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The Hole Gagné And Cesar's John Hughes Number

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This was supposed to be a breather. The Dodgers came off a series sweep at the hands of the A's, and then got to face one of the teams making burbling noises in the sub-.500 cellar of a surprisingly weak AL West. Instead, they found themselves treated every bit as roughly, experiencing first-hand something the Red Sox recently discovered: there's about a ten-win difference between the quality of the best teams in the American League versus that in the Senior Circuit. That is to say, put an 85-win AL team into the NL and all of a sudden you've got a 95-win division champion.

In this series, the Dodgers made that difference immediately apparent.

Losing two of the three games to even a fairly weak Mariners club, the Dodgers' failings in the bullpen and starting rotation were as exposed as the girls at the Seventh Veil. Much as I liked (or at least, didn't hate) the trade that exiled Paul LoDuca and Guillermo Mota, two of the Dodgers' candidates for Least Likely To Contribute At A High Level Again Award, Brad Penny hasn't ever quite amounted to the mid-rotation hoss Paul DePodesta thought he was getting, either. In Wednesday's game, Penny struggled through six innings, giving up five earned runs on ten hits, including a double and a homer to Adrian Beltre.Beltre's return to Dodger Stadium proved annoying, probably as much to the Dodgers as to Beltre: fans booed him, albeit not with great gusto. He shut them up pretty quickly, though, going on to a 6-11 record in the series with three extra-base hits. For a player who's looking for all the world like the Mariners' least valuable hitter this season, he tore up the Dodgers. Just don't accuse him of being unmotivated.

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Eric Gagné hasn't been missed this year in the ninth inning so much as his exile has meant the removal of a couple rungs in the ladder leading to that inning. That means inconsistent relievers like "proven closer" Danys Baez get to fill in for spots that the Dodgers previously gave to Duaner Sanchez last year — only Sanchez now sports a Mets uniform, and a nifty 2.43 ERA in the pitcher-friendly confines at Queens. Baez contributed three scoreless innings of work to the Dodgers' efforts against San Diego and Oakland, but with Baez, it's always a crapshoot. With the most fingernaily of leads, 5-4 and two innings left to go, the dice came up snake eyes and he imploded again, giving the underrated Mariners bullpen a three-run lead to work with.But one of the saving graces of the series was to see the return of Cesar Izturis. Like the theme song from a certain John Hughes movie, Izzy returned in unforgettable fashion, getting three hits in four tries despite being exiled to third base. There, he made a couple of solid, tough plays at third base, one of which — fielding a Carl Everett dribbler down the line — required the active participation by first base umpire Brian Runge, who blew the call and gave the Dodgers the third out in the seventh, to the mighty annoyance of Mariners fans.

Grady Little-haters — and there aren't many of them, yet, in Los Angeles — got another chuckle, too, as the former Red Sox skipper tried for a deja vu moment from his 2003 postseason flop. Lowe came through, though, and Dodger fans were safe for the moment, the Dodgers pulling a 4-2 win from what looked like certain defeat. You can say a lot of things about Grady Little, but one of them is not that he's unteachable.

The coming series represents a break from interleague play, three games with Jim Tracy's Pittsburgh Pirates. After spending his days throwing sand in the gears of Paul DePodesta's lineups, he became a pestilential, self-righteous, and uncircumspect whiner who refused the call to apologize for his role in a 91-loss season, unlike his team's owner and general manager. These days, he spends his time ejecting pabulum about useless AAAA bench players, and — stop me if you've heard this before — ducking his share of responsibility for the Pirates' patheticness. Fortunately, it's not fooling any of the local sportswriters. I can't think of a better team to whup, or a better time to do it.

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