The Dodgers continued their can't-clinch tour across America on Tuesday night with a 3-1 loss to the Padres, failing for the third consecutive game in two different time zones to wrap up the National League West title.
"Anything worthwhile is worth waiting for," manager Joe Torre said, refusing to show even the slightest sign of panic.
So, even with club owner Frank McCourt and team president Dennis Mannion in attendance and the champagne on ice, the party got canceled again as the Dodgers lost for the fourth time in the past five games.
"Teams are not going to roll over and let us celebrate on their field," warned Orlando Hudson, whose triple was one of only four Dodgers hits and resulted in their only run.
"Those pitchers aren't throwing four-seamers down the middle for us to whack away. They are fighting for jobs for next year. They want to finish the season strong. And beating the Dodgers, that's extra hype."
With all of that said, Los Angeles has one game left on a three-city trip against also-rans Washington, Pittsburgh and San Diego. The club is 3-5, easily could have lost two of the games it won and is looking like a team that might not have taken the opposition seriously enough.
"It means a lot to us," said Padres third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who singled in the go-ahead run. "We're not going to the playoffs. As a team, it's nice to go out there and try to hurt those teams that are."
This game presented a test of sorts for Chad Billingsley, the one-time staff ace who remained winless since Aug. 18. Despite the no-decision, Billingsley passed the test in a performance similar to one in Washington last week, charged with two hits over six innings.
Billingsley (12-11) allowed Tony Gwynn's second home run of the season on a mislocated fastball, and he walked five, including Adrian Gonzalez three times that were almost intentional. He allowed two runs in his six innings.
"It wasn't as good as the last start, but I was happy with two good starts in a row," said Billingsley, who allowed just one hit vs. the Nationals. "I'm very happy overall. I didn't want to make too many mistakes and I walked some guys. Right now, [I'm] trying to get back to my old self, concentrate inning to inning and pitch to pitch. It's a lot better than it was. I felt comfortable tonight and was able to build on my last start."
But it was a walk to No. 2 hitter David Eckstein with one out in the sixth inning that manager Joe Torre said changed the inning. Billingsley would walk the bases loaded, and Kouzmanoff then singled in the tie-breaking run.
"I thought he pitched well," said Torre, who still must decide Billingsley's postseason role. "Today I thought he pitched aggressively, he went at people, mixed pitches well. He gave up two runs. That doesn't mean he didn't pitch well. We didn't give him anything to work with. Every batter he faced was the go-ahead run."
Indeed, the Dodgers' offense -- which has scored one run in three of the past five games -- has been failing lately. Lifelong Dodgers fan Cesar Ramos from the Los Angeles suburb of Pico Rivera, making his first Major League start, allowed the Hudson run on Andre Ethier's sharp grounder that was scored an error and nothing more for five innings.
Two of the four Dodgers hits were by Rafael Furcal, who extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Hudson had the triple and Matt Kemp had the only other hit.
But the offense hit into three double plays, one by Manny Ramirez, who returned from a tight hamstring by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Ethier drove in the lone run, but he also went 0-for-4 and is 1-for-27 on the trip, his average falling from .283 to .272.
Heath Bell picked up his 41st save by striking out the side in the ninth -- Ramirez, Kemp and James Loney.