SAN DIEGO -- After countering the acquisition of Scott Podsednik by landing Miguel Tejada, the Padres made sure the Dodgers know who's in charge of the National League West with a 3-2 walk-off win Thursday that left the Dodgers a season-high seven games back.

"No, you've got to take them seriously," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said after watching pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar's one-out single off George Sherrill in the bottom of the ninth score Scott Hairston from second base.

"Knowing how important pitching is, you have to take it away from them. They're not going to give it away. The more they win, the more confidence they have."

A curiosity the first time the Dodgers came through PETCO Park in May, the low-payroll, high-payoff Padres now also have a 3 1/2-game separation from second-place San Francisco, where the Dodgers headed after the game.

"This [addition of Tejada] just lets you know the front office has confidence in us and that this is our year and that we're going to load up as much as we can," Padres reliever Joe Thatcher said.

San Diego played a convincing series. It lost a 2-0 pitchers' duel between Chad Billingsley and Jon Garland on Tuesday night, broke open a close game Wednesday night to beat Hiroki Kuroda and the Dodgers' bullpen, then exploited Vicente Padilla's shortest start of the season to be in position to win Thursday's game late.

In the process, the Dodgers scored five runs in the three games and have scored only 14 runs in the last eight games. They also struck out 13 times Thursday and 31 times in the series.

"We need to start hitting," said Torre. "We fight, scratch, we play hard, but we're having too many easy innings offensively and putting a lot of stress on the pitching staff. We just need to break out and score some runs. Obviously, it hasn't been easy. When it's tough to score, you lose your patience. We just haven't been able to generate anything consistently. We know we can and we will, it's just a matter of getting it started."

Torre rejected the suggestion that the latest offensive funk can be traced to Manny Ramirez's latest stint on the disabled list for a strained calf, which started July 17, because the offense seemed fine before that, when Ramirez was on the disabled list for a strained hamstring.

"They've done this before without Manny," he said. "Everybody is just going outside himself a little bit -- maybe trying a little too hard."

Torre said he will continue the experiment that started Thursday of batting Podsednik leadoff and slumping shortstop Rafael Furcal second. Podsednik went 0-for-3 with a walk, strikeout, stolen base and was charged with a questionable error in center field when he tried to cut off Will Venable's seventh-inning double with a slide and fumbled the ball.

Furcal, meanwhile, slumped to 1-for-26 with an 0-for-4 and two strikeouts, his average dropping from .337 to .314.

"We're struggling," said Furcal. "We don't get hits when we need to. I don't get the job done. The pitchers hold the game to the ninth inning, but we don't get the base hits and we're not going to win. I'm seeing the ball good, getting deep in counts, making contact but not getting on base. It's part of the game. I'm struggling right now to get on base. Right now, we're trying to do too much."

Andre Ethier is hitting .128 since appearing in his first All-Star Game. Casey Blake, who didn't start Thursday, is hitting .177 in July. Matt Kemp, who also didn't start Thursday, has a .302 on-base percentage in July.

James Loney homered in the second inning off Mat Latos for the Dodgers' first run. They cashed in a pair of walks and a fielding error by Scott Hairston with Garret Anderson's pinch-single in the fifth for their other run. But also that inning, Podsednik couldn't get the ball out of the infield with runners on second and third and one out and Furcal flied out with runners on the corners.

Hairston led off the ninth with what Sherrill said was a broken-bat grounder. Blake, inserted as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, was guarding the line and dived, but Sherrill said the ball hit Blake's forearm and bounced into left field. Hairston was bunted to second by Tony Gwynn and Salazar followed with his single through the middle.

"The last one I thought was a pretty good pitch, but I didn't get my glove down fast enough," said Sherrill.

Torre defended Sherrill.

"I thought he was good," said Torre. "We were guarding the line on the hit or Casey catches the ball. The winning hit, he swung one-handed. It was a breaking ball down. I think George is getting very close. His last few times out, I'm very comfortable watching what he's doing."

Nonetheless, the Padres had their 60th win in their 100th game. They also snapped Hong-Chih Kuo's incredible streak with Adrian Gonzalez's bloop single in the eighth inning, the first of 37 left-handed batters to get a hit off Kuo this year.