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08/09/09 3:05 AM ET

Dodgers done in by Braves in extras

Kershaw's start spoiled; rally falls short after Atlanta homer

LOS ANGELES -- On a night when the Dodgers desperately needed a standout outing from one of their starting pitchers, left-hander Clayton Kershaw delivered the goods.

Kershaw threw seven shutout innings Saturday night at Dodger Stadium and never let a runner reach second base after Ryan Church led off the game with a double.

He struck out 10, walked one and gave up just two hits in one of his strongest outings of the season.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Kenshin Kawakami and the Braves' bullpen were just as dominant.

Kelly Johnson broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer off Dodgers righty Guillermo Mota in the 10th, and Los Angeles' rally fell short in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta at Dodger Stadium.

Kawakami threw seven shutout innings, and Medlen got through the eighth and ninth before Rafael Soriano allowed a run in the 10th inning.

In the top of the 10th, Adam LaRoche walked with one out, and Johnson went deep with two outs, leaving the Dodgers wondering how they wasted such a stellar outing from Kershaw.

"We didn't score any runs tonight," Matt Kemp said. "We had plenty of chances to win the game, we didn't capitalize on it. Kershaw gave us all the chances in the world to win that game."

For a moment in the bottom of the 10th, it looked like Kemp was on the verge of tying the game when he sent a ball skipping up the middle with Andre Ethier running on the play from second base.

But Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar leaped to glove the ball and threw Kemp out to end the game.

"My first thought was to make sure the ball didn't get through," Escobar said with Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia interpreting. "Then after a step or two, I thought I had a play at it."

The way Kershaw pitched Saturday, the game easily could have been decided much sooner. After being unable to last at least six innings Monday for the first time since July 1, Kershaw didn't hesitate to go after the Atlanta hitters.

Kershaw struck out two batters in the each of the first three innings, as his fastball and curveball appeared especially lively.

"He's really growing up," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "We haven't put wins back-to-back, and he's pitched in games that have been must-win situations as tonight was, and he's out there cool as a cucumber. Right from the first pitch he threw tonight, you could see how determined he was and very business-like."

Not one sequence better exemplified Kershaw's night on the mound than the top of the fifth.

In that inning, Kershaw struck out the side for K's Nos. 7, 8 and 9, and he made LaRoche look foolish with a high four-seam fastball for the inning's first out.

"After his last outing, this kid became very determined," said Torre. "This kid's got a lot of heart, and certainly a lot of ability."

But the Dodgers were enduring an inability to score over the first nine inning, even with a seemingly easy opportunity in the seventh.

Kemp singled to lead off the inning, proceeded to steal second base and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher David Ross.

After James Loney grounded out to short, Orlando Hudson and Tony Abreu walked to load the bases with just one out.

If there was a time for the Dodgers to break through and score the game's first run, it was then.

But Brad Ausmus and pinch-hitter Mark Loretta struck out to end threat, and Kawakami escaped with the game still in a scoreless tie.

"We're putting too much pressure on ourselves when we're hitting, especially with men at third base and less than two outs," Torre said. "We haven't done a real good job of doing that all year, and I think, as I said, tying to do too much."

A different kind of pressure might soon face the slumping Dodgers, who've lost 10 of their past 16 games.

The Giants beat the Reds on Saturday to improve to 61-49, just 5 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the National League West. That represents Los Angeles' narrowest margin in the division since May 15, when the club was five games ahead of San Francisco.

The Dodgers begin a pivotal three-game series in Northern California against the Giants on Monday.

"It's really up to us to do what we do," Torre said. "We'll worry about San Francisco starting Monday. But we have to take care of business ourselves, and we've done a good job up to this point, but we can't concern ourselves with how other people are playing. It's just about us."

David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.