09/24/08 3:18 AM ET
Dodgers blow by Padres
Six-run first inning helps LA trim magic number to three
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
The Dodgers responded with a six-run first inning and a 10-1 blowout of the Padres, combining with Arizona's loss to cut the magic number to clinch the National League West to three with five games to play.
Over the weekend, the Dodgers lost two of three to the Giants (getting blanked Sunday), while the D-backs trimmed the lead to two games by winning their last three, including Monday, when the Dodgers were off.
"I felt tension Sunday, for whatever reason," Torre said. "I didn't feel it was worrying about Arizona creeping up, but the fact we were trying to get something done and thinking too much instead of playing the game and that can get in the way.
"The only thing I said is to try to be aggressive. The other day in the 1-0 game, it looked like we were tentative. I remind them to be aggressive and be who you are instead of trying to do everything right and try not to make mistakes."
You could say it worked, as the first seven Dodgers hitters against rookie San Diego left-hander Wade LaBlanc reached base, including a two-run hustle double by Manny Ramirez and a three-run homer by Nomar Garciaparra, getting his first start since spraining his knee last week as the replacement for James Loney.
"To jump on them early was huge," Garciaparra said.
The two RBIs gave Ramirez 51 since he was acquired, joining Carlos Beltran as the only players to have at least 50 RBIs in both leagues in the same season.
The Dodgers were able to coast from that first-inning windfall for their biggest margin of victory since April 30. Chad Billingsley struggled with his rhythm, enough that pitching coach Rick Honeycutt made two trips to the mound in the first three innings.
But Billingsley's fastball got him by to beat the last-place Padres, pitching six innings to improve his record to 16-10. Billingsley also drove in a pair of runs with a squeeze bunt and RBI single. His 3.17 ERA is seventh in the league and his 199 strikeouts are second. In his past seven starts at Dodger Stadium, he's 6-0 with a 1.65 ERA.
"Coming out and scoring six runs really allowed me to relax a little more and kind of work on things and try to get my rhythm back," said Billingsley, who is in line to start Game 2 of the playoffs next week. "I was really trying to stay relaxed out there and keep a good rhythm."
In the fifth inning, Blake DeWitt sealed it with a three-run homer, shaking out of a 3-for-17 slide. Russell Martin, batting .200 in the 14 preceding games, reached base four times with a pair of hits and a pair of walks.
"It would be nice [to wrap up at home]," DeWitt said. "If it doesn't happen, you've just got to keep playing."
The Dodgers still have a chance to clinch by Thursday, the regular-season home finale against Padres ace and Dodgers killer Jake Peavy, if the D-backs cooperate. Or they can do it themselves.
"We have to win the next three and put this thing to sleep," said Torre, not expecting help.
Sounds simple enough.
"The calm he brings, it has an effect," said Andre Ethier, moved into the cleanup spot by Torre to provide added protection for Ramirez. "Some guys might not really pay attention to where the team's at in the bigger scheme and there might be more anxiety than necessary. Maybe we don't realize how good a situation we're in right now.
"He [Torre] addressed it. He told us not to let that out of our frame of mind. We had the off-day and we see Arizona win and we start to feel pressure and uneasiness because they won and we can't do anything about it. He addressed it today and told us it wasn't as bad as it seemed. We're the ones in the good situation to be in."
The huge lead allowed Torre to rest his regular relievers and follow Billingsley to the mound with a trio of rookies -- James McDonald (graduate of the Los Angeles RBI program), Ramon Troncoso and Scott Elbert -- each throwing one scoreless inning.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.