Dodgers take half-game lead in NL wild-card race

LOS ANGELES -- Olmedo Saenz was one of Jim Tracy's favorite
players when he managed the Los Angeles Dodgers. Tracy is running
the Pittsburgh Pirates now, but his affection for Saenz hasn't

Saenz hit a two-run homer, Marlon Anderson drove in a run with a
suicide squeeze bunt, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Pirates
5-2 Thursday night -- avoiding what would have been a crushing
three-game sweep with nine games left in the regular season.

"It's not a coincidence when you look over the course of this
guy's career that the teams he's played for have found themselves
in situations like the Dodgers are in -- with a chance to play in
the postseason," Tracy said of Saenz.

The victory gave the Dodgers a half-game lead over idle
Philadelphia in the wild-card race and kept them a half-game back
of NL West-leading San Diego, which beat Arizona 3-1. The Pirates
next three games are at San Diego, while the Dodgers host the

"At this stage of the season, it looks big," Saenz said of his
11th home run. "But every RBI and every win that we get means a
lot. There's no room right now for a loss. You've got to come out
and play your best because it's do or die. Nobody's going to give
you anything. You've got to earn it."

With Nomar Garciaparra out of the starting lineup for
precautionary reasons to rest his sore left quad, Saenz started at
first base and gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the first. He drove
an 0-1 pitch deep into the pavilion seats in left-center after a
leadoff single by Rafael Furcal.

Saenz is 22-for-47 lifetime against the Pirates with six home
runs. He was 8-for-14 with two homers and seven RBI during the
Dodgers' four-game series at Pittsburgh in mid-April.

"He's a professional player, he's a professional person, and
he's a winner," Tracy said. "He's at his best in a lesser role,
when you don't have to overuse him. He's a damaging player on your
bench against left-handed pitching, and his numbers will bear that

Rookie Chad Billingsley (6-4) allowed two runs and six hits over
five innings. In his previous start last Saturday, he lasted only
one inning and gave up three runs in an 11-2 loss to the Padres.

"He had confidence in his stuff, and you could tell," catcher
Russell Martin said. "He was really aggressive and he just pounded
the strike zone. He had a sharp breaking ball tonight and had
better command of his fastball and his cutter."

Pirates left-hander Shane Youman (0-2) was charged with three
runs, three hits and four walks over 4 1/3 innings in his second
major league start. Youman filled in for Paul Maholm, who had
soreness in his rotator cuff.

"He did a fine job," Tracy said. "But he obviously left a
pitch up and out over the plate to Olmedo Saenz. And when you're a
left-handed pitcher and you do that to Olmedo Saenz, it's going to
be a real loud noise."

Youman departed with runners at the corners and one out in the
fifth. Josh Sharpless struck out Saenz on a nasty breaking ball
that tailed way out of the strike zone, but walked Jeff Kent on a
3-2 count and walked J.D. Drew on four pitches to force home Furcal
and put the Dodgers ahead 3-2.

The Dodgers got a pair of insurance runs in the eighth on
Martin's RBI single, followed by a suicide squeeze bunt by Anderson
that scored Drew.

"I'm glad I got it," Anderson said of the squeeze sign. "We
talked about it before I left the dugout. If the opportunity came,
just be aware. That extra run was a big run late in the game like
that. It doesn't have to be pretty. But as long as the job gets
done, we're OK."

Takashi Saito got three outs for his 20th save in 22 chances.

The Pirates tied it at 2 on RBI singles by Freddy Sanchez in the
third inning and Youman in the fifth, the rookie's second hit of
the game and first RBI in the majors.

Sanchez was 2-for-4, increasing his NL-leading average to .347 --
nine points ahead of Florida's Miguel Cabrera, who has missed the
Marlins' last two games because of a strained left shoulder. If
Sanchez maintains his lead, he'll become the first Pittsburgh
player to win a batting crown since Bill Madlock in 1983.

"They don't have a big payroll, but they've got a lot of guys
who know how to play baseball and they bust their tail every
night," Anderson said. "Every time I face them, it's the same

Game notes
The crowd of 48,567 increased the Dodgers home attendance
to 3,614,942 -- breaking the franchise record with three games to
spare. The 1982 club drew 3,608,881. ... Pirates 1B Ryan Doumit was
ejected by plate umpire Greg Gibson in the eighth for arguing a
called third strike. ... Garciaparra pinch hit in the seventh and
lined out to center field. ... Grady Little is five wins away from
becoming the fourth Dodgers manager since 1900 to win at least 85
games in his first season at the helm. Charlie Dressen was 97-60 in
1951, Walter Alston 92-62 in 1954 and Tom Lasorda 98-64 in 1977.