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Big hit eludes Dodgers as they drop into tie for first

Two late runs not enough to catch Cards; Haren allows costly HR

ST. LOUIS -- Back where the Dodgers watched their 2013 campaign come to a close in the National League Championship Series, manager Don Mattingly stressed from the Busch Stadium dugout early Friday that the team learned then that small mistakes can make a world of difference. 

Sitting in first place in the National League West entering the season's second half Friday, Mattingly's pregame words acted almost as prophecy as the Dodgers' bats were slow to follow the team into the second half and one mistake flew over the center-field wall to make the difference. 

Two late runs from a Dodgers offense that managed only two hits in the first six innings weren't enough to catch a Cardinals offense sparked by Matt Holliday in a 3-2 loss Friday in front of 45,010 at Busch Stadium. The defeat, couple with the Giants' win, left the Dodgers in a tie with their main rivals atop the NL West.

"It looked like it took us a little while to get going," Mattingly said afterward. 

Dan Haren allowed back-to-back one-out doubles in the first to give the Cardinals an early lead, but settled down with relatively quick second and third frames. He loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, but managed to escape with a grounder to short.

The right-hander wouldn't be so lucky in the fifth. After retiring the leadoff hitter, Haren surrendered a single, and his next pitch would be one of the mistakes to which Mattingly had alluded.

After a pickoff attempt at first base, an 88-mph fastball cruised down the middle of the plate to Holliday, who had recorded the RBI double in the first inning. Holliday dispatched this pitch 435 feet to straightaway center for the 20th home run allowed by Haren this season.

"I made a bad pitch to Holliday," Haren admitted. "I didn't make that many mistakes, but I probably got caught up with a runner on first and tried to be too quick to home and left it right over the plate for him."

"I was looking for a pitch that I could hit right back through the middle," Holliday added. "I hit that ball good."

After Haren put two more runners on, his day ended at 4 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks and needed 99 pitches to get through the outing.

"He just got hurt a little bit when he was in the middle of the plate. Matt Holliday got us twice with fastballs," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "Other than that, I thought Dan really battled. We just couldn't get Matt Holliday out."

The outing was the second straight in which Haren was knocked out in the fifth, and he has not made it through the sixth inning in six of his last nine appearances. 

Haren entered July 8-4 with a 3.57 ERA on the heels of a seven-inning one-hit performance. Since then, the veteran has lost three straight starts, allowing 15 runs in 14 innings for a 9.64 ERA this month. 

"The last two years I've had spots where I really struggled and I was able to get through them. I just have to look at that," Haren said. "Three starts ago, I was 8-4 with a good ERA coming off a one-hitter. I've had a couple tough ones in a row. I've got to give us a better chance to win like I was the majority of the season."

The Dodgers' offense didn't afford Haren much run support, and struck out 11 times. That included three strikeouts in the third to end a threat. 

With runners on the corners and one out, Cardinals starter Lance Lynn got a strikeout. When he walked the next batter to load the bases with two outs, Lynn used another whiff, this time Matt Kemp swinging through a 96-mph fastball, to end the jam.

Back in June, Lynn surrendered seven runs in two innings to the Dodgers. This time, with his curveball strong at work, he kept the Dodgers' offense sluggish.

"He's got that instinct to put guys away late with two strikes with his fastball," Ellis said. "Lance is a big fastball pitcher and unfortunately we weren't able to square up when we needed to."

The offense strung together doubles in the seventh -- the second scoring on a wild pitch -- to draw within one run. That proved to be the lone string of success for a club that has 10 combined runs in the last six games.

Two baserunners reached with one out in the eighth, but Andre Ethier struck out looking and Juan Uribe popped out. In all, the Dodgers stranded eight and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

"It's a game we had a chance because we were able to put some runs on the board late," Mattingly said. "In close games -- this is what we talked about before the game -- it's making that key pitch, getting that big out and getting that big hit when you need it. We weren't able to get it tonight."

Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for
Read More: Los Angeles Dodgers, Dan Haren, A.J. Ellis