First-Place Memories Become More Distant : Baseball: Pittsburgh pitching muffles Dodger bats in 4-1 victory. Atlanta wins again to extend lead to two games.


Proving he can leap high walls in a single bound, Brett Butler stuck his glove over the center-field fence Thursday to steal a home run from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Bobby Bonilla.

But even the superhuman may not be enough to hold together Butler’s collapsing baseball team.

The Dodgers, uninspired by Butler’s first-inning feat, made mistakes on nearly every part of the diamond Thursday while losing to the Pirates for a second consecutive night, 4-1, before 46,414 at Dodger Stadium.


“It’s something if you are losing and playing good,” Mitch Webster said. “But we just haven’t had the kind of fire and aggressiveness you need to have.”

Thanks to another victory by the first-place Atlanta Braves over the New York Mets, the Dodgers fall two games behind the Braves, the most they have been out of first place since May 7.

And look out below. The Dodgers are only five games ahead of the third-place Cincinnati Reds.

One day after the Dodgers’ fall from the top of the National League West standings, they were not even a good second-place team.

--The Dodger offense managed only seven hits against a group of five Pirates that included a rookie, a journeyman and a relief pitcher making his first start of the season. The winning pitcher was Roger Mason, a journeyman who threw 2 2/3 scoreless inning for his second victory in nearly seven years.

--Jose Offerman dropped a slow bouncer at shortstop in the second inning, giving starting pitcher Bob Patterson his fourth hit in a three-year career. It led to three runs against starter and loser Mike Morgan on a two-run single by Orlando Merced and a run-scoring single by Jay Bell.

--With runners on first and second and one out in the seventh inning, Offerman ended the inning when he was caught stealing third after Butler was called out on strikes on a full count.

Offerman told Butler he slowed down while running to third because he thought it was ball four, as did Butler.

--With bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning, pinch-hitter Kal Daniels grounded into a double play to end the Dodger chances.

Daniels, who was not in the starting lineup because of a month-long slump, had three hits in his last 20 at-bats.

“It seems like every inning, it’s something. . . . It’s been that way for a long time,” Webster said. “We get something going and then-- bang --something happens.

“We’ve got to keep our heads up and bear down a little. Bear down a lot .”

And to think the Dodgers led their closest competitor in the National League West (the Reds) by 5 1/2 games at the All-Star break and had the best record in baseball at 49-31.

Since then they have gone 20-27 and are headed for one of the biggest collapses in Los Angeles franchise history.

Only once have the Dodgers been in first place by as many 5 1/2 games at the All-Star break and lost: In 1973, they finished 3 1/2 games behind Cincinnati.

During this second-half malaise, the Dodgers have been consistent only in their problems: poor hitting, poor execution, little inspiration.

“The intensity?” Butler asked. “Tonight I think it was great in the first inning. . . . That’s a hard question. I can’t answer that. I don’t know how the intensity is.”

Tom Lasorda, Dodger manager, defended his team, saying, “When teams aren’t winning, the appearance it always gives is that it is not aggressive. But what is aggressive? Does that mean the guys aren’t trying? That’s not right. Of course they’re trying.”

They just aren’t coming through. In their last seven games, they have gone 11 for 48 (.229) with runners in scoring position. They have lost six of those games.

The two-game sweep by Pittsburgh was the second series in which the Dodgers have been swept in less than a week, and the first home series in which they were swept since June 25-26 by San Francisco.

Worse yet, for a second consecutive night Thursday, heroics by Butler went unrewarded.

One day after hitting a ball over the fence for an eighth-inning home run, Butler put his glove over the fence to steal a homer from Bonilla.

This happened with two out in the first inning, with Merced on first base and Dodger starter Morgan already struggling.

Bonilla drove a ball toward the 395-foot sign in right-center field. Butler raced over, leaped, stuck up his glove above the fence and backhanded the ball as it crossed over the top. Only the cheering fans in the outfield seats realized he had caught it until Butler pulled the ball out of his glove and showed it to everyone.

The Dodgers were still showing replays on the left-field scoreboard three innings later, down 3-1.