Kuroda picks up rare road victory with help from Pierre's homer, Ramirez's bat

PITTSBURGH -- Hiroki Kuroda feels it on the mound, James Loney senses it in the batter's box. These aren't the Los Angeles Dodgers of April and May, June and July.

What must worry the other NL playoff contenders is these may be the Dodgers of October.

Kuroda allowed three hits over seven shutout innings for his first road win in more than two months and Manny Ramirez had three more hits, leading the surging Dodgers past the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-2 on Monday night.

With Juan Pierre homering for the first time in nearly two years, the Dodgers rebounded from a 1-0, 10-inning loss at Colorado on Sunday for their 13th victory in 15 games -- a surge that has given them a 4½-game lead in the NL West over Arizona. The Diamondbacks, who beat the Giants, led by 4½ games on Aug. 29.

"It's great for us," Loney said. "We've been playing consistent with timely hits and good pitching and that's where we want to be."

The Pirates swept three games from St. Louis over the weekend, but did nothing with Kuroda, who hadn't won in six road starts since beating Houston 4-1 on July 2. Kuroda (9-10) permitted one runner to reach third and yielded only one hit, Nyjer Morgan's double in the sixth, after the first.

"He was on and our bats weren't clicking," Morgan said. "He kept us off balance. He had a lot of movement on his pitches."

Ramirez has played the biggest role in the turnaround, hitting .395 with 14 homers and 43 RBIs in 42 games since being dealt by the Red Sox to the Dodgers on July 31 -- a three-team deal completed only after the Pirates agreed to trade Jason Bay to Boston. Ramirez's production is the best of any hitter added in a late-season trade since Hank Sauer had 15 homers and 47 RBIs in his first 40 games with the Cubs in 1949.

Ramirez doubled in the Dodgers' first two runs in a three-run third against Ross Ohlendorf (0-2), with the other run scoring on catcher Ryan Doumit's throwing error. Ramirez singled off the right-field wall an inning later -- the two runners held up to see if the ball would be caught -- and Loney had a two-run single.

It's obvious what Ramirez has given the Dodgers, besides one of the majors' best bats: confidence.

"Our offense has been really good lately. If I perform well enough, I know the offense is going to support me," Kuroda said. "Lately, I feel very relaxed pitching, knowing the offense is going to help me out."

Loney said the Dodgers' hitters also are loose, knowing that if they didn't get a hit, someone else will.

"You've got to have that confidence, and I think we have that confidence in each other," he said. "We've got the confidence in the next guy to pick it up."

Pierre, starting a third consecutive game because Andre Ethier was attending the birth of his first child, had three hits and scored three runs. His solo homer in the sixth off Marino Salas was his first in 1,070 at-bats, or since his drive off the Phillies' Jon Lieber on Sept. 18, 2006.

"We were trying to give him the cold shoulder after that, but he wouldn't let us," Loney said, referring to how Pierre made his teammates celebrate with him.

Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' closer most of the season, didn't allow a hit during a scoreless eighth in his first appearance since being diagnosed with an injured right elbow July 12. He chose not to have surgery.

"The last two months, I had a lot to think about, so it's really hard to express my feelings right now, but I was able to pitch," Saito said.

Brad Penny, recovering from a shoulder injury, pitched the ninth in his second appearance since Aug. 13 and allowed Adam LaRoche's two-run, two-out homer, his 20th.

Ohlendorf, formerly of the Yankees, is winless in three starts with a 7.62 ERA for Pittsburgh. He was chased after giving up five hits and three runs, two earned, in three innings.

Game notes
The Dodgers' Casey Blake sat out with the back tightness that forced him out of Sunday's game. ... INF Jeff Kent, who had arthroscopic knee surgery Sept. 2, is taking batting practice in Los Angeles but isn't close to returning. ... Pirates RHP Jimmy Barthmaier will make his second career start on Saturday against Houston. ... Pierre has 13 homers in 5,132 at-bats. ... Los Angeles is 33-42 on the road but has won seven of nine. ... The Dodgers finish the regular season against the Pirates, Padres and Giants, teams with a combined record of 188-260 (.420) before Monday's games. ... Until Ethier left, Pierre hadn't started successive games since Aug. 2-3.