- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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BOSTON -- Proving once again that American League ballparks are still where the Los Angeles Dodgers go to die, the team at least went down fighting Saturday. In the end, though, all that mattered was that the Dodgers still went down.
In a game they probably were never going to win anyway, the Dodgers fell to the Boston Red Sox 5-4 before 37,454 at Fenway Park when Dustin Pedroia, the former American League Most Valuable Player and the only batter Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton faced, poked a base hit through the right side of the infield to drive in rookie Daniel Nava from second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
It wasn't an utter humiliation, as it had been the previous evening when the Dodgers fell into an early 10-3 hole before scoring a few meaningless runs late and losing 10-6. But it was still another example of what seems to have become inevitable, that this otherwise talented team always seems to come crashing to earth whenever it enters AL territory.
The Dodgers fell to 14-39 in interleague road games in the past seven seasons.
What's worse is that not only do the Dodgers have one more game here Sunday night but that one is followed by three against the Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim beginning Tuesday night.
Oh, and after that, they get the World Series champion New York Yankees for three. But at least those games are at home.
Broxton, who was brought in specifically to retire Pedroia after Ronald Belisario (1-1) issued a two-out walk to Marco Scutaro to force Nava into scoring position, had Pedroia 1-and-2, a situation in which he could afford to aim for the outside corner in hopes of getting Pedroia to chase. But the pitch appeared to catch too much of the plate, and Pedroia did what an MVP does, going with the pitch and threading the needle between Dodgers first baseman James Loney and second baseman Blake DeWitt.
Right fielder Andre Ethier, Pedroia's close friend and former teammate at Arizona State, charged the ball and got rid of it quickly, but his throw to catcher Russell Martin was just far enough up the third-base line that Nava was able to slide right past Martin, touch the plate and set off a wild celebration in which the Red Sox exploded from their dugout with hands raised skyward.
Given the high probability the Red Sox were going to win no matter what, and the fact they had to go five batters deep into the bottom of the ninth to do it, the victory scene seemed a little overdone.
Broxton said he wasn't sure of the location of his final pitch.
"I haven't seen it [on video]," he said. "I was trying to throw a fastball away. Any time you lose, it's disappointing, but we just have to come back tomorrow and fight hard.''
The Dodgers (38-30), who had trailed 3-1 and 4-2 but had tied the score in the seventh on Blake DeWitt's RBI double and Matt Kemp's sacrifice fly, had a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon (2-3). But after a leadoff single by Garret Anderson -- capping a 3-for-4 afternoon by the formerly struggling fourth outfielder who started in place of Manny Ramirez in left -- Jamey Carroll sacrificed, moving pinch runner Reed Johnson to second but also gift wrapping the first out of the inning for the Red Sox.
After DeWitt grounded to the right side, moving Carroll to third, Kemp flied to center. Kemp is hitting .250 (17-for-68) for the season with runners in scoring position.
The final outcome wasted an outstanding performance by Dodgers setup man Hong-Chih Kuo, who, after coming on and immediately giving up a base hit to Pedroia that put runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh, struck out David Ortiz to end that threat. Left-handed batters are 0-for-22 for the season against Kuo.
Kuo then came back for the eighth to face three dangerous right-handers, beginning with Kevin Youkilis and switch-hitter Victor Martinez, who began the day ranking second (.438) and first (.470), respectively, in the AL against left-handed pitchers. But Kuo struck out Youkilis and got Martinez to hit a high pop in foul territory that Loney caught by leaning over a railing and into a camera well.
Adrian Beltre then took a called third strike, and Kuo's work was done.
The Boston forecast for Sunday calls for isolated thunderstorms, and the Fenway grounds crew was putting the tarp over the infield about 90 minutes after the game ended. For the Dodgers, it might have been the most encouraging sign of the weekend so far, the remote possibility that Sunday night's series finale here might never come to pass.
Although he still was a target of loud cheering/booing/whatever-it-was every time he came to the plate as the Dodgers' designated hitter Saturday, the hype surrounding Ramirez's first trip back to Fenway since the Red Sox traded him to the Dodgers almost two years ago had mostly died down by Saturday.
For the most part, there were no reporters crowding around his locker making sure this wasn't the day he would finally break his media silence for the first time since spring training. And for the most part, Ramirez was allowed to go about his pregame business without much in the way of distractions.
Ramirez did have one message for the Fenway faithful, although he delivered it not with his mouth but with his bat. With the Dodgers trailing 3-1 in the top of the fourth, Ramirez whacked a first-pitch knuckleball from Tim Wakefield over the Green Monster, his eighth home run of the season and his third in his past five games and 16 plate appearances.
Lost in the shuffle
Right-hander Vicente Padilla was decent -- not bad, not spectacular -- in his first start since April 22 after he was activated from the disabled list a couple of hours before game time. Padilla retired the first four batters he faced, then issued a one-out walk to Martinez in the second, leading to the first Red Sox run. He also gave up a two-run homer to Martinez, on a 3-0 pitch no less, in the fourth, giving the Red Sox a 3-1 lead.
Padilla smiled when asked whether he was surprised Martinez swung on 3-0.
"Si," he said in Spanish. Then, with Kenji Nimura serving as interpreter, Padilla added, "You have to throw a strike in that situation. It's part of the game. He could have hit a ground ball, but he hit a home run."
Padilla, who was sidelined because of a nerve problem at the top of his right forearm, wound up giving up four runs (all earned) and five hits over 5 1/3 innings. The second-inning walk to Martinez was the only one Padilla issued, and he struck out four.
Although Padilla had been cleared to throw 100 pitches, Torre lifted him after 89, when Padilla gave up another home run to Youkilis in the sixth.
"I was very happy to be back out there," Padilla said. "I wasn't able to get the win, but the main thing was that my arm felt good, and I was able to throw five innings."
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (6-4, 3.10), who arguably has been the Dodgers' best starting pitcher over the course of the entire season, will attempt to salvage the last game of the series after pitching 12 shutout innings and striking out 14 batters over his past two starts -- the last of those innings coming after a two-hour, 24-minute rain delay Tuesday night at Cincinnati. He will be opposed by right-hander Clay Buchholz (8-4, 2.52), the most daunting of the three Red Sox starters the Dodgers will face in a series in which they won't see John Lackey or Jon Lester.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
8hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com