The Dodgers might remember this evening forever. They would not let go of the National League West lead, and their fans would not let go of them.
After a ninth inning that ranged beyond improbable and near impossible, in which the Dodgers tied the score with four consecutive home runs, Nomar Garciaparra hit a two-run home run in the 10th inning, lifting the Dodgers to an 11-10 victory over the San Diego Padres on Monday.
"When you see the guys doing that, you feel you want to do your part," Garciaparra said. "For me to be a part of that, man, it was awesome."
Garciaparra pumped his fist as he rounded the bases, and the Dodgers returned to first place as soon as the ball cleared the wall. The Dodgers had vanquished Trevor Hoffman, the great San Diego closer. They had switched places with the Padres in the standings, restoring their half-game lead and dumping San Diego back into second place.
And, as Garciaparra emerged for a curtain call, he clapped his hands in every direction, thanking the fans. The game attracted an announced crowd of 55,831, the largest Monday crowd in Dodger Stadium history, and plenty of fans hung in there until the sweet end, roaring through the ninth inning, hollering for Garciaparra's walk-off home run, sticking around to watch replays and honking horns on the way out of the parking lot.
"It will be a game people around here remember for a long time," Dodgers Manager Grady Little said.
To call this an unlikely victory would be an understatement. The Padres bombed Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito for five runs in the eighth and ninth innings, and they took a 9-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew started the inning with back-to-back home runs off Jon Adkins, and the Padres rushed Hoffman into the game.
Russell Martin hit Hoffman's first pitch for a home run. Marlon Anderson hit Hoffman's second pitch for a home run, raising both hands high above his head as he passed first base.
The Dodgers became the fourth team in major league history to hit four consecutive home runs, the first since the Minnesota Twins did it in 1964, against the Kansas City Athletics.
Hoffman rebounded to get three outs, and the Padres nicked Aaron Sele for a run in the 10th inning.
But Kenny Lofton walked to lead off the bottom of the 10th against Rudy Seanez, and Garciaparra followed with a home run, pumping his fist as he rounded the bases and disappearing into a mob of teammates at home plate.
"I was just trying to make sure I hit every bag and touched home plate," he said.
This wasn't quite Kirk Gibson hobbling to bat in the World Series, but it wasn't bad. Garciaparra probably wouldn't be playing if this were July against the Washington Nationals, but there he was, despite a strained quadriceps muscle that he said he could not feel amid the painkiller that is victory.
"I'm not feeling it right now," he said of his injury. "I'm sure I will in a few minutes."
The Padres entered play with a half-game lead in the NL West and a 13-4 record against the Dodgers this season.
The game did not go according to form, not when you consider Padres starter Jake Peavy was the ace of the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic and the Dodgers' Brad Penny was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star game.
Penny got the first two batters, but needed nine pitches to do so. He went to three balls on Adrian Gonzalez, who singled. He went to three balls on Mike Piazza, who doubled home Gonzalez. He walked Russell Branyan.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt rushed to the mound, presumably to tell Penny to throw strikes. So Mike Cameron creamed Penny's first pitch for a triple that scored Piazza and Branyan. Geoff Blum singled home Cameron, and the Padres led, 4-0.
Penny threw 34 pitches in the inning. The Padres continued to wear down Penny, but they never did nick him for another run. He and Peavy each gave up four runs in five innings and got no decision.