Rockies 6, Dodgers 5

Another tough one for Broxton, but he was a standup guy afterward. This guy is going to have a long, successful career in the majors and eventually be a closer. For a 23-year-old to be going through what he is going through (five HR in his past nine IP, three of them game-winners) and come back after Hawpe’s shot tonight to dominate the next three batters, it says something about his makeup. He is an easy guy to root for. … Gonzo went 1 for 5 and needs one more hit for 2,500. … Kent had five PAs tonight. Three more and his option for next season vests. He could still retire, but this guy still really, really wants that ring he came so tantalizingly close to getting with the Giants in 2002, and the potential is there for this team to be pretty good next year. My guess is he’s coming back. My other guess is we won’t know for sure until sometime over the winter. … Dodgers fall to 79-73, and they now trail the Rockies by a game. Rockies are confident and playing well, Dodgers are, well, not. Looks like the boys are headed for a fourth-place finish. … Dodgers went 5 for 22 w/RISP tonight. This on a night when they had 41 total ABs. Twenty-two ABs with runners in scoring position, and they get five hits and five runs. Maybe this one wasn’t Broxton’s fault, after all.

Tomorrow’s notes …

… but before we get to that, let me say I am seriously considering putting Matt Holliday’s name in the No. 1 spot on my National League MVP ballot. It has to have 10 names, ranked 1 through 10, with each vote counting in inverse order, i.e., a first-place vote counts for 10 points, a 10th-place vote for one point. I know the Rockies probably aren’t going to the playoffs, but this guy is having an incredible season — and an incredible series so far (7 for 11, 3 HRs, a double and six RBI). He has 2 HR’s already tonight and drove Juan Pierre to the wall in dead center in this third AB. He leads the league in hitting, has 35 HRs, leads the league in RBI, leads the league in hits (204), leads the league in total bases (367), leads the league in doubles (48), leads the league in extra-base hits (86) and is hitting a league-best .384 in day games. Sounds like an MVP to me. … Dodgers just tied the game on a bases-loaded single by Brad Penny and still have the bases jammed with nobody out. Jeremy Affeldt coming on now for the Rox. … Ddogers 4, Rockies 4, top 6

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
DENVER — Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal was still unavailable on Wednesday night because of lower back tightness. But club officials said he was feeling better than he was on Tuesday, when the problem knocked him out of the first game of a doubleheader after six innings and prevented him from playing at all in the nightcap.
The issue was still preventing Furcal from swinging a bat, a fact that probably makes it highly unlikely he will play in this afternoon’s series finale at Colorado even though no one was willing to say that.
“It doesn’t seem to be real serious,” Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. “But he still doesn’t have full motion, and he still isn’t able to make all the movements he needs to, especially swinging. So we’ll hold him out until he is ready to do stuff like that.”
With the Dodgers apparently on the brink of elimination from the playoff hunt — they went into the evening with a magic number of eight to be knocked out of the wild card — there is a remote possibility Furcal has played his final game. Furcal suffered a severely sprained ankle in a collision with outfielder Jason Repko during the next-to-last week of spring training that still hasn’t fully healed and probably won’t until he can rest it for several weeks.
Thus, even if Furcal is able to return from the back injury, the question will have to be asked at that time whether there is a reason for him to do so — especially if it happens during what figures to be a meaningless, season-ending series with last-place San Francisco.
But Conte seemed to dismiss that idea.
“If we’re unfortunate enough to not be playing in meaningful games, then we have about 10 guys who could benefit from (sitting out),” Conte said.

Still his: The Dodgers have used seven different starting third basemen this season, and not one of them has started more than 40 games at the position. Manager Grady Little said he hopes to leave spring training next year with one primary third baseman, adding that the position still belongs for now to veteran Nomar Garciaparra.
Garciaparra, who is signed through next season, has hit .381 this year with runners in scoring position, but just .246 in all other situations. Tony Abreu, who started at short in place of Furcal on Wednesday, and Andy LaRoche are among the organization’s brightest prospects, but until one of them takes it away, Garciaparra is still the guy.
“As of now, Nomar would have to be the incumbent,” Little said. “He has had a tough season this year, but hopefully, he can get it turned around.”
Abreu and LaRoche, each of whom is in his first big-league season, also have struggled. Abreu is hitting .267. LaRoche is batting .193 and has struck out 15 times in 57 at-bats.

Not sure: Bill Mueller reluctantly accepted the Dodgers’ hitting coach job on an interim basis, stepping down from his spot as a special assistant to general manager Ned Colletti, after Eddie Murray was fired on June 14. Two weeks later, Mueller reluctantly accepted the job for the rest of the season.
Now, as that season winds to a close, Mueller isn’t sure whether he wants to keep the job beyond this season.
“I have to talk to Grady and Ned,” Mueller said. “It’s not my decision, and I don’t know what their decision is, and I don’t want to get into that during the season. It’s a non-issue. All that matters right now is preparing for a game each day.”
Mueller did say he has found a comfort level in the job, but he wouldn’t go as far as saying that comfort level has given him renewed interest in keeping the position. It is believed Mueller would simply return to the front office if he didn’t remain as hitting coach.
“Having a routine has made it a little easier for me,” Mueller said. “I think people function better with routines, but for me, it took a little while to find one.”

And that will just about do it

I told a colleague as the nightcap headed to the bottom of the ninth that I had a bad feeling about this game. But after Saito retired the first two in the ninth, I figured I was wrong. Nope. I was right. Holliday singled, Helton homered and the Dodgers were left to try to pad their record as win as many games as they can before this once-promising season comes to an inevitable end a week from Sunday. They’re not mathematically eliminated yet, but that’s a little like me saying I still have a chance to date Jessica Alba before I die because I haven’t died yet. But it could be worse. The boys are going to have a winning season. They would have to go 2-9 the rest of the way to not finish above .500, and even that would leave them 81-81, which is a whole lot better than where they finished just two years ago when they went 71-91 and everybody got fired, even though it took Frank and Jamie a good month to get around to canning DePo. It’s possible that a few heads could roll after this one, too, but I have serious doubts that those heads will belong to either Grady or Ned — and I have a strong opinion that says neither of those heads SHOULD belong to either Grady or Ned. And I still think there is a LOT of promise for 2008, when some of these kids who have gotten their rookie growing pains out of the way early over the past couple of years truly become bona fide big leaguers. The guess here is that there will be a lot of magic in this franchise over the next four or five years. And for those of you who shell out your 50 cents every day to read yours truly in the print edition, well, for the 12 days that are left of THIS season, expect most of that coverage to focus largely on NEXT season. … Good night, all. And sleep well, because there isn’t much of a reason to toss and turn anymore.

Furcal update, Game 2 lineup and Game 1 recap

Furcal has lower back tightness and is day to day, but he’ll miss tonight’s game. Another big blow to the Dodgers, who are offering fewer and fewer reasons to keep believing. Anyway …

CF Pierre
2B Abreu
RF Kemp
LF Gonzo
3B Nomar
1B Loney
SS Martinez
C Lieberthal
LH Wells

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
DENVER — The Dodgers got another step closer to the edge of the cliff this afternoon, plodding their way to a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies in the first game of a split doubleheader at Coors Field. But that wasn’t where the bad news ended.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal, one of four players manager Grady Little had intended to write into the starting lineup of both games, left after six innings with tightness in his lower back. Furcal has battled a sore left ankle all season, but has no history of back problems.
Little said Furcal, who won’t be available for tonight’s game, hurt himself sliding into a base over the weekend.
“He is a guy who has played through a lot of aches and pains,” Little said. “But this just got too bad for him to take later in the game.”
Furcal is listed as day to day. If he misses significant time, it will be an even bigger dent in the Dodgers’ already-fading playoff hopes. They began the day trailing Arizona by four games in the National League West and San Diego by three in the wildcard standings, with both of those clubs scheduled to play later. Philadelphia, just 1 1/2 behind the Padres in the wild card, also plays tonight.
The Dodgers (79-71) now lead the fourth-place Rockies by just a game the division.
Chad Billingsley (11-5) started strong, facing the minimum through the first three innings, but he later said he never felt comfortable. He gave up just four hits and struck out six, but he also walked three batters (one intentionally) and was lifted after throwing 102 pitches in 5 1/3 innings. He lost for the first time since Aug. 13.
“I didn’t feel like I had my good fastball,” Billingsley said. “I was just trying to make good, quality pitches down in the zone and trying to get ground balls, but it just didn’t happen. I just went out there and battled to try to get outs as quickly as possible, but they laid off some good pitches and made me get deep in counts.”
The Dodgers’ only run came on a pinch-hit home run by Olmedo Saenz in the seventh inning, his first homer since a walkoff shot on June 8 vs. Toronto. The Rockies got leadoff doubles by Cory Sullivan in both the fourth and sixth innings, with Sullivan scoring each time, and put the game away on Joe Koshansky’s RBI double off Scott Proctor in the seventh.
The Dodgers went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position, and left-hander Jeff Francis (16-8), despite leaving with two outs in the seventh inning, became the first Rockies pitcher in more than four years to post 10 strikeouts in a game.
“His changeup was outstanding,” Little said. “That was the difference maker.”
Manuel Corpas pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save. LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Fuentes and Corpas combined to retire the final seven Dodgers batters in order.

Playoff tickets

Starting today through Sept. 24, you can now “register for the opportunity,” according to today’s official game notes, to purchase tickets for any NLDS action at Dodger Stadium. To do so, go to dodgers.com, as THERE WILL BE NO TICKETS FOR SALE ON-SITE AT DODGER STADIUM, THROUGH TICKETMASTER OR VIA TELEPHONE.. Applicants must fill out and submit a registration form on dodgers.com to have the chance to purchase tickets. The rules of this thing are kind of complex and difficult for my feeble mind to comprehend or translate, so you might want to go to dodgers.com and read them for yourself. But you should also know that one in our midst asked Grady in his pregame session a few minutes ago how many more games he thinks the Dodgers will have to win to get into the playoffs, and he guessed 10. That’s out of the 13 games the Dodgers have left. So good luck.

Game 1 lineup

It’s 10:40 a.m. at Coors Field, a perfect, sunny day in the greatest city on the face of the planet, and in a scene that surely would get Ernie Banks excited, we’re going to play two today. Actually, we’re going to play ONE today, and another one tonight. To heck with baseball tradition, the Rockies have the almighty dollar to pursue. Not that that makes them unique among the other 29 clubs (although when I was covering the Rockies in the late 1990s, they were the only team that routinely had these split DH’s to make up for rainouts, even if they are now commonplace around baseball). But hey, far be it from me to complain.

SS Furcal
CF Pierre
RF Kemp
2B Kent
1B Loney
C Martin
3B LaRoche
LF Ethier
RH Billingsley

Diamondbacks 6, Dodgers 1

This one was over from the moment Loaiza walked the first two batters in the second inning, then gave up a three-run bomb to Chris Snyder. Loaiza wound up walking seven (one intentional) and lasted just 4 2/3 innings despite giving up one hit. Oh, and the Dodgers went 0 for 4 w/RISP. Dodgers had what under any other circumstances would have been a successful homestand, going 4-2. But this loss was devastating on a day when the Padres, Phillies and Rockies all won. The boys fall to 79-70 and are now 4 1/2 out in the division and 2 1/2 out in the wild card, and the schedule doesn’t play in their favor much the rest of the way. They have three more with the D-backs at their place, but they might be too far out now for that to matter. They don’t play the Padres at all. Other than that, they have seven with the Rockies and three with the Giants. Dodgers could win all 10 of those and still not gain an inch in the standings.

Lineup and some random stuff

SS Furcal
CF Pierre
1B Loney
2B Kent
LF Gonzo
3B LaRoche
RF Ethier
C Lieberthal
RH Loaiza

Starting pitchers Loaiza and Edgar Gonzalez are both from Mexico, and today is Mexican Independence Day. They are two of 13 current big-league pitchers from Mexico. … The Dodgers honored Bruce Froemming, today’s first-base umpire, before the game. This is Froemming’s final regular-season game at Dodger Stadium before he retires after this season after 37 years in the majors. He is the longest-tenured umpire in major-league history.

Tomorrow’s notes and tonight’s lineup

SS Furcal
CF Pierre
1B Loney
2B Kent
3B Nomar
C Martin
RF Kemp
LF Ethier
RH Penny

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
Takashi Saito added another $50,000 to his 2007 salary on Thursday night by blowing away two San Diego batters and getting the third one to ground weakly to second base for Saito’s 38th save in his second season as the Dodgers’ closer. It also was his 50th game finished, and that statistic gave him another performance bonus and a salary of $1.15 million, with an outside chance still to max out those bonuses and earn $1.3 million.
Even if he does max them out, he remains one of baseball’s best bargains.
Barely 18 months after he came to spring training with the Dodgers on a minor-league contract, Saito has become one of the game’s most dominant closers. He has converted 38 of his 41 save opportunities this season, allowed only four of 11 inherited runners to score and retired the first batter 47 times in his 58 appearances. And while no closer will ever pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Saito’s mark of 1.24 is the best among all major-league pitchers with at least 50 innings.
“I think Saito is one of the great stories in baseball since the day he showed up in Vero Beach and pitched his way onto the club,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “He has pitched really well, and he pitches efficiently. He shows the great value of throwing strikes. Most of the time, he is ahead in the count, and that is a good lesson for all.”
Saito has been especially dominant lately. He hasn’t given up a hit in any of his past four outings, during which he has faced just one batter over the minimum.
“His workload during this last month hasn’t been steady,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. “ He might work four or five days in a row and then be off two or three days, and I think that has helped. A lot of it has to do with him throwing 94-95 mph, but a lot has to do with location, too. And this guy doesn’t shy away from anything.”
The best news for the Dodgers might be the fact they know they probably will have Saito for at least one more season. Although he is 37 and spent 14 seasons with the Yokohama BayStars, he is in just his second season in the United States and thus has the same status as any other second-year player. He won’t even be eligible for arbitration until after 2008, and the Dodgers hold the rights to him through 2011.

Interleague schedule: Although the Dodgers’ 2008 schedule remains highly subject to change and thus is a tightly guarded secret around Chavez Ravine, the Daily News has learned that the club is tentatively scheduled to host nine interleague games against the Angels, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox and will play six road games at the Angels and Detroit.
Dates of those games were not available.
The Dodgers have played nine interleague road games and six home games for each of the past several seasons, and they went a combined 4-23 in American League parks from 2005-07. Thus, the fact it looks like they will host nine games next year while playing only six on the road is at least somewhat significant.

Defying time: As Dodgers employees prepared for Friday night’s pregame ceremony honoring Tommy Lasorda’s 80th birthday — which, by the way, isn’t until next Saturday, when the team is on the road — the Hall of Fame manager said he does not, in any way, feel like an octogenarian.
“People ask me how I feel, and I say I’m like those cars that come out of Earl Scheib,” Lasorda said. “They might look good on the outside, but you don’t know what is under the hood. But the key is staying active, and I also love what I’m doing. If a man really, truly loves what he is doing, then Old Man Sickness and Death will get tired of chasing him because he has no chance to catch him.”
Lasorda has played an active role in the Dodgers’ front office — including extensive travel and countless trips to Japan — since retiring as the team’s manager in 1996.

Dodgers 6, Padres 3

James Loney went 3 for 4, his third consecutive three-hit game, and he was 9 for 13 in the series with two home runs, five runs scored and eight RBI. Kent went 2 for 4. Furcal went 1 for 3, but he also was on base three times because he reached on a fielder’s choice twice, and that allowed him to steal three bases, go from first to third on a single by Pierre and score three runs. Now that’s what a leadoff man is SUPPOSED to do, and what Furcal would have been doing all year if he hadn’t suffered that sprained left ankle late in spring training that still hasn’t fully healed. David Wells pitched five shutout innings (one hit) before tiring in the sixth and giving up a couple of homers, but the bullpen took care of the rest. Scott Proctor, Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito combined to retire the final nine Padres batters in order, with Saito getting his 38th save. Dodgers go to 77-69 and pull within 1 1/2 games of the Pods in the wild card, tied with Philly and a game ahead of Colorado. Dodgers still trail AZ by 5 1/2 in the division, but the two teams play six more times, starting tonight at the stadium. Hold onto your hats, folks, because this ride isn’t going to end anytime soon.