Dodgers 5, Pirates 2
Saenz hit a two-run homer, Marlon Anderson drove in a run with a suicide squeeze bunt, and Los Angeles beat the Pirates 5-2 Thursday night—avoiding what would have been a crushing three-game sweep with nine games left in the regular season.
“It’s not a coincidence when you look over the course of this guy’s career that the teams he’s played for have found themselves in situations like the Dodgers are in—with a chance to play in the postseason,” Tracy said of Saenz.
The victory gave the Dodgers a half-game lead over idle Philadelphia in the wild-card race and kept them a half-game back of NL West-leading San Diego, which beat Arizona 3-1. The Pirates next three games are at San Diego, while the Dodgers host the Diamondbacks.
“At this stage of the season, it looks big,” Saenz said of his 11th home run. “But every RBI and every win that we get means a lot. There’s no room right now for a loss. You’ve got to come out and play your best because it’s do or die. Nobody’s going to give you anything. You’ve got to earn it.”
With Nomar Garciaparra out of the starting lineup for precautionary reasons to rest his sore left quad, Saenz started at first base and gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the first. He drove an 0-1 pitch deep into the pavilion seats in left-center after a leadoff single by Rafael Furcal.
Saenz is 22-for-47 lifetime against the Pirates with six home runs. He was 8-for-14 with two homers and seven RBIs during the Dodgers’ four-game series at Pittsburgh in mid-April.
“He’s a professional player, he’s a professional person, and he’s a winner,” Tracy said. “He’s at his best in a lesser role, when you don’t have to overuse him. He’s a damaging player on your bench against left-handed pitching, and his numbers will bear that out.”
Rookie Chad Billingsley (6-4) allowed two runs and six hits over five innings. In his previous start last Saturday, he lasted only one inning and gave up three runs in an 11-2 loss to the Padres.
“He had confidence in his stuff, and you could tell,” catcher Russell Martin said. “He was really aggressive and he just pounded the strike zone. He had a sharp breaking ball tonight and had better command of his fastball and his cutter.”
Pirates left-hander Shane Youman (0-2) was charged with three runs, three hits and four walks over 4 1-3 innings in his second major league start. Youman filled in for Paul Maholm, who had soreness in his rotator cuff.
“He did a fine job,” Tracy said. “But he obviously left a pitch up and out over the plate to Olmedo Saenz. And when you’re a left-handed pitcher and you do that to Olmedo Saenz, it’s going to be a real loud noise.”
Youman departed with runners at the corners and one out in the fifth. Josh Sharpless struck out Saenz on a nasty breaking ball that tailed way out of the strike zone, but walked Jeff Kent on a 3-2 count and walked J.D. Drew on four pitches to force home Furcal and put the Dodgers ahead 3-2.
The Dodgers got a pair of insurance runs in the eighth on Martin’s RBI single, followed by a suicide squeeze bunt by Anderson that scored Drew.
“I’m glad I got it,” Anderson said of the squeeze sign. “We talked about it before I left the dugout. If the opportunity came, just be aware. That extra run was a big run late in the game like that. It doesn’t have to be pretty. But as long as the job gets done, we’re OK.”
Takashi Saito got three outs for his 20th save in 22 chances.
The Pirates tied it at 2 on RBI singles by Freddy Sanchez in the third inning and Youman in the fifth, the rookie’s second hit of the game and first RBI in the majors.
Sanchez was 2-for-4, increasing his NL-leading average to .347—nine points ahead of Florida’s Miguel Cabrera, who has missed the Marlins’ last two games because of a strained left shoulder. If Sanchez maintains his lead, he’ll become the first Pittsburgh player to win a batting crown since Bill Madlock in 1983.
“They don’t have a big payroll, but they’ve got a lot of guys who know how to play baseball and they bust their tail every night,” Anderson said. “Every time I face them, it’s the same thing.”
The crowd of 48,567 increased the Dodgers home attendance to 3,614,942 — breaking the franchise record with three games to spare. The 1982 club drew 3,608,881. … Pirates 1B Ryan Doumit was ejected by plate umpire Greg Gibson in the eighth for arguing a called third strike. … Garciaparra pinch hit in the seventh and lined out to center field. … Grady Little is five wins away from becoming the fourth Dodgers manager since 1900 to win at least 85 games in his first season at the helm. Charlie Dressen was 97-60 in 1951, Walter Alston 92-62 in 1954 and Tom Lasorda 98-64 in 1977.