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VINA'S CLUTCH PLAY HALTS DODGERS RALLY SECOND BASEMAN ROBS GRISSOM IN NINTH ST. LOUIS 3, DODGERS 2.

Byline: Brian Dohn Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS - Scoreboard watching doesn't become an art until September, but Dodgers manager Jim Tracy admits to taking a peek now and then between innings to see what's going on with San Francisco and Arizona.

It's part of being in first at the usually-magical Independence Day mark.

Tracy also is acutely aware the Dodgers' season won't hinge on this 10-game stretch against Arizona and St. Louis, but a strong performance certainly would solidify his team's standing.

What the scoreboard showed on a typically humid summer day in the nation's heartland was that Arizona gained another game in the standings thanks to its victory against San Francisco and the Dodgers' 3-2 loss to St. Louis at Busch Stadium on Thursday.

The Dodgers' second consecutive loss cut their lead over Arizona to 1 1/2 games in the National League West.

Having won their share of one-run games, the Dodgers fell hard by going 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position Thursday. They remain 14-7 in one-run games, but talk after this defeat centered on a ball they believed was marked as a game-tying single.

Cesar Izturis was on third and Dave Hansen on second with one out in the ninth and Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen protecting a 3-1 lead. Marquis Grissom hit a sharp grounder through the middle.

``When he hit it, I thought it was smoked,'' Hansen said. ``I thought it was going to get through.''

Instead, Gold Glove second baseman Fernando Vina ranged behind the bag, cut the ball off and threw Grissom out. Izturis scored and Hansen moved to third, but Paul Lo Duca lined out to right fielder Eli Marrero in a bid for a fourth hit.

``We were a little sluggish, you could tell,'' said Lo Duca, citing the 5 p.m. local start time after arriving at the team hotel at 5:30 a.m. ``When I first hit it, the first thing that went through my mind was, `Yeah, I got a base hit.' It stayed in the air and was right at him.''

The loss spoiled an uncharacteristically consistent start by left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii, who lost his third consecutive start but brought optimism from his outing. Ishii (11-5) displayed few problems with his control but was victimized on solo homers by Jim Edmonds in the first inning and Albert Pujols in the fourth.

Tino Martinez added a sacrifice fly in the sixth to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead, but Tracy was satisfied with Ishii's six innings. He allowed four hits, walked three and struck out seven, but he stayed away from the big inning.

``People may say it's good, but I have to pitch better,'' Ishii said through an interpreter. ``I have to pitch better, and I'm looking forward to that. Although we lost, it was a good start going into the All-Star break. But we lost, so it can't be that good.''

The loss leaves the Dodgers 2-2 during this 10-game stretch, which concludes with four games against Arizona next weekend after the All-Star break. The Dodgers won two of three against the Diamondbacks before traveling to play the Cardinals.

``It's an important stretch,'' Tracy said. ``Is it a life-or-death situation? No, it's not. And it's not because of the remarkable things we've done to this point of the season. To me, it's also important because if you play .500 against these clubs, or you do a little bit better than that, you've got other teams looking up at that saying we've played X number of games against first- and second-place clubs, and we haven't been able to dent them.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) St. Louis' Fernando Vina, left, forces out Adrian Beltre in the fourth inning. Vina later blunted the Dodgers' ninth-inning rally Thursday.

James A. Finley/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 5, 2002
Words:636
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