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DODGERS SUFFER THROUGH ANOTHER PITT FALL LOSE TO PIRATES AGAIN, AS BASES-LOADED RALLY IN NINTH FALLS SHORT PITTSBURGH 6, DODGERS 4.

Byline: TONY JACKSON Staff Writer

The Dodgers' road to the National League playoffs always figured to be bumpy, winding and treacherous. But the one pitfall it never figured to include was dropping a late-season series, at home no less, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And yet, that is exactly where the Dodgers found themselves after Wednesday night's game, a 6-4 loss to the Pirates before 46,319 at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers threatened in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and 2 outs, but Salomon Torres struck out Jeff Kent on a 3-2 pitch.

Where they will find themselves tonight is desperately seeking to avoid a three-game sweep.

All this in the midst of a hotly contested division race where every dropped ball, every missed play and every failure to capitalize on a prime scoring chance is magnified.

And every defeat is monumental.

Especially when they come against teams like the Pirates, who despite a feelgood surge in the season's second half still own the second-worst record in the NL.

For the second consecutive evening, a Pirates starter completely shut down the Dodgers' veteran-laden lineup. But this time, it wasn 3/8t Ian Snell, the promising young right-hander who held them to one run through six innings before the Dodgers rallied in vain against the Pirates bullpen.

This time, it was journeyman Shawn Chacon, who came in with a 5.56 ERA since the Pirates got him from the New York Yankees for Craig Wilson at the trade deadline.

Chacon, who had given up 112 hits in 97 innings for the season, gave up just three through the first six against the Dodgers.

The Dodgers scored twice off him in the fifth, but both runs were unearned after what should have been an inning-ending, double-play grounder by Russell Martin scooted through the legs of third baseman Jose Bautista.

Chacon finally ran into real trouble with two outs in the seventh. That's when he gave up a two-run, pinch-hit homer to J.D. Drew, who was out of the lineup after going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts the night before.

That cut the Pirates' lead to 6-4. Chacon then gave up a single to Rafael Furcal before Jim Tracy came out with the hook, bringing in John Grabow.

Grabow, who had retired the Dodgers in order in the ninth the night before, then walked Olmedo Saenz, bringing Tracy out of the dugout again and Matt Capps out of the bullpen.

Capps quickly quelled the uprising.

The Dodgers (79-73) missed an opportunity to gain ground on division- leading San Diego in the NL West with the Padres losing at home to Arizona. That left the Dodgers a half-game back. More importantly, and more disturbingly, it left them in a dead heat with Philadelphia atop the wild-card standings.

The Dodgers, who have lost 11 of their past 17 games, and the Phillies, who have won 13 of 18, appear to be headed in decidedly different directions.

Greg Maddux (13-14) lost for the third time in his past four starts and, coincidentally or not, failed for the third time in his past four starts to complete six innings. This time, he completed only five, allowing three runs on seven hits.

Maddux was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth, with the Dodgers in the midst of a two-run rally. But his early exit led once again to the Dodgers' beleaguered bullpen taking on more than its share of the evening's workload.

And although veteran Aaron Sele got through the sixth unscathed, he gave up three runs on four hits over a span of five batters in the seventh to effectively put the game out of the Dodgers' reach.

Two years ago, when the Dodgers last made the playoffs, it was Chacon (2-3) who was attempting to finish off a late-season victory for the Colorado Rockies, only to give up a two-run homer to Shawn Green in the top of the ninth that proved to be a pivotal moment in a frantic push that carried the Dodgers to the NL West title.

But this time, there was no such implosion by Chacon, and there were no such heroics by the suddenly sleepwalking Dodgers.

Freddy Sanchez, the Burbank High alum who leads the NL in hitting, tied his career high with four hits in five at-bats for the Pirates - including doubles in the first and third innings - to raise his average to .346. Bautista, who drove in a career-high five runs on Monday, led off the third with his 15th home run, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead.

tony.jackson@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3675

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Greg Maddux lasted just five innings on Wednesday, giving up three runs.

(2) The Dodgers' Russell Martin can't make the tag on Jack Wilson as he scores in the third inning Wednesday.

(3) Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal dives for a groundball during Los Angeles' loss against Pittsburgh.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer

Box:

DODGERS vs. PITTSBURGH

- Tony Jackson
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 21, 2006
Words:840
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