The soft part of the schedule kicked in again just in time for the Dodgers on Monday night, when they outlasted the last-place Pirates, 6-2, while the Giants were pounding the Rockies, who fell four games behind in the National League West.
Andre Ethier's 29th home run was the key blow for the Dodgers, who also used three Orlando Hudson hits and two RBIs to cut the magic number for clinching a postseason berth to 11. More good scheduling news for the Dodgers: They have 17 games remaining and nine are against last-place teams -- six with Pittsburgh, three with Washington.
"They've got a great team," Pirates manager John Russell said. "They've got depth. They've got power. They've got speed. They've got pitching. That's why that's where they are. This is going to be a tough series against them."
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, though, came into this game concerned about complacency.
"After that road trip, where we were 4-2, winning this game was very important," he said. "You didn't want to get a letdown after the weekend we had."
Jon Garland got the win, even though he let two leads get away for the second consecutive start. He was charged with two runs in six innings, while relievers Hong-Chih Kuo, George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton each pitched a perfect inning. The last 14 Pirates were retired.
"It was definitely a grind out there," said Garland, 2-0 in his three Dodgers starts.
Ethier's two-run homer to center field in the fifth provided Garland a third lead.
"We knew coming in today that this was a great opportunity for us to give ourselves some distance from Colorado and San Francisco and let those guys beat up on each other," Ethier said. "We have an opponent who is out there giving a lot of guys a lot of shots, so we don't take anything for granted and come out here and play hard again."
Ethier has 96 RBIs to go with his 29 homers, team-leading figures in both categories, and is en route to the first 30/100 season for a Dodgers outfielder since Shawn Green in 2002.
"He's not finished, either," said Torre. "He's been a great complement to Matt [Kemp] and Manny [Ramirez] and, of course, now that James [Loney] is starting to pick it up too, it's a lot better feeling. The more guys that can contribute, the less pressure there is on any one individual."
Torre already had mentioned Russell Martin, who continued his resurgence with a double and single. Casey Blake was 2-for-2 with a walk and escaped injury when hit on the left hand by a fastball.
Hudson, who had a pair of doubles and a single, drove in additional runs in the sixth and eighth innings. Hudson had only one RBI in his previous 20 games and has been sharing playing time recently with Ronnie Belliard. Ramirez doubled in a first-inning run after Rafael Furcal's first stolen base since July 28.
"I haven't done anything different," Hudson said after his first three-hit game since Aug. 18. "I just keep praying. This is a start."
The offense beat up Pirates rookie starter Daniel McCutchen, making only his third Major League start, allowing four runs in five innings and sounding a little overwhelmed afterward.
"I've never pitched in an atmosphere like this," he said of the crowd of 42,045, more than 3,000 below average and boosted by a Dodger Dog giveaway. "It's a great atmosphere. I'll just work harder to come out with my better stuff next time. In front of this crowd and in this atmosphere, I rea