Pirates' relievers collapse to allow Dodgers to clinch playoff spot

PITTSBURGH -- The celebration was a couple of bottles of champagne and a few hugs, nothing more. Maybe it's because the Los Angeles Dodgers expect to have bigger bashes before the season is over.

The Dodgers locked up their fourth NL playoff appearance in six years, getting a two-run single from pinch-hitter Jim Thome during a four-run eighth inning in which Pirates relievers walked four before going on to beat Pittsburgh 8-4 on Saturday night.

Manager Joe Torre is headed to the postseason for a record-tying 14th straight time -- only the Braves' Bobby Cox also has accomplished the feat -- after the Dodgers assured themselves of at least a wild-card spot.

"I don't know who I caught, but it's satisfying ... to be able to go to the postseason the first two years here," said Torre, the former Yankees manager. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world because I don't know if anybody could dream of doing stuff like this, much less doing it."

The Dodgers also cut their magic number to two for winning the NL West for the second consecutive season when the Cardinals beat the Rockies 6-3. Any combination of Dodgers victories and Rockies losses totaling two will give Los Angeles its first back-to-back division titles since 1977-78.

The Dodgers didn't celebrate on the field, routinely shaking hands as they always do after a victory but otherwise showing no sign this victory was any different from their previous 91. They drank a few toasts in their clubhouse, but there were no champagne showers or spraying bottles.

"It's going to be a lot more if we can clinch this division and secure home-field advantage," Andre Ethier said.

Torre discussed with general manager Ned Colletti how to celebrate without actually doing so.

"To me a celebration is saying we reached what we want to reach, but we knew we had to recognize getting to the postseason," Torre said. "We didn't want to let it go by without acknowledging it, celebrating so speak, but a lot more work to do."

The Pirates, losers of 23 of 26 before beating the Dodgers on Friday night, trailed 3-0 before Andy LaRoche homered in the fourth against Randy Wolf. Pittsburgh took a 4-3 lead in the seventh, when Wolf and relievers Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill walked three around Luis Cruz's RBI single and Andrew McCutchen's two-run single.

The Pirates' bullpen, which pitched six shutout innings on Friday, couldn't hold the lead. Manny Ramirez, who went 2 for 2 and scored twice, walked ahead of Ronnie Belliard's single off Denny Bautista (1-1). Phil Dumatrait walked pinch-hitter James Loney to load the bases, and Steven Jackson walked pinch-hitter Ethier and Orlando Hudson in succession to force in two runs.

Thome followed with a line-drive single to right for his first two RBIs since being dealt by the White Sox to the Dodgers on Aug. 31. He had been 2 for 11, all as a pinch-hitter.

Jackson might have gotten out of the inning with less damage, but Ethier's foul popup fell out of LaRoche's glove as he struck the railing that guards the Pirates' dugout while the third baseman was trying to make a backhanded catch.

"I feel like I made some great pitches but they laid off them," Jackson said. "It was just a tough night."

Ethier said, "I had a little luck on my side."

Belliard hit his 10th homer, a solo drive in the ninth off Virgil Vasquez. Jonathan Broxton closed it out.

Pittsburgh is four losses from its third 100-loss season in 55 years.

Sherrill (1-0) got the victory despite giving up a hit and walking one of the three batters he faced.

Wolf strengthened his case to be the Dodgers' No. 1 starter in the playoffs, limiting the Pirates to two runs and four hits in 6 1/3 innings although he didn't get the decision.

"To me, it's nice to know we're going to be in the postseason because the last 10 or 11 years, I've been watching at home," Wolf said. "It's definitely special to me and I'll appreciate it every second of it. Today, we had a toast -- you can't let it go by and not recognize it -- because it's a big accomplishment, but we didn't want to overdo it."

The Dodgers, lethargic offensively and defensively during a 3-1 loss on Friday that ended Pittsburgh's six-game losing streak, began the game with three consecutive hits, taking a 1-0 lead on Ramirez's double off Paul Maholm, who gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

Ramirez, previously 2 for 14 on a road trip against last-place clubs Washington and Pittsburgh, also walked and scored on Mark Loretta's double in the fourth and singled in the fifth.

"They came out aggressive and swinging and I missed with a few pitches," Maholm said.

Game notes
There were no delays despite nearly daylong rain in Pittsburgh. A light mist fell at times during the game. ... The Pirates also had a stretch of 24 losses in 28 games during their 104-loss season in 1985. ... The Dodgers are 24-8 in Pittsburgh since 2001. ... Saturday was the 167th day the Dodgers have been in first place, the most in any season since 1977 (175 days). ... The Pirates haven't won successive games since Aug. 21-22.