Despite loss, Dodgers still feel a mile high

Times Staff Writer

DENVER -- The Dodgers' six-game trip ended with a 7-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Sunday, but the psychological gravity of the defeat was minimal.

The Dodgers said they found a sense of identity on this two-city tour, their newfound patience at the plate rewarded with 70 runs over the eight-game winning streak that came to a halt Sunday. They won close games and they won blowouts, and, in the process, might have seen closer Takashi Saito regain his form.

And when the Dodgers start a six-game, seven-day homestand today against the New York Mets, Manager Joe Torre said the feeling in the clubhouse will be different than when they were reeling from their previous loss, April 24. The Dodgers had lost five of seven at that point, scoring only one run in four of those defeats.

"You certainly feel much better about your team at this point in time," Torre said. "Coming to the ballpark expecting to win is a nice way to feel, and I expect we'll do that tomorrow and, hopefully, we'll get a nice streak started."

Derek Lowe (2-2) continued to pitch poorly at Coors Field -- he gave up five runs in five innings to fall to 0-3 with a 10.95 earned-run average in his last three starts at the ballpark -- but he said this loss was easier to stomach.

"People aren't leaving here going, 'What are we going to do to figure this out?' " Lowe said. "I think it's just, 'Hey, they outplayed us in every aspect.' I think that loss is easier to take than if you feel like you went out there and beat yourself."

Rafael Furcal was hitless in four at-bats and failed to reach base safely for the first time this season, but Juan Pierre didn't slow down.

Pierre, who said he hasn't accepted being the fourth outfielder, was two for four with a double and drove in a run. He was nine for 16 on the trip and raised his average to .324.

Told that he could be making it difficult for Torre to keep him out of the lineup, Pierre said, "That's the goal."

Torre said it was his reluctance to sit Pierre and his desire to put Andre Ethier in the lineup that led to his decision to rest Andruw Jones, the $36-million free-agent acquisition who is batting .163.

Ethier, who didn't start the two previous games, cut the Dodgers' deficit to 3-1 with a home run to right field in the fifth inning.

Torre said that Jones, who recently had his eyes examined and didn't show a loss of vision, would continue to play through his slump. But the manager also hinted that Jones' playing time wouldn't cut into Pierre's.

"That's the plus side to having four guys," Torre said of the group that includes Matt Kemp. "Somebody gets hot, you ride with him and play it out. My job is somewhat easier that way because the other three guys understand who's hot."

Torre said he was pleased at how the entire lineup extended at-bats on the trip, working counts and using the entire field. Increased patience was something Torre and hitting coach Mike Easler stressed from the start of spring training, and over the eight-game winning streak, it translated to opposing starters averaging fewer than five innings.

"I knew it would come," Easler said. "I also know it's going to come and go, so you can't get too high or two low."

Sunday, it left them, as the Dodgers couldn't exercise that kind of patience with starter Aaron Cook consistently getting ahead of them on counts. Cook (5-1) gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings to win his fifth start in a row.


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