Hiroki Kuroda delivers for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- At a time when manager Joe Torre says the Los Angeles Dodgers can no longer afford to worry about, think about or even look at the standings, at a point in the season when all they can do is try to win as many games as possible and see where they end up, Hiroki Kuroda didn't give them a victory on Saturday night.

But what the Japanese right-hander gave them was what might have been his most impressive performance of the season, one that was more than good enough to put them in position for that desperately needed win.

The Dodgers eventually got it when James Loney pulled a ball up the right-field line with the bases loaded to secure a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Washington Nationals before 44,896 at Dodger Stadium. But it was Kuroda who got nothing more than a no-decision out of the deal and still played the hero for the Dodgers.

And really, isn't it always the starting pitcher who plays the hero for the offensively challenged Dodgers these days?

Pitching for the first time since Russell Martin was lost, probably for the season, to a hip injury, Kuroda clicked from the start with veteran catcher Brad Ausmus.

"I give all the credit to Brad Ausmus," Kuroda said through interpreter Kenji Nimura. "He knew the right pitches for me to throw, so I just threw what he called for me to throw. ... It wasn't an adjustment [from Martin] at all. Brad knows how I pitch, and he knows my stuff."

Kuroda said he couldn't remember shaking off Ausmus more than once or twice all night.

Although he walked the first batter of the game and gave up a two-run homer Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the team's third hitter, which put the Dodgers into a quick 2-0 hole, Kuroda was next to unhittable after that. In fact, after giving up back-to-back, one-out singles to Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy in the second, Kuroda retired the next 17 batters in succession before exiting for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh, at which point he had thrown an economical 88 pitches.

For the host Dodgers (57-54), it was one win, just their eighth in 23 games since the All-Star break. But you have to start somewhere, and if that's what this was -- a start -- it couldn't have come on a better night. All three of the teams the Dodgers are chasing in the National League West lost, and so did all four of the teams they are chasing in the wild-card standings. That leaves the Dodgers seven games behind NL West Division-leading San Diego in the former and six behind San Francisco in the latter with 51 games to go.

Not that anyone in the clubhouse is worried about that.

"We're just trying to be able to win on a regular basis and trying to put a streak together," Torre said. "We know we're capable of winning five, six, seven games in a row. We just need to try to do that, and all of a sudden, the personality would change. Right now, there is a lot of tension going on. That's just the game, and it's just from the fact we're not hitting a lot."

That might be about to change, judging by the recent performances of some of the key players. Andre Ethier, who delivered a key double in the Dodgers' two-run, fourth-inning rally, is suddenly in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .367 (11 for 30). Loney, who entered this game hitless in his previous nine at-bats, went 2-for-4, with his sixth-inning, ground-rule double and his 10th-inning walk-off both pulled solidly up the right-field line. And newly acquired second baseman Ryan Theriot, whose one-out single began that fourth-inning rally and broke up Washington pitcher Livan Hernandez's perfect-game bid, now has a four-game hitting streak, during which he is 7-for-17 (.412).

Key moment

With the bases loaded, one out and the Dodgers trailing 2-0 in the fourth, Matt Kemp hit what appeared to be a grand slam, only to have Nationals right fielder Michael Morse take it away with a spectacular, leaping catch at the wall. But Kemp, whether through frustration or sheer presence of mind, stood on first base for a few seconds after Morse caught the ball, a decision that would play a big part in what happened next.

As Theriot was tagging from third and racing home, Loney, who had been on first and had gone too far toward second, was scrambling to get back to the bag. Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn was nowhere near the bag, but Kemp, who was no longer involved in the play, was still standing right on top of it.

As Nationals second baseman Adam Kennedy cut off the throw from Morse, he wheeled around to his left and saw Loney racing back to first. Kennedy must have seen Kemp out of the corner of his eye and mistakenly thought he was Dunn, because Kennedy then uncorked a throw right at Kemp. Kemp simply leaned away from the throw, allowing the ball to fly into foul territory over by the first-base dugout. As a couple of Nationals players ran it down, Ethier, who already had tagged from second and taken third, then scampered home with the tying run.

By standing on the bag, which is perfectly legal, Kemp -- who has come under considerable fire over the years for various mistakes he has made on the basepaths -- singlehandedly created a second run for the Dodgers.

Minor matters

Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario, who has been on the restricted list since July 7 for reasons that have never been made public, started and pitched one inning for high Class-A Inland Empire at Rancho Cucamonga on Saturday night. While he was shaky, throwing seven consecutive balls at one point, Belisario got out of the inning with just one run scoring. Another runner was cut down at the plate on a ground ball and a third was thrown out by catcher Tony Delmonico while trying to steal second. Belisario gave up one hit and one walk.

Belisario is expected to pitch another inning for the 66ers on Sunday, after which he probably will come off the restricted list and rejoin the Dodgers in time for Tuesday night's game at Philadelphia.

In other minor league news, the Dodgers announced a new four-year agreement with the Great Lakes Loons, their low Class-A affiliate in Midland, Mich. The Dodgers also signed a four-year extension with their Double-A affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts, earlier this week, meaning their affiliations with both clubs will run through at least 2014.

The Dodgers are also close to an agreement on a two-year extension with their Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate and either a two- or four-year extension with their Rookie-level affiliate in Ogden, Utah.

Quote of the day

"He knows baseball. I'm a little partial to catchers because pitching is so important. He has a great feel for pitching. He asks a lot of questions, and he has played for a number of managers. Really, the catcher is a manager's right-hand man aside from the coaching staff. He is very intelligent, although that isn't a requirement for being a manager, take it from me. He is very confident in who he is, and he possesses great communication skills." -- Torre on whether he believes Ausmus, who is retiring after the season, will be a major league manager one day.

Looking ahead

Left-hander Ted Lilly (4-8, 3.56) will make his second start for the Dodgers since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 31. Lilly pitched seven innings in his Dodgers debut Tuesday night against San Diego, holding the Padres to a run and two hits and no walks, but was lifted for a pinch hitter after throwing just 87 pitches. Right-hander Jason Marquis (0-3, 20.52) will be making his first start since April 18 after having surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.