Dodgers knocked from first by Padres
Despite Lowe's solid game, LA defeated in pitchers' duel
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers grabbed the pole position for a Wild Card playoff berth Sunday, which is another way to say they've coughed up their lead in the West Division.
Los Angeles fell into second place by one-half game, losing again to the San Diego Padres, 2-1, a day after being drubbed by San Diego, 11-2. Now, the teams have swapped places, with the Padres taking over first and the Dodgers falling from the top for the first time since Aug. 9.
"They play better when they face us than anybody," said Rafael Furcal.
The Dodgers have lost close games and blowouts to San Diego, but mostly they've just lost -- 13 times in 17 games this year -- and it's gotten into their heads.
"We've got to figure out a way to beat this team we're playing," said Derek Lowe, who rebounded from his Chicago implosion by allowing only a Russell Branyan home run while striking out nine in a seven-inning no-decision. "I don't know. They seem to get the hit or make the pitch when it's needed."
The hit they got -- after Russell Martin's game-tying homer in the seventh inning -- was Terrmel Sledge's RBI pinch-single off Jonathan Broxton with one out in the top of the ninth inning. Sledge fisted a slider through the infield and into right field, a ball hit too slowly for right fielder J.D. Drew to have a play at the plate on pinch-runner Khalil Greene.
"They're just playing a little better than we are," said Martin.
After Greg Maddux pitched the Dodgers to victory in the series opener Friday night, the Padres have taken the next two with the series finale Monday night.
The matchup is deceiving -- Brad Penny (16-8) vs. Jake Peavy (9-14) -- because Peavy is 6-1 lifetime against the Dodgers and 2-0 this year, while Penny is 3-6 lifetime against the Padres and 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA this year.
"It's like they're waiting for something bad to happen," Padres outfielder Dave Roberts observed of his former team.
"That's how it was when I was with the Mets and we played the Braves," said another former Dodger, Mike Piazza. "We'd lose, 2-1, or 7-6, but they found a way to beat us, or we found a way to lose."
The Dodgers didn't really do anything wrong in this game, they just didn't do enough right.
"Our pitcher pitched a heck of a game and came away with nothing," said manager Grady Little. "We need to throw some more hits out there. This team has been giving us fits all year. They've got a plan against us and they enforce it, and they've done a good job."
Los Angeles barely scraped out a third-inning Kenny Lofton infield single in six innings against San Diego starter Chris Young, who came over with Sledge and Adrian Gonzalez in the Adam Eaton trade with Texas last January.
Martin's homer with one out in the seventh came off Cla Meredith, who had not allowed a run in his previous 34 innings over 29 appearances, and with two outs, the Dodgers appeared ready to take a lead. Furcal singled, stole second and took third on catcher Josh Bard's throwing error. Lofton was intentionally walked and stole second, but Julio Lugo struck out to end the inning.
Bard started the rally off Broxton with one out in the ninth, singling up the middle on a slider. Broxton then walked Geoff Blum with a full count. Looking for a double-play grounder, Broxton jammed Sledge with a slider, but the ball found a hole.
|"We know it's not going to be an easy task. We expect tough games from here on out, and we have to step it up a bit."|
|-- Russell Martin|
"I could tell by the way they were reacting," said the rookie. "I'll work on that."
Lowe said he couldn't much complain about the ball hit by Branyan, who has four homers since being obtained from Tampa Bay last month.
"He must have been sitting on a breaking ball, and I tip my cap when a guy does that," said Lowe, who borrowed Tiger Woods' favorite clothing color for a Sunday, dressing in red head to toe, but didn't enjoy the same results.
Nobody was tipping caps -- or pitches -- to the Dodgers' hitters. They had only four hits in the game and are batting .213 against the Padres this season, having been outscored, 89-50. The Padres turned the ninth inning over to Trevor Hoffman, whose 475th save left him three short of Lee Smith's all-time record.
The Dodgers played the past two games without Nomar Garciaparra in the starting lineup because of a strained quad muscle. He struck out as a pinch-hitter against Hoffman in the ninth inning and is expected to start Monday night.
Whether getting Garciaparra in the lineup helps the Dodgers get the Padres out of their heads will soon be determined.
"I've got Peavy on my mind already," said Martin. "We know it's not going to be an easy task. We expect tough games from here on out, and we have to step it up a bit."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.