PITTSBURGH -- Larry Bowa assumed the worst when he saw Nomar Garciaparra crumble to the ground a few feet in front of him.
"I thought he blew everything out," said Bowa, the Dodgers' third base coach.
But Garciaparra walked back to the clubhouse and within a couple of hours, he was standing in front of his locker sounding fairly certain that his days with the Dodgers didn't end with him on the ground between third base and home plate, being tagged by catcher Ryan Doumit for the final out of the top of the fifth inning of a 15-8 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at PNC Park.
The Pirates put the game away with an eight-run seventh inning and the Dodgers' NL West lead was cut to 3 1/2 games over Arizona.
"It could've been a lot worse," said the 35-year-old Garciaparra, who will be a free agent this winter.
The initial diagnosis provided by the Dodgers' training staff in the wake of the team's third loss in its last 17 games was that Garciaparra had re-sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. It isn't known if he will be out days or weeks.
On second base when Pablo Ozuna singled to right field, Garciaparra motored around third base, then tried to stop, but the wet grass caused his right leg to kick out. His left knee collapsed. He hit the ground and writhed in pain.
Manager Joe Torre had acknowledged that the attempt to turn Garciaparra into the Dodgers' everyday shortstop last month was overly ambitious. Garciaparra started 14 of their 17 games at the position from Aug. 12-29 and broke down, forcing Torre to reconsider his role.
Torre said Garciaparra would primarily be a bench player who made occasional starts at first, third and short, providing late-inning options.
"I've never done it," Garciaparra said of being a reserve. "I'm just doing it."
Garciaparra started at first Wednesday because the Dodgers were facing left-handed Zach Duke and Torre wanted to sit James Loney.
The sight of Garciaparra on the ground with his hands on his helmet was the most lasting image of a night filled with misfortune for the Dodgers.
Chad Billingsley gave up a grand slam to Adam LaRoche in the fifth to hand the Pirates a 7-4 lead. The home run by LaRoche was his second of the game off Billingsley, who was charged with seven runs (six earned) and eight hits over 4 2/3 wild innings.
The control problems that Billingsley faced this time weren't the same ones he overcame in a win five days earlier in Colorado.
"Last week, I was out of the zone," Billingsley said. "Today, I was missing over the plate."
The Dodgers tied the score in the top of the seventh on a double by Angel Berroa that drove in Ozuna, but the Pirates blew the game open in the bottom of the inning.
Scott Proctor retired the first two batters, but Torre replaced him at that point with Scott Elbert, one of three pitchers who combined to give up eight runs before recording the third out.
The 15-7 deficit provided the right situation for James McDonald to make his major league debut. McDonald struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth inning.