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09/13/09 2:00 AM ET
Dodgers leave Giants reeling in NL West
Division leaders push third-place SF to 8 1/2 games back
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Vicente Padilla, who came to the Dodgers with a reputation as a head hunter, officially became a Giants killer on Saturday night. Padilla remained unbeaten with the Dodgers as Russell Martin and James Loney homered in a 9-1 win over the Giants that trimmed the Los Angeles' magic number for clinching a playoff berth to 12. After the game, a handful of players watched the Padres finally defeat the Rockies, who slipped three games back with a 3-2 loss in 10 innings. "Don't even talk about it," snapped manager Joe Torre at the magic-number reference after his club equaled its high-water mark at 27 games above .500. With a revived offense, the Dodgers have outscored the Giants, 19-4, in the first two games of this series, pushing the third-place squad to 8 1/2 games back in the National League West with a grudge match looming in Sunday's finale against former teammate Brad Penny. The Dodgers offense has scored five or more runs in five of the last seven games and has eight home runs in five games of this trip. Loney and Martin, the six and seven hitters, combined for five RBIs and four runs scored. The Dodgers scored in five different innings. "[The Giants] are struggling somewhat, but we were, too, coming in," said Torre. "Slowly but surely, I've been asked about Russell and Loney, they're gradually getting better. Right now, they're in a good place." Padilla, 3-0 since being picked up for minimum wage, allowed one unearned run on three hits in six innings and lowered his ERA to 2.01 since being acquired for the stretch run. "We kind of caught lightning in a bottle with him," Martin said. The only run Padilla allowed was self-inflicted by bungling a sacrifice bunt, fumbling the ball, then slipping as he threw it away. But he put down that third-inning threat, then another in the fifth when the Giants had runners on second and third with one out, and he struck out Eugenio Velez and got Edgar Renteria on a groundout. "That's important to have when you do get in trouble," said Torre. "A lot of pitchers can pitch with a lead, but to be able to wiggle off the hook is valuable." Padilla, who also singled home the first run of the game, is the most prominent of the Dodgers' midseason acquisitions, although there's also the return of the bats of Martin and Loney. Martin went the entire month of August with only seven RBIs, but he's driven in eight in the last six games after endless drills designed to keep him from spinning off pitches. Martin also said he's feeling better physically than he remembers in earlier Septembers. "My whole body feels fresh," he said. "Normally, I start wearing down. This year has been different." Even though Martin's towering home run barely tucked inside the left-field foul pole, Torre called it proof that Martin's work with hitting coach Don Mattingly is paying off. "He's been working getting his swing back, and he's been going to the opposite field, so when he gets something inside, he's able to take advantage of it," he said. Martin said he had a good batting practice on Friday that he took into Friday night's game, when he had a two-run double, and it carried over to Saturday night, when he improved to 6-for-13 off Jonathan Sanchez. "I feel my hands are working well," he said. "The main thing is getting the same feel. I feel balanced, and I'm recognizing the ball well." Loney is the most puzzling home run hitter on the team. He has 12 this year, all on the road. He needed 68 games to hit his first three of the season, but he's hit three in his last five games. "I'm not trying to hit home runs, I'm trying to drive the ball," Loney said. "I've gone back to my old self like I need to be. I used to get caught up in different stances, now I stick with one. Sometimes you try things in batting practice and it feels good, but during the game it's different. I'm sticking with what's comfortable for me and what feels right. I watched old video and saw what I did in the past and I'm trusting that." Loney is 4-for-8 with five RBIs in this series.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.