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Dodgers can't hold late lead, fall to Braves

Dodgers can't hold late lead, fall to Braves

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ATLANTA -- Another blown save, another walk-off loss, another game of sputtering offense and squandering relief pitching, and the Dodgers headed home Monday night sensing that the season might have gotten away on this trip east.

They finished with another crushing defeat, 4-3 to the Braves, with Melky Cabrera's two-run, bases-loaded single off Octavio Dotel with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning turning around what appeared to be a lucky Dodgers win.

"Even though we haven't been playing well," said manager Joe Torre, "you have to be shocked by the results there."

They went 2-5 against the Phillies and Braves (with two walk-off losses), scoring only six runs in the four games here, only one of them on a base hit (Andre Ethier's first-inning RBI double in this series finale). They went 0-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the series. They took a 3-1 lead on a two-run error by Brooks Conrad in the eighth inning Monday, and Torre tried to get a two-inning save out of new closer Hong-Chih Kuo, who previously had been handled with kid gloves because of four elbow operations.

Torre said he brought Kuo in for starter Chad Billingsley to begin the eighth with a 3-1 lead planning on a two-inning save, which he said became a "no-brainer as far as the decision" when Kuo coasted through a perfect eighth on seven pitches.

But the ninth opened with a line single to left field by Alex Gonzalez and and a sharp bouncing single to right by Brian McCann. Kuo got Troy Glaus on a pop foul that required a running catch by James Loney, then Kuo walked Conrad and Torre went with Dotel.

"I didn't get the job done today," said Kuo, who had never been asked to get a two-inning save before.

Dotel came on, walked pinch-hitter and former Dodgers catcher David Ross to cut the lead to 3-2, then Cabrera bounced his single past the diving shortstop Jamey Carroll. Left fielder Scott Podsednik charged the ball as it skipped over the grass soaked by rain throughout the game, and it skipped under his glove as Conrad scored the winning run.

"I think the biggest at-bat was Gonzalez's leadoff single," said Ross. "When you get the leadoff guy on, the other team starts to panic and starts thinking, 'We can't give up a two-run homer.'"

The blown save went to Dotel, the 12th for the Dodgers this year.

"He got a good pitch to hit," said Dotel, acquired last month from Pittsburgh to deepen a bullpen that still looks shaky. "When you're losing, it's bad and it doesn't matter where you play. Losing is losing, especially in the situation we're in. It's always tough. It's not a fun time."

Kuo was charged with all three runs in the ninth, after having been charged with only four other runs all season.

Now the Dodgers return home after an all-night flight to open what even Torre considers to be the defining homestand of the season, beginning Tuesday night with three games against the Rockies, then three more against the Reds.

"I'd say the next homestand starting tomorrow will be extremely important," he said. "We've had success at home. We need something to get us back in a good frame of mind. This homestand, we have to have an impressive run here. We've gotten to the point with 40-something games from the end of the season and we're going in the wrong direction."

The Dodgers wasted another excellent start from Billingsley, who dueled Braves starter Tommy Hanson on even terms, both allowing one run on five hits over seven innings. Billingsley struck out eight.

Billingsley has allowed only six runs in his last six starts, but Los Angeles has scored only eight and he's winless in the last four of those games.

"Definitely a tough game to swallow," said Billingsley. "We've got to come back tomorrow. We can't dwell on this game."

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

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