Dodgers waste Clayton Kershaw's effort.

The silence in the Dodgers' dressing quarters was pierced by an expletive.

For the second consecutive night, the Dodgers fell to the Atlanta Braves in extra innings at Dodger Stadium, this time by a 2-1 score in 10 innings.

The Dodgers, who were nine games up in the National League West as recently as July 25, had their lead over the second-place San Francisco Giants reduced to 5 1/2 games after their ninth loss in 14 games. The last time the Dodgers led by as few games was on May 14.

There was more.

A night removed from ceding the best record in baseball to the New York Yankees, the Dodgers were increasingly uncertain about the state of their rotation, as they made last-minute plans to call up Eric Stults from triple-A Albuquerque to start today and didn't know if Chad Billingsley would be recovered from a strained hamstring in time to pitch in San Francisco on Wednesday for the final game of a three-game series.

"It's really up to us to do what we do," Manager Joe Torre said. "We'll worry about San Francisco starting Monday. We have to take care of business ourselves. It's just about us."

Perhaps most upsetting about this loss was the way it happened.

Clayton Kershaw pitched seven shutout innings, striking out 10 and allowing only three Braves to reach base.

Guillermo Mota served up a two-run home run to Kelly Johnson in the top of the 10th, but the Dodgers made one last charge in the bottom of the inning.

Andre Ethier doubled to right field to drive in Juan Pierre and Manny Ramirez drew an intentional walk, only for Matt Kemp to have a would-be up-the-middle single turned into a force out by a spectacular defensive play by Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar.

"It's frustrating to know you're a pitch here or a hit there from winning," Ethier said.

By holding the Braves to two hits and a walk in his 10-strikeout performance, Kershaw lowered his earned-run average over his last 11 starts to 1.06. Take his previous outing out of the equation -- he gave up three runs in four innings of a loss to Milwaukee on Monday -- and his ERA over that span is 0.71.

But the Dodgers have provided Kershaw with only two runs of support in his last three starts and only five in his last four.

Shackling the Dodgers on this night was Kenshin Kawakami, who was exactly one month removed from his last victory.

The Dodgers had several chances to score on the 34-year-old first-year pitcher from Japan, the best of them coming in the seventh inning.

Kemp, who was batting cleanup in place of a resting Casey Blake, led off with a single to left. He stole second base and advanced to third on an errant throw by Braves backup catcher David Ross. But he never made it home.

James Loney grounded out weakly to shortstop, forcing Kemp to hold. Orlando Hudson and Tony Abreu walked to load the bases, but Brad Ausmus and pinch hitter Mark Loretta struck out to leave them stranded.

The inning was the last pitched by Kawakami, who held the Dodgers to four hits and three walks.

The Braves never backed Kershaw into a corner the way the Dodgers did Kawakami.

After giving up a double to Ryan Church to start the game, Kershaw retired the next 10 batters, striking out six of them. Church was the only Brave to get into scoring position with Kershaw on the mound.

Kershaw gave up a single to Garret Anderson in the fourth inning and walked Escobar in the seventh. He picked off Escobar to end that inning and didn't let anyone else reach base.

"He's growing up, isn't he?" Torre said of Kershaw.


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