Nomar hits 200th HR to send Pirates to 11th straight loss

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Dodgers expected nothing less

than a three-game sweep of the plummeting Pittsburgh Pirates -- and

that's exactly what they got.

Nomar Garciaparra hit his 200th home run, Rafael Furcal and

Ramon Martinez each had two RBI, and the Dodgers took over sole

possession of first place in the NL West with a 7-4 victory Sunday

that extended Pittsburgh's losing streak to 11 games.

"You feel for teams like that, but that's just the way this

game goes," Dodgers center fielder Kenny Lofton said. "I mean, I

was in Cleveland early in my career when we weren't that good and

people didn't care. So you've just got to have to try to get

better, and it has to start somewhere. If you want to win, you've

got to spend some money. And if they don't want to, it's going to

be tough."

The Pirates were swept in a series of three or more games for

the seventh time this season and sixth time on the road, dropping

their record to 26-51 -- the second-worst in the majors. They would

have to go 55-30 the rest of the way to avoid their 14th

consecutive losing season.

"The most frustrating thing is probably the way we've lost --

when we've been in games and then shot ourselves in the foot,

either defensively or with our situational hitting," shortstop

Jack Wilson said. "This last week has just been really bad

baseball on our part. Obviously it's been a tough stretch, but it's

not the end of the world. We've got three months of baseball left,

and any day we can turn it around."

Pittsburgh is 17½ games out of first place in the NL Central and

25 games under .500, its low-water mark in both categories. The

losing streak is the team's longest since 1955, when it dropped 11

straight and finished 60-94.

The 1939 Pirates lost 12 straight, the team's longest skid since

1900. The franchise record for consecutive defeats was set by the

1890 Pittsburg Alleghenies, who had lost several of their key

players that year in a bidding war with the upstart and short-lived

Players League.

It doesn't get any easier for manager Jim Tracy's club. The

Pirates' next 10 games are against the White Sox, Tigers and Mets --

all of whom have winning percentages over .600. The next three

pitchers they are scheduled to face are Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia

and Jose Contreras, who are a combined 25-8 for Chicago. Contreras

has won his last 16 decisions in the regular season for the

defending World Series champs.

"We know what's in front of us and the situation doesn't get

any easier," said Tracy, who managed the Dodgers the previous five

seasons. "But there's nobody in the American or National League

that's going to feel sorry for us, that's for sure. We have to go

out and play competitive baseball and find ways to win games."

Wilson is looking forward to the three upcoming series. And why

not? The Pirates have nothing else to lose.

"You want a test like that to see how good you can be, and

that's by playing the best," Wilson said. "That's what we're

going to do in the next week, so I think we'll be up for the

challenge. But you've got to bring your `A' game against teams like


Dodgers right-hander Brad Penny (8-2) pitched five-plus innings

for the win, allowing four runs and six hits. He was lifted in the

sixth with a 1-0 count on Jose Castillo, after Joe Randa's leadoff

homer narrowed the gap to 5-4.

But Garciaparra led off the seventh against reliever Damaso

Marte with his ninth homer of the season, Russell Martin made it

7-4 with his second run-scoring groundout, and Takashi Saito

pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth save.

Kip Wells (0-2) gave up five runs and nine hits in five innings

in his second start after missing the Pirates' first 71 games while

recovering from surgery to repair a blocked artery in his pitching

arm. The right-hander, who had an NL-worst 18 losses last season,

lost his first outing at Kansas City after blowing a 4-0 lead.

The Dodgers opened their four-run fourth inning with four

consecutive singles, including a run-scoring hit by Martinez, who

started at second base while Jeff Kent got the day off. Andre

Ethier scored on a bases-loaded grounder by Martin, who stole

second before Furcal made it 4-1 with a two-run single.Game notes
Furcal singled in the first for his 1,000th career hit. ...

The Dodgers resume their interleague schedule Monday night at

Minnesota. It's their first appearance in the Twin Cities since

Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, when Sandy Koufax beat Jim Kaat

2-0 with a two-hitter at Metropolitan Stadium. ... The Pirates will

unveil a permanent interactive exhibit outside PNC Park on Monday

morning to honor the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays of

the Negro Leagues. ... The Dodgers' starting infield consisted of

four natural shortstops -- Furcal, Martinez, Garciaparra (1B) and

Cesar Izturis (3B). ... The Pirates have played seven straight

games without getting at least six innings from a starting pitcher.