Lowe's gem lifts Dodgers into first place

Lowe's gem lifts Dodgers into first place

LOS ANGELES -- Pitching your team into first place isn't the typical showcase for a trade, but these are the Dodgers, after all, so Derek Lowe knows anything is possible.

After hearing constant rumors during the day that he was headed home to Detroit in exchange for Tigers shortstop Edgar Renteria, Lowe focused on outdueling Tim Hudson in a 2-1 win over the Braves, a combined two-hitter that lifted the Dodgers back into a tie with Arizona for first place in the National League West. The Dodgers have won eight of 12.

Lowe followed the pattern set by Hiroki Kuroda (complete-game one-hitter) and Chad Billingsley in the two other games of the series, starting out perfectly (Atlanta went hitless the first four innings of each game), and Hudson kept pace until James Loney's double leading off the fifth. Gregor Blanco ruined Lowe's masterpiece by whistling a sinker over Lowe's head for a single leading off the seventh inning.

"The one mistake I made, a sinker right down the middle," said Lowe.

Matt Kemp, who struck out four times Tuesday night, homered in the sixth inning, and the Dodgers added what proved to be the decisive run in the seventh, a rally begun and capped by recovering veterans Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones.

Garciaparra led off the inning with a line single up the middle. One out later with pinch-runner Angel Berroa on second, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox intentionally walked Russell Martin to have Hudson pitch to Jones, his former slugging center fielder. Jones, booed as usual when he stepped to the plate, singled up the middle for a run that loomed huge when Jeff Francoeur homered off Lowe with one out in the eighth.

Lowe was lifted by manager Joe Torre after issuing a two-out walk to Mark Kotsay, but with reliever Jonathan Broxton taking over, the defensive play of the night was Martin throwing out Kotsay trying to steal second.

The out not only ended the inning, but prevented Chipper Jones from coming to the plate in the ninth inning, when Takashi Saito set down the Braves in order for his 17th save and a combined two-hitter.

"They've got the best complete pitching staff that we've probably seen," said Cox.

Lowe (7-8) allowed two hits in 7 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and 16 groundouts. In his last 11 starts, he has lowered his ERA from 5.34 to 3.85.

Games like this are why other contending clubs want him. He's in a free-agent year and while the Dodgers are not exactly eager to move him, if they have a surplus of anything, it's starting pitching and he's likely to walk after this year anyway. If they are to land a legitimate everyday shortstop like Renteria, it would likely cost a legitimate pitcher like Lowe, or one of the top young players the Dodgers have stubbornly refused to deal.

Lowe wouldn't discuss the trade rumors, other than acknowledge he was aware of them. They certainly didn't bother him on the mound.

"This was the type of game I thought it would be, a low-scoring game," said Lowe. "When both pitchers are working fast, it helps both sides. You don't sit long enough to get stiff. It's fun. You know every pitch can change the outcome of the game."

Lowe threw 85 pitches, Hudson 94. The game took two hours to play.

"Both pitchers were doing the same things, getting weak ground balls, throwing a lot of strikes," said Torre. "It was crazy, but it turned out good for our side."

Jones' hit was just a seeing-eye bouncer barely out of everyone's reach, but coupled with his hard slide into second base to take out Kelly Johnson, he earned a rare standing ovation from a Dodger Stadium crowd that has been brutally critical of his every move since his horribly slow start.

"The fans have been great," said Jones, who volunteered to return two weeks early from knee surgery after Juan Pierre was injured. "They boo you, but they cheer. My teammates have been great. They know what I can do. The boos, you don't want to hear those in your home park. It's tough, but it's part of the game."

Kemp, who refused to speak with reporters after his four strikeouts Tuesday, said his silent treatment was out of frustration.

"I feel I should never strike out out four times. That's not the kind of player I am," he said. "I think I'm better than that. That's not good at all. I was just frustrated we lost."

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