LOS ANGELES -- It's not as bad as losing 13 of 14 coming out of the All-Star break, but getting swept at home by the Giants ranks as the worst of times for the Dodgers this young season. "We need to do things differently and get better execution by the players in there," manager Grady Little said Thursday night after watching a 5-4 loss his team had countless chances to win. From a blown squeeze play to a dropped fly ball and stranded runners galore, the Dodgers ruined Nomar Garciaparra Bobblehead Night and left town with a four-game losing streak, while the Giants headed to Arizona as the hottest team in baseball with an eight-game win streak that pulled them into a tie with the Dodgers for first place in the division.
The Dodgers seemed certain to reverse that trend in the early innings, putting 10 of their first 15 batters on base against Russ Ortiz. But they came away with only three runs, and their wasteful ways were underscored by a disastrous squeeze play with one out in the second inning and a 3-0 lead. Andre Ethier, who would later homer, doubled in the second run and Rafael Furcal singled Ethier to third, bringing up Juan Pierre. There was unspoken communication between Pierre and third-base coach Rich Donnelly convincing Donnelly that Pierre knew the squeeze was on. But with Ethier breaking for the plate, Pierre, one of the best bunters in baseball, appeared to be caught by surprise and made a late stab at the ball and Ethier was done. "It's kind of embarrassing, losing four in a row at home," said Ethier. "We're better than that. It's not a fun time, but we'll figure it out. We better take advantage of the opportunities we get out there." Pierre's night, 0-for-5 at the plate with a steal and run, got even worse in the eighth inning when the Giants broke a 3-3 tie, set up by Ryan Klesko's bad-hop single off Joe Beimel that exploded past Garciaparra. With runners on first and third and no outs, Barry Bonds grounded into a double play and Omar Vizquel never broke for the plate from third base. Ray Durham followed with a fly that sent Pierre on a long chase to right-center, but the ball glanced off the tip of his glove for a double. Vizquel scored and Durham would soon follow him home with an insurance run. "That's a ball I have to catch," said Pierre. "I just didn't make the play. It's a close game and it came down to a play I didn't make. And I missed a sign. I let two runs in and didn't get one in. I pretty much directly affected the game in a bad way. I know I'm better than that. I've got to come back and play better." Without revealing details of the Dodgers' sign sequence, Donnelly said Pierre acknowledged the play was on, then missed it. "That's why the guy who named it named it the suicide squeeze, and not just the squeeze," said Donnelly. "You've got your heart in your throat every time you put it on. You hope he gets it down and hope they don't pitch out and hope he's got the sign. Sometimes it backfires. It has to be executed. No doubt in my mind Juan, if he's bunting, gets the ball down." Pierre said the swing in momentum -- from a 3-1 road trip to a 2-4 homestand -- was troubling. "We had a good trip and we're supposed to come home and protect things and we didn't," he said. "Games like this, we had ample opportunities with myself in the mix and didn't get the job done. We have to find a way to let this series roll off our back. We've got enough guys who know what it takes to win that will let it go. Otherwise, there can be a snowball effect. We've got to nip that in the bud." Ethier provided a pair of extra-base hits from the No. 8 spot in the batting order, having switched with Wilson Betemit, who has conceded he's struggled hitting before the pitcher. In the seventh spot, Betemit doubled in three official at-bats, but his strikeout with one out and the bases loaded in the third inning was a letdown. "He's making strides," said Little, "but baby steps." Brad Penny was charged with three runs in six innings, although two of those runs were aided by Durham's line single off the glove of second baseman Jeff Kent, the second time that happened in the game. "We had two balls hit off the gloves of infielders and one off the glove of an outfielder," said Little. "They're trying their best to catch the ball, take my word."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.