Dodgers extend lead in West to 1½ games with sweep of D-backs

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers appear to have the Arizona Diamondbacks on the run, although they won't dare admit it.

James Loney had three RBIs and Los Angeles completed a three-game sweep of Arizona on Sunday with a 5-3 victory that gave it a 1½-game lead on the Diamondbacks in the NL West. It was the eighth series of three or more games that the Dodgers have swept, including a four-game set against the Phillies at Chavez Ravine.

"We're excited, but we've just got to continue," said Nomar Garciaparra, who drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly. "Obviously, they're the ones we're competing against trying to win this division. But there's no time to let up and start patting ourselves on the back. We've got a long way to go."

Los Angeles tied a season best with its eighth straight win, following an eight-game skid. Hong-Chih Kuo (5-2) pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief for the victory and Jonathan Broxton got five outs for his 13th save.

"I think it's pretty incredible to expect to come back and take those eight losses and turn them around in that big a hurry," manager Joe Torre said. "It's one of those Dramamine trips -- it's up and down and you strap yourself in, because that's what's going to happen this time of year."

The Diamondbacks, who won their fourth division title last season, had no worse than a share of the division lead for 137 consecutive days this time around before the Dodgers beat 19-game winner Brandon Webb for the second time in a week on Saturday.

The Dodgers' final 19 games are against teams that have losing records and are a combined 83 games under .500. They have six left with San Diego (55-88), three with Colorado (67-77), four with Pittsburgh (60-82) and six with San Francisco (62-80).

"There is no psychological advantage," Torre said. "The only thing is that you can control your own destiny. You don't need to watch the scoreboard. If you win your share of games, you're going to finish in first place. What that share is, we don't know. And if you don't win, it's nobody's fault but your own."

The turning point in this race may have come after the D-Backs took the opener of a three-game set with the Dodgers in Phoenix on Aug. 29 to open up a 4 1/2-game margin. Los Angeles came back the next two nights with victories.

The Dodgers won the season series by a 10-8 margin for the third straight year, after losing seven of the first 10 meetings. They have won five straight against Arizona, including two each against Webb and Dan Haren.

"That's baseball. Anything can happen," Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew said. "But we've got 20 games left. We're not playing them anymore, so we've got to focus on going into San Francisco. We're going to play every out and every game as hard as we can and see what happens at the end. I've still got a good feeling about it."

Broxton gave up a two-out double in the ninth to pinch-hitter Chad Tracy and walked Adam Dunn, bringing Conor Jackson to the plate as the potential go-ahead run. But Garciaparra robbed Jackson of a hit with a diving catch of his line drive in the hole between first and second for the final out.

"Right there I'm hugging the line because he's the go-ahead run and you don't want him to get to second base," Garciaparra said. "I'm glad I was able to see that ball. I don't know how I saw it, but I saw it good enough to make the play."

With the score tied at 3, Blake DeWitt greeted reliever Jon Rauch (4-6) with a ground-rule double to lead off the seventh. DeWitt took third when first baseman Dunn misplayed Angel Berroa's sacrifice bunt for an error.

Garciaparra's sac fly drove in DeWitt, and Berroa scored when Drew booted Andre Ethier's routine grounder and threw too late to get him at first base.

Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, who have a combined 648 wins and nine Cy Young awards, were expected to match up in the series finale for only the second time ever in the regular season. But Torre gave the ball to Clayton Kershaw, hoping the left-hander could neutralize Dunn and Drew, and Johnson was scratched because of shoulder fatigue.

That left it up to a pair of rookies who hadn't thrown a pitch in the major leagues before this season. Arizona's Max Scherzer was born 2 years and 3 months after Johnson made his big league debut. Kershaw was born 1 1/2 years after Maddux threw his first pitch in the majors.

Scherzer, a 24-year-old right-hander making his fourth big league start and first since May 17, struck out 11 and allowed three runs and five hits in six-plus innings. It was the highest strikeout total by any opposing pitcher against the Dodgers this season.

"He just didn't look like he was affected by any kind of pressure," Torre said.

Kershaw, a 20-year-old lefty, threw 91 pitches over four innings and allowed three runs and six hits. Two of them were solo homers by Dunn and Chris Snyder.

Snyder hit his 14th homer in the second -- ending a run of 25 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings by Dodgers starting pitchers against the Diamondbacks. Dunn, moved up to the third spot in the order after batting cleanup in his first 23 games with Arizona, tied the score 2-all with his 36th of the season and fourth with the D'Backs.

Game notes
The Dodgers scored at least five runs for the eighth straight game, and improved to 52-6 when they do. ... Arizona's biggest lead was 6 1-2 games on April 28. The Dodgers were a season-worst seven games off the pace on April 25. ... Dodgers 3B Casey Blake was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, and is batting .183 in 34 day games this season with the Indians and Dodgers.