Lowe continues to stymie Pirates

Lowe continues to stymie Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- It was Derek Lowe's turn Tuesday night and he breezed right through the Pirates in a 6-2 win that cut the Dodgers' magic number to clinch the National League West to eight.

This team run of 14 wins in 16 games was a setup with the soft September schedule the Dodgers drew, but they still had to get it done. Being swept in Washington during last month's eight-game losing streak was a reminder that they'd have to earn it.

Now, a season-high seven games above .500, it looks like they will.

"Right now, our personality is loose, but we understand we have a lot of work to do," manager Joe Torre said. "I sense a certain looseness I didn't sense in Washington. It's just a whole different atmosphere."

Again, the Dodgers punished Pirates pitchers with a 13-hit attack, three each by Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez. Blake, who missed Monday night's opener with a stiff lower back, was healthy enough to homer, triple and single, becoming the 340th Dodger to fall one hit shy of a cycle since Wes Parker had the club's last one in 1970.

While all phases of the team have picked it up, the starting pitching has been the most consistent. In these 16 games, starters have allowed no runs six times, one run three other times and as many as four runs only twice.

"Our pitching has been great most of the year, and it's very consistent right now," Torre said. "Everybody seems to have a little edge to him. Derek prepared today like, 'It's my turn.' "

Chad Billingsley has three of the 14 wins, Hiroki Kuroda two. Lowe ran his win streak during the stretch to four, his overall season mark to 14-11 and now is 6-0 lifetime against the Pirates, who scored one run in his seven innings. In his past four starts, Lowe has allowed two runs. He's won six of his past seven decisions with an ERA of 1.14.

"Our whole staff over this run has been pretty incredible," Lowe said. "Game in and game out we get quality starts and go deep enough to be able to use our bullpen the proper way. Today, they made it easy by getting me an early lead and allowed me to settle in."

The Dodgers have 38 players in uniform on this trip, and if that wasn't enough, the key man in the decisive four-run second inning was first-base umpire Tim Timmons, whose apparent missed call led to three of the runs.

Blake led off the inning with his 10th home run with the Dodgers. One out later, with runners on first and second, pitcher Jeff Karstens fielded Lowe's sacrifice bunt and bounced his throw to first base off the glove of second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who picked the ball up with his glove before Lowe reached first. But Timmons called him safe.

Russell Martin followed with a sacrifice fly that should have been the third out but scored the second run, and was followed by Andre Ethier's RBI single and Ramirez's RBI double.

"We're doing what we need to do and not worrying about what others are doing," Lowe said. "It's hard to get caught if we keep winning. You don't want to get lazy or complacent."

The implication being that the Dodgers might have been guilty of that on the previous 10-game trip. But he said there's more to this revival than beating up last-place teams like San Diego and Pittsburgh.

"As hard as we had to fight to get to this spot, we don't want to let it go," Lowe said. "We're really in the driver's seat and it's up to us to keep winning. That's the motivation. After all the adversity we've had to overcome, to play decent baseball at the right time, you couldn't ask for anything more."

Lowe, with free agency looming, even complimented Dodgers management for making the late-season acquisitions of Blake, Ramirez and Greg Maddux. "We couldn't ask for three better guys than they gave us," Lowe said. "Maybe they realized where we were and how the division shaped up. Give them credit for going out and getting them. They could have sat back and went with what we had."

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