we know who that starter will be, too."

The Dodgers led, 2-0, on RBI singles from two of their hottest hitters, Hee-Seop Choi in the second inning and Ricky Ledee (who had three hits) in the fourth. Ledee was 0-for-10 against Hudson coming into the game. But they also stranded runners in scoring position in five different innings.

"If you get a lead and you have a chance to put the other team away, and you don't do it and you allow the other club to hang around, you're asking for trouble," said Tracy. "The key hit to open up the game has eluded us lately."

The Dodgers put the first two batters on base in three different innings and scored only one run. They stranded 10 baserunners and went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

Oscar Robles, getting a start at third base and batting second, is 1-for-17 after going 0-for-4 Sunday, including a bunt that failed to move runners along with two on and no outs in the third inning, and an inning-ending groundout with the bases loaded in the sixth.

"You go through times when you wonder, 'What the heck is going on?' But it'll turn around, that's for sure," said J.D. Drew, who doubled in five at-bats. "It's just a matter of hitting it where they ain't, and we ain't doing that."

Erickson has quality starts in his last two Dodger Stadium appearances, with no wins to show for it. Even in this game, when 12 of his 18 outs were recorded on ground balls, he again was victimized by a home run, and again immediately following a play that nearly got him out of the inning.

After allowing Hudson a single leading off the sixth, Erickson struck out Rafael Furcal and got Marcus Giles to hit a medium bouncer to third. Robles threw to second, but Jeff Kent tried to rush the exchange from his glove to throwing hand and dropped the ball on what Tracy said would have been an "extraordinary" double play.

"I tried to throw the ball before I caught it because I knew I didn't have a chance to get the double play," said Kent. "You're going from foul line to foul line with the fastest runner on the team. It's probably not going to happen. Most times I wouldn't throw the ball. It wasn't meant to be."

Erickson said he decided to throw a slider to Chipper Jones in the sixth because the slugger "nearly came out of his shoes" swinging at a first-pitch fastball his previous at-bat.

"I can't believe the pitch went out of the park," said Erickson. "It didn't sound off the bat like a home run. Unfortunately, I know that sound. I started walking toward the dugout, but the ball carried. It wasn't a bad pitch. At night, it doesn't go out."

Erickson left a tied game to Alvarez, but Andruw Jones greeted him with a home run leading off the seventh inning on a 3-2 pitch to break the tie. The Braves, who homered twice off Eric Gagne on Saturday night, got a home run from Adam LaRoche, a double from Andruw Jones and a sacrifice fly off Yhency Brazoban in the ninth.

"These are the teams we have to beat in September and October if we're going to be a World Series contender," said Erickson. "We've showed we can play with them. We should have won the game today."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.