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DODGERS STILL ALIVE, BUT JUST BARELY PADRES WIN PUTS L.A. CLOSE TO ELIMINATION DODGERS 4, PITTSBURGH 3.

Byline: Rich Hammond Staff Writer

At 7:36 p.m. Friday at Dodger Stadium, the introduction of the Dodgers' starting lineup was met mostly with polite applause. Exactly 27 people occupied the section directly behind the Dodger dugout.

In an atmosphere usually reserved for Kansas City, Colorado and other traditional outposts known for September ambivalence, the Dodgers returned home from a road trip to find that their city seemingly had moved on. Most likely, only the allure of postgame fireworks allowed the crowd size to become fairly sizable.

The only formality left was for the Dodgers to be officially eliminated from the playoff race, but they staved off that with a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh in front of a quite generously announced 40,170.

First-place San Diego beat Arizona on Friday night. With nine games remaining, one more Dodgers loss or one more San Diego victory will eliminate the Dodgers from the National League West race.

``It's tough, but we have to go out there and get through it,'' said pitcher D.J. Houlton, who earned the victory. ``There's still some stuff to play for, like pride. It's tough, but we have to go about our business as usual.''

Here's all it will take for the Dodgers to force a one-game playoff for the division title: the Dodgers finish 9-0, the Padres finish 0-9 and San Francisco loses the five games it doesn't play against the Padres.

This won't be the least successful team in Los Angeles Dodgers history, as the 1992 squad went 63-99 to control that dubious distinction, but it very well could be the second worst. The Dodgers have 85 losses and could be just the second team in L.A. history to lose 90 games.

Regardless, this season will end in disappointment for the Dodgers, who won a division title last year but this season have dealt with serious injuries and an approximate $81-million payroll that was millions below the threshold Frank McCourt promised to maintain when he bought the team.

Things went well enough for the Dodgers on Friday. Houlton (6-9) threw six solid innings for just his second victory since June 27 and the Dodgers won with a three-run rally in the sixth.

``We got some big two-out hits,'' manager Jim Tracy said.

After Freddy Sanchez's third-inning home run, which gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead, Houlton retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced, with the only runner, Ryan Doumit, erased on a double play.

Houlton lasted six innings and allowed two runs on four hits. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth, when the Dodgers rallied to take the lead against Pirates rookie starter Paul Maholm (2-1).

Rich Hammond, (818) 713-3611

rich.hammond(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo, 4 boxes

Photo:

Willy Aybar scores the Dodgers' first run in Friday's game.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer

Box:

(1) DODGERS vs. PITTSBURGH

- Rich Hammond

(2) ALMANAC

(3) GAME RECAP

(4) HOW THE RUNS SCORED
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 24, 2005
Words:494
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