Padilla silences Cards, critics with gem
LA righty tosses seven shutout frames in playoff debut
ST. LOUIS -- Vicente Padilla lived up to his bad-boy reputation on Saturday.
The Dodgers would not have had it any other way.
Pitching in the first postseason game of his career, the enigmatic right-hander gave up four hits in seven shutout innings to pace the Dodgers to a 5-1 victory against the Cardinals to complete the National League Division Series sweep.
"This was the biggest game of my life," Padilla said. "I'm excited. This is exciting. To do this here with this organization is special. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. To get to the playoffs and win the third game is something I never expected."
How could he have expected anything? Padilla was out of a job in August after being released by the Rangers. The Dodgers signed him on Aug. 19.
"He's been pitching great since we got him," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "He's been great in the clubhouse and solid on the mound. He was stellar tonight."
Padilla was also nervous, at least initially.
The right-hander retired Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker on a comebacker for the first out in the bottom of the first inning but gave up consecutive singles to Ryan Ludwick and Albert Pujols. The next hitter, Matt Holliday, followed with a ground ball back to the pitcher for the second out of the frame.
Padilla appeared have trouble locating his fastball, and a walk to Colby Rasmus to load the bases for Yadier Molina only made matters worse. But the resilient right-hander induced a groundout by Molina on a 96-mph fastball to squash the scoring threat.
"I was a little nervous in the first inning," he said. "I had butterflies. I just had to get over it."
Padilla adjusted quickly. He threw 21 pitches in the first inning. He threw 76 the remainder of the game.
The nerves were completely gone by the second inning and Padilla went on a run, sitting down the next seven Cardinals hitters, primarily using his fastball and sinker.
"He was incredible tonight," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. "He had great command of his fastball on both sides of the plate. He just pounded the zone and was getting ahead of hitters. When you are throwing 95 mph with some movement on it, you are going to have a hard time hitting that."
The Cardinals did not go down without a fight. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, Rasmus smacked a double to the gap in left-center field and advanced to third base on a ground ball by Molina. He would not go any farther.
The next hitter, Mark DeRosa, hit what appeared to be a line drive base hit up the middle, but Padilla snared the ball for the final out of the inning.
"He hit that one hard, didn't he?," Padilla said. "I was just making my pitches and I got out of it."
After DeRosa, Padilla retired the next seven hitters in order before giving up a double to left field by Molina with one out in the seventh. On a night when Padilla didn't need much help, Molina still gave it to him. The Cardinals catcher inexplicably tried to advance to third base on a ground ball to shortstop Rafael Furcal by DeRosa and was thrown out for the second out of the frame.
The next hitter, shortstop Brendan Ryan, flied out to center field for the final out, and just like that, the best night of Padilla's career was complete. Left-handed reliever George Sherrill replaced him to start the eighth inning.
"For him to step up and do what he did tonight, I think it was a little more than we asked him to do," Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said. "We just asked for him to go out there and give us a quality start and a chance to win. He definitely did that and gave us a chance to get to our bullpen. It's unbelievable the way he showed up."
In the clubhouse after the victory, the one-time Rangers castoff was mobbed by his teammates and given a series of champagne showers. Dodgers manager Joe Torre went out of his way to embrace the right-hander in the fatherly way that has made him famous, and a few moments later, Colletti reached out to Padilla for a handshake and pulled the pitcher in for full-on bear hug.
"The most important thing that has happened here is that they have taken me in like family," Padilla said. "Just because one family gets rid of you, that doesn't mean that you can't jump on to another family. This has made me strong mentally and it showed everyone who said things against me that I can't be a good team player."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.