SAN DIEGO — Call it the mirage of Mission Valley, but Jerry Royster wasn't fooled.
The reality of life in fourth place has a way of mocking such idle speculation as this: What if the Padres, who beat the Dodgers, 4-2, Monday night for their ninth win in 15 meetings with Los Angeles this season, had played as well against the rest of the National League as they have against the Dodgers?
"I don't think we played any better today than on any other occasion this season," Royster said.
"We hit a couple of home runs, and we did nothing else. There's still no consistency. It was a good game because we hit home runs."
Royster hit one of the Padres' two home runs, a solo shot in the first. The other decided the game: a seventh-inning, three-run home run by Carmelo Martinez off Dodger reliever Ken Howell, who continues to suffer from an acute case of long-ballitis.
"That's the first clutch hit for us that I can remember," Royster said. "For him (Martinez) to have struck out or grounded into a double play would have been the norm."
The norm last week was Martinez and pitcher Eric Show at each other's throats in Cincinnati after Show cast aspersions on Martinez's deftness with his glove. Show later called it all a misunderstanding, and Martinez made for soothed feelings all around when he connected off Howell.
"I know Carmelo does his best whenever he plays, and even though it may not look like that way, so do I," said Show, who allowed one earned run in 7 innings to even his record at 10-10.
"It felt like a team win, and I think we lost a little bit of that this season."
Padre Manager Dick Williams figures the Dodgers lost little Monday night, even though their lead over second-place to Cincinnati was trimmed to 7 1/2 games with 19 to play.
"I don't think they're too worried," Williams said.
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda showed no signs of an ulcer, although he was in some discomfort after the game.
"My lips are on fire," Lasorda said.
That was no fault of Howell, who has given up three-run home runs in each of his last two outings. Nick Esasky of the Reds hit one last Friday at Cincinnati. Lasorda's problem was the red pepper he had sprinkled too liberally on his plate of spaghetti.
"I don't know what's wrong with Kenny," Lasorda said. "I think he threw the ball real hard, but he just got it in the wrong place."
Howell could offer no explanation for his continued ineffectiveness.
"Terrible," he said. "I go out there and get beaten on one pitch, and then retire everybody else. I don't know why I can't get going sooner.
"They say this game is played in streaks, but this is a bad time for me to have a streak like this.
"We're 7 1/2 games up but every game is still important. I've better pull myself out of this."
Show, who henceforth will be known as the guy who gave up the hit heard round the world to Pete Rose last Wednesday, said he had no idea he was offending anybody when he sat down on the mound at Riverfront Stadium to take in the view.
"I really had two choices, as I saw it," he said, "either going into the dugout and sitting down or sitting down on the mound. I talked about it with a couple of coaches before the game, how there probably was going to be a commotion in what I should do.
"I didn't know how long it was going to last, so I sat down for a few moments. I didn't mean it as a protest. What Pete did was a great accomplishment.
" . . . If I had to do it over again, I'd probably stand. If it upset people who watched it, then I apologize for it."
Show said he really hasn't noticed any fallout from his new-found notoriety. "I knew it had to happen to somebody sooner or later," he said.
Sooner or later, the Padres had to start hitting again after a trip in which they'd scored just 11 runs in seven games. Steve Garvey came into the game with four RBIs in his last 78 at-bats. Garvey and Graig Nettles hadn't homered since Aug. 23; Terry Kennedy had just one since July 22.
After giving up a solo home run to Royster in the first, Reuss dispatched the Padres with ease until the sixth, when Royster walked and Tony Gwynn was credited with a single when his pop fly fell into short left field.
Dodger third baseman Bill Madlock, the closest Dodger to the ball, apparently assumed shortstop Mariano Duncan was going to catch the ball, but Duncan had moved to cover second when Royster took off on the hit-and-run. And left-fielder Len Matuszek was playing too deep to make the catch.
But Reuss got out of it when Garvey grounded his first pitch to Duncan for an inning-ending double play, the 23rd time Garvey has done so this season. That's two short of the club record Garvey set last season.