Lowe shuts down Pirates; Manny, Blake spark Dodgers

PITTSBURGH -- The trade. The Los Angeles Dodgers' late-season turnaround started with the trade, and manager Joe Torre thinks it has made all the difference in a team that spent more than four months struggling to find itself.

No, not that trade.

Derek Lowe held Pittsburgh to five singles over seven effective innings to remain unbeaten in his career against the Pirates, and the Dodgers edged closer to the NL West title with a 6-2 victory Tuesday night.

Casey Blake homered and tripled his first two times up after sitting out an 8-2 win Monday night with lower back stiffness. Manny Ramirez had three hits for the second successive night, including an RBI double in a four-run second inning.

Los Angeles won its 14th in 16 games and leads Arizona by 4½ in the NL West with 11 to play, though the Dodgers insist they're not counting down any magic numbers. The Diamondbacks played later Tuesday at home against San Francisco.

"We're doing, I think, what we need to do -- we continue to keep winning and don't worry about what anybody else is doing," Lowe said. "It's hard to get caught if you keep winning. That's our mentality, don't get lazy, don't get complacent and keep trying to win."

Getting Ramirez from Boston on July 31 has made a huge difference. He has a .402 average with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 43 games.

The deal with Cleveland five days before that sent Blake to the Dodgers for two minor-leaguers doesn't get mentioned as much, but the third baseman has 10 homers and 23 RBIs in 48 games.

"When we got Casey Blake, it sort of became some glue we needed for this ballclub to mesh," Torre said. "Just the way he prepares and goes about his business. I know you've heard the expression, he's a blue-collar guy who just goes and plays baseball."

Lowe (14-11) didn't need much run support, though he rarely does against the Pirates -- he is 6-0 in six career starts against them and 5-0 in PNC Park.

The Pirates, down 4-0 in the fourth, scored on consecutive singles by Sanchez, Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit. Lowe recovered to get Brandon Moss to ground into a double play on a ball that bounced a few feet in front of the plate and retired 11 of his final 12 batters.

Lowe has won his last four starts, allowing two runs and 14 hits in 26 1/3 innings -- a 0.68 ERA -- and the Dodgers have won each game by at least four runs. In the last 16 games, Dodgers starting pitchers are 12-1.

"Our staff, on this run we've been on, has been pretty incredible game in and game out, going deep into the game and being able to use the bullpen in the right way," Lowe said.

A questionable call aided the Dodgers' second -- Lowe, lumbering down the line, appeared to be out by a step on his sacrifice bunt. Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens nearly threw it away, but TV replays showed second baseman Freddy Sanchez, covering first, scooped up the ball before the runner arrived. Umpire Tim Timmons called Lowe safe.

"It was a routine play," Pirates manager John Russell said. "You hate to argue a routine play."

Sanchez told Karstens he came up with the ball, and the pitcher thought Lowe was out by "a foot and a half."

"But I threw a sinker [to first], and it came up short," Karstens said. "I have to do a better job."

The Dodgers already had a run in on Blake's 10th homer -- he had 11 with Cleveland -- and then scored three more times following the one-out call at first. Russell Martin hit a sacrifice fly, Andre Ethier singled in a run after sitting out three games and Ramirez doubled in the fourth run.

Blake tripled and scored on Blake DeWitt's sacrifice fly an inning later. Blake finished a double short of the cycle, hitting into a force play and grounding out in his other two at-bats.

"Yeah, it's in the back of your mind," Blake said.

With Karstens (2-6) losing his sixth in a row since he pitched 7 2/3 perfect innings against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, the Pirates dropped their eighth in 11 games and 19th in 25 games. They are 13-30 since trading top run-producer Jason Bay to Boston on July 31, part of the three-team deal that involved Ramirez.

Game notes
Los Angeles is 22-6 in Pittsburgh since PNC Park opened in 2001 and has never lost any of its nine series there. The Dodgers are guaranteed at least a split in this four-game series. The Dodgers are 46-19 against Pittsburgh since 2000. ... Ramirez, facing the Pirates for the first time since the trade, is 6-for-9. ... Ethier returned after attending the birth of his first child. ... With a run in and one runner on in the ninth, Torre used closer Jonathan Broxton to get the final out.