PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles better have bought champagne that ages well.
With nearly every member of the front office on hand -- but rookie right-hander Stephen Fife starting in place of Clayton Kershaw -- the Dodgers were unable to close out the NL West, losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 9-4, on Wednesday night.
With their 10th loss in the past 14 games -- and fifth in the past six -- the Dodgers' magic number remains at two with one game left in Arizona and 10 games overall.
Pressed into spot start duty so that Kershaw -- the major league leader in innings pitched -- could get rested and lined up for the postseason, Fife was not up to the task. He faced 18 batters and allowed six hits, one a two-run home run by Dodgers nemesis Paul Goldschmidt, three walks, hit two batters and threw two wild pitches.
That put the Dodgers in a 4-0 hole three innings into the game. The most surprising part was that it wasn't any deeper. In fact, the Diamondbacks loaded the bases in four of the first eight innings and stranded 14 baserunners.
The Dodgers climbed back into it with a 442-foot solo home run by Yasiel Puig and an RBI single by Adrian Gonzalez in the fourth and an RBI double by Tim Federowicz in the seventh.
In between, a blown call at home cost them a run that looked crucial at the time. Michael Young tried to score from first on Gonzalez's sixth-inning double into the left-center field gap. Replays showed Young got his hand on home plate before Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero applied the tag. But umpire Jim Joyce called Young out.
Gonzalez was ejected from the game for arguing the call while standing at second base.
That became less pivotal when the Diamondbacks finally broke through again, turning a one-run game into a rout by scoring five runs against Dodgers relievers Ronald Belisario and Peter Moylan in the eighth.
RAMIREZ SITS AGAIN
Hanley Ramirez was nowhere to be seen Wednesday afternoon -- not in the Dodgers' locker room before the game ... and not in their lineup for the game.
One day after he returned from back issues to play, reaching base four times and scoring three runs, Ramirez spent his pregame time getting treatment for the irritated nerve in his back. He was given the day off Wednesday, and Manager Don Mattingly said it would probably be "a few days" before Ramirez would be back in the starting lineup again.
Mattingly insisted it was "just part of the plan all along" to play Ramirez on Tuesday then give him time off. In fact, Ramirez probably will be only an intermittent presence in the Dodgers' lineup for the remainder of the regular season as they handle one of their most indispensible players with caution in hopes of having him at full strength for the postseason.
"I don't think anybody feels Hanley's 100 percent to just throw him out there," Mattingly said. "He's good today. He's maybe a little sore from not playing for six days.
"The way Stan (Conte, director of medical services) said we could use Hanley is to have him play a day, maybe be off a few days. We're trying to keep him sharp but get him totally ready (for the playoffs). ... Whatever we have to do to get him right is the key for us."
The Dodgers tried a similar in-and-out approach to playing Ramirez after he returned from a hamstring injury in early June. Mattingly admitted he became frustrated making out lineups with one hand tied behind his back at a time when the Dodgers were floundering. The team took off only after the wraps were taken off Ramirez and he became an everyday presence in the lineup.
"I feel like it's more of a cautious thing," Mattingly said. "Then, it was, 'You're in today, out tomorrow. You're in. You're out.' That was at a point where we were trying to get our act together. This is a different scenario."
But Ramirez is no less important to the Dodgers. He leads the team in batting average (.343), slugging percentage (.633) and OPS (1.030) with a mark that would lead the National League if Ramirez had played enough. When he is in their starting lineup, the Dodgers have played at a .650 clip (52-28). When he isn't, they are a losing team (35-37).
"Obviously, he's a pretty big chunk in the middle (of the lineup)," Mattingly said. "He hits good pitching. He gets on base. He's dangerous. He hits righties and lefties. And he's played good defense at shortstop for us.
"He's just been a force."
Outfielder Andre Ethier was not using a walking boot, but he still was walking gingerly and admitted his injured left ankle "still hurts."
Ethier has not played since leaving Friday's game because of pain in his ankle. Ethier said he was told the problem is some fraying of the tendon sheath on the outside of his left ankle and the only treatment is rest.
He has done nothing more than one-handed swings without a tee or ball since Friday. But Mattingly said the Dodgers are hopeful he will be able to start participating in on-field workouts this weekend.
Left fielder Carl Crawford was back in the lineup after sitting out three games because of back stiffness -- and Mattingly was asked again about the looming question that four healthy outfielders would represent.
The Dodgers have had their foursome of Ethier, Crawford, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig all available for the same game just twice this year. But all likely are to be available for the playoffs, forcing Mattingly to make a decision on which of the quartet to sit on any given day.
"If you get to that point, you're going to play whoever gives you the best chance to win," Mattingly said. "Somebody's not going to be happy. But at that point, you can't worry about that too much.
"I can't imagine that being a problem."
With the possibility of clinching the division Wednesday, Kemp arranged and paid for the Dodgers' home clubhouse staff to fly to Arizona and be part of a potential celebration. ... Left-hander Chris Capuano received a platelet-rich plasma injection to promote healing in his injured groin muscle. Mattingly said the Dodgers are hopeful Capuano will be able to throw a bullpen session this weekend. ... The Dodgers will put playoff tickets on sale Friday with prices escalation from $30-$160 for the Division Series and $65-$190 per game for the NLCS. World Series tickets (priced from $210-$350 per game) will go on sale later. Season-ticket holders can purchase playoff tickets at a discounted price.
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