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Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Updated: September 17, 2:53 AM ET
Dodgers retreat as Giants progress

By Tony Jackson
ESPNLosAngeles.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Most of the Los Angeles Dodgers players hightailed it to the clubhouse immediately after their 10-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants before 38,434 on Thursday night at AT&T Park, ready to shower, dress and burn rubber to the airport following their longest and most miserable trip of the year. They didn't stick around long enough to take in a postgame scene that offered a reminder of what September baseball is supposed to be all about and was all about for the Dodgers the past couple of years.

As a classic recording blared over the public-address system, Tony Bennett crooning about having misplacing his heart here, and some panoramic aerial shots from around the city flashed on the main video board -- those are traditional touches following a Giants home victory -- a stadium work crew lowered the rope from the fifth flag pole beyond right-center field, the one where five triangular flags represent the five teams in the National League West in order of their place in the standings. The crew then moved the Giants flag from second place to first and raised the flags back into place, an emotional cheer went up from the large percentage of the crowd that was still in the park.

Yes, the Giants, who had become the latest benefactors of the Dodgers' seemingly endless ineptitude, took over sole possession of the division lead for the first time since May 6.

Ted Lilly
Ted Lilly couldn't stop a Giants team determined to take over first place in the NL West on Thursday night.

That is what it feels like to be in the middle of a pennant race. It is a feeling the Dodgers have known well the past couple of years, but the only feeling they know right now is the hopelessness of having nothing left to play for and the burden of still having 15 games of nothing left to play for ahead of them.

This latest mind-numbing failure was mostly the result of a poor start by veteran left-hander Ted Lilly (8-11), who since winning his first five starts after the Dodgers acquired him from the Chicago Cubs at the trading deadline has gone 0-3 with a 7.97 in four starts. He lasted just 3⅓ innings in this one, his shortest start in more than two years, and he was torched for six earned run on seven hits, including back-to-back homers by Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey in the third.

Lilly, who is now third in the majors with 30 home runs allowed, is always going to give up the long ball because he is a fly-ball pitcher. But it is worth mentioning that after giving up four of them in 34⅓ innings during that five-start winning streak, he has given up seven in 20⅓ innings in these four subsequent starts.

"The first thing you have to go to is fastball command," Lilly said. "I have made some mistakes, even when I was throwing the ball OK, that have hurt me. Tonight, I didn't really give us a chance. You do that to your club when you're not scoring many runs and you give them a big lead like that, I feel like I put us in a really tough position."

But Lilly had partners in that crime, including Reed Johnson, who was getting a rare start in right field and misjudged at least three fly balls in the swirling winds coming off the adjacent bay. This ballpark is a tough right field to play anyway because of its weird angles and ridiculously deep, 421-foot power alley, and Johnson seemed completely flummoxed.

Ultimately, Johnson's flubs were a blip on the screen of a lopsided loss, the Dodgers (72-75) falling three games below .500 for the first time since May 9 and scoring two runs or fewer for the 31st time in 59 games since the All-Star break.

Mired in fourth place, the Dodgers fell to 11 games behind the Giants, who leapfrogged the San Diego Padres into first. The other contenders, the Colorado Rockies, come to Dodger Stadium for a three-game series starting Friday night. The Dodgers will put their best foot forward, whatever that is these days, but any thought of them actually playing spoiler seems dubious at this point.

The Dodgers had a chance to mess things up for the Giants, but lost two out of three. They could have sped San Diego's apparent collapse last week, catching them on a 10-game losing streak, but the Padres quickly got well, sweeping three games from the Dodgers. The Dodgers also lost two of three to the Giants earlier this month at home and two of three to the Rockies a few weeks back in Denver.

Not much spoiling going on here.

"[The Giants] are on a roll at the right time of year," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.

The Dodgers have first-hand knowledge of such things. Which makes it all the more deflating to have to watch other teams experience it right in front of their faces.

Key Performance

There weren't many for the Dodgers, but rookie Russ Mitchell, a first-time September callup, finally got his first major league hit after going hitless in his first 15 at-bats, a home run that hit high off the left-field foul pole to lead off the fifth inning. Mitchell, who is primarily an infielder but was starting in left field for the first time in his career. He became the third Dodgers player this decade to hit a home run for his first big league hit, joining Chin-lung Hu, who did it in his second career at-bat on Sept. 11, 2007, and Jamie Hoffmann, who did it in his third at-bat on May 24, 2009.

By the Numbers

189 -- consecutive games played by Matt Kemp, the longest active streak in the major leagues. In a season when Kemp has been widely criticized both for his performance and his demeanor, the possibility of playing in all 162 games give the Dodgers center fielder a chance to add a positive note to his otherwise star-crossed season. The next-longest current streak belongs to Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who has played in 176 consecutive games. Kemp and Suzuki are the only major league players to have appeared in every one of their respective teams' games this season.

Quote of the Day

"I still have some things that I need to do first. And everybody assumes I'm not coming back, which is the fun part." -- Joe Torre when asked why he is being so secretive about his plans for next season even though he admits he already has made his decision as to whether he wants to return for a fourth season as manager of the Dodgers. Torre said he has told his wife, Ali, what he intends to do, that he assumes Ali has told their daughter and that he and general manager Ned Colletti "have talked." Other than that, everyone else apparently will be kept in the dark until Torre is ready to make an announcement.

Looking Ahead

The Dodgers get another chance to play spoiler against a contending club -- they begin a three-game series with the Colorado Rockies on Friday night at Dodger Stadium -- but for the most part, those series have only turned into chances for those contending clubs to fatten themselves up on a Dodgers team that no longer seems capable of doing much spoiling. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (10-12, 3.32) will take the mound for the Dodgers needing 24 innings to reach his stated goal of 200 for the season, and he probably will have four starts to get there. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (18-6, 2.75), a Cy Young Award candidate, will start for the Rockies. He has been much more human since the All-Star break, but he still is coming off an outstanding start on Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he gave up a run on six hits over six innings, striking out eight and walking one.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter.