Dodgers' West lead whittled after loss

Dodgers' West lead whittled after loss

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' slide resumed Wednesday night, and not just because Clayton Kershaw couldn't get out of the fourth inning or Jonathan Broxton gave it up again in the ninth or the offense sputtered pretty much from start to finish.

But because of all that, a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals whittled to 3 1/2 games a National League West lead that three weeks ago was nine games. The last time the Dodgers' lead was less was May 12, when they led by three games.

"This is where you've got to fight for what you want," manager Joe Torre said. "I don't have to tell the guys anything. I'm not worried about their psyche. I have no concerns about them emotionally."

Dodgers concerns are less between the ears and more between the lines. They lost the rubber game of the series with the Cardinals, the fifth consecutive series they've dropped to St. Louis. Their offense did nothing until Orlando Hudson's one-out single in the sixth inning broke up Adam Wainwright's no-hit bid. The only Dodgers runs scored on homers from Andre Ethier and Casey Blake in the seventh inning.

They've had to pick the scrap heap to bolster their beat-up rotation, signing Vicente Padilla earlier in the day after losing Hiroki Kuroda to a concussion, with swingman Jeff Weaver taking the fifth-starter assignment Thursday night.

There was no choice but for Kershaw to take the mound Wednesday night, afterward insisting that a second consecutive short outing (3 2/3 innings) wasn't the result of the flu that left him with a fever Tuesday.

For his sixth consecutive start, Kershaw and the Dodgers came away without a win. He made 97 pitches, the Cardinals running up the count by repeatedly fouling them off. Kershaw issued five walks, two of them being Albert Pujols, who reached base four times without putting a ball in play.

That seemed to be the Cardinals' game plan.

"This young man is as good as anybody and getting better and better," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said of Kershaw. "And we were just fouling them off. Nobody centered hardly anything against him. But when everybody fights, fights, fights, there are no easy at-bats for him. And sometimes you can get up there where it's dangerous to keep him in."

It was Broxton who walked Pujols leading off the ninth, after the homers from Ethier and Blake countered two runs the Cardinals scored off Kershaw in the fourth inning. That rally included a double to left-center by Yadier Molina and a walk to opposing pitcher Wainwright.

But as for the winning run, Pujols stole second on a 3-0 pitch and catcher Russell Martin's throw bounced off Orlando Hudson and into right field as Pujols continued to third, scoring on Matt Holliday's sacrifice fly.

Broxton was pitching for the third consecutive day and has allowed six runs in his past 10 1/3 innings (5.23 ERA), although Torre defended a performance that didn't include a hit.

"Broxton was very careful to Pujols," Torre said. "Three nights in a row, no question we're pushing the envelope a little bit. But he didn't give anything up -- a walk and a fly ball. He said he was fine. That part of the order is very tough."

Torre also defended Kershaw, saying the walks were more a case of close pitches than wildness.

"He gave us 90-something [pitches], he just didn't put people away," he said. "With two strikes, he couldn't get outs. There were a lot of foul balls."

Kershaw, as has become his tendency, was less forgiving. He rejected this week's illness as a reason for his performance.

"I don't think health had anything to do with tonight. I don't know what to say, it's tough to take," he said. "That team fouled off pitch after pitch. There just wasn't an easy out and I was not throwing enough strikes. I was just bad tonight.

"I had that word -- learning process -- but I guess that's part of it. I've got to figure out how to get deeper in the game. I let everybody down tonight. The bullpen bailed me out, but I didn't help the team at all. I didn't do anything right, when you come down to it."

Pretty tough critique for a 21-year-old with a 2.96 ERA on the season.

James McDonald (2 1/3 innings) and scoreless innings from Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo preceded Broxton.

The Dodgers had a last shot to tie in the bottom of the ninth when Ethier was hit on the calf by Dennys Reyes' first pitch, but he was stranded at second base.

Ethier's home run, No. 25 on the year, gave him 20 RBIs in the past 19 games. Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez went 0-for-3 with a walk and strikeout and has four RBIs in his past 12 games.

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