"We're treating this like our playoffs," said the Pirates' Lastings Milledge, whose last-place club has won two of the first three games of a four-game series that ends Monday. "When we're in the postseason next year, we'll know how it feels. We are just trying to treat this as our postseason and get the feeling down and just play hard and come out with big wins toward the tail end of the season."
In a game in which the two closers allowed a combined seven runs, the bright side for the Dodgers was Clayton Kershaw returning to the starting rotation.
OK, that's it for the bright side. There was even more bad news, as clutch fill-in Ronnie Belliard left with a slight groin strain suffered while running out his second hit of the game in the ninth inning.
The Dodgers spent the immediate postgame explaining how, with a magic number of one, they let a clinching slip away. Then most of the players lingered in the clubhouse to watch the Cardinals-Rockies game, which provided a double dose of frustration when it ended with an improbable double play and a Colorado victory.
The Dodgers had taken a 5-3 lead with a three-run top of the ninth off Pirates closer Matt Capps, but got sloppy in the bottom of the ninth after Broxton allowed a pair of singles. Shortstop Rafael Furcal booted a possible double-play grounder and settled for a forceout, then made a run-scoring error trying an off-balance throw.
With the bases loaded after an intentional walk to Garrett Jones, Milledge hit a line single to the right-center gap and right fielder Andre Ethier mishandled the ball cutting it off, then overran it as three runs scored. Even if Ethier had handled the ball cleanly, two runs would have scored to tie the game with runners on the corners.
"I don't think we did," manager Joe Torre said when it was suggested the Dodgers might have already rung up the game in the win column after their three-run rally in the top of the ninth.
"We felt we could touch it, it was close enough. You still need to get 27 outs and we didn't do it."
Furcal was mad at himself, first for not handling Andrew McCutchen's sharp one-hopper that bounced off his chest with runners on the corners and no outs. He settled for a force at second.
"If I make the double play, we're fine," he said. "If I move my feet better, I make a better play."
Andy LaRoche was next and hit a ball into the hole. Furcal made the backhand stop, but not a smooth transfer of the ball from glove to throwing hand. He tried to throw to second base anyway and it sailed it into right field, putting runners on second and third.
"I think he was going to be safe," Furcal said. "I threw it like a changeup, trying to make a throw as quick as I can. You've got to make 27 outs. That's why baseball is a little crazy sometimes. If I make those two plays, we win easy."
Torre was asked if he was irritated at his team's reckless play with such a big prize at stake.
"No, I'm disappointed," he said. "As many times as you snatch it from someone else, it's not easy to take. That's why you watch every pitch. It was right there. But you have to play nine innings. We had who we wanted at all positions, our closer on the mound. But the game is filled with surprises and they're not always good surprises."
Torre said he would have no trouble if the celebration was triggered by a Rockies loss instead of a Dodgers win.
"I'd be satisfied," he said. "When you're that close, you just want to get it done. Ideally, you do it when you're in position to do it, but we didn't."
Kershaw, in his second appearance and first start since separating his right (non-throwing) shoulder running into the fence at Dodger Stadium, made 77 pitches over four innings, charged with two runs on four hits, four strikeouts, a walk and two wild pitches.
"He was fine," said Torre. "It was good to get him out there and get competition under his belt. His stuff was good. He probably could be more consistent with his location."
Kershaw said his right arm felt "good" and his left arm felt "great." He said he struggled with command of his slider and wanted to go deeper into the game, but figured he would in his last start next weekend.
Torre said he will start Chad Billingsley and Jon Garland on Tuesday and Wednesday in San Diego, with Vicente Padilla pitching out of the bullpen, although he said that did not necessarily mean Padilla would not be in a postseason starting rotation.
If Torre keeps his current alignment, Randy Wolf, Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda will pitch the final three games of the regular season Friday-Sunday and would be in line to pitch the first three games of the postseason.