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DODGERS 11, PADRES 10 | Helene Elliott

Dodgers Are Not Ready to Go Quietly

September 19, 2006|Helene Elliott

Two days into their tenancy of second place in the National League West, the Dodgers decided they weren't ready to settle for anything but the penthouse.

Nomar Garciaparra's two-run home run in the 10th inning capped a remarkable comeback and gave the Dodgers an 11-10 victory over the San Diego Padres on Monday, enabling them to leapfrog past the Padres and regain a lead of half a game atop the division. In all but the date it had the marks of a playoff game, and the roar generated at Dodger Stadium as Garciaparra touched the plate awakened echoes of triumphs long past.

Garciaparra, hobbled by a muscle pull, emerged from the dugout for a curtain call, saluting the fans whose energy had fueled the Dodgers' unlikely journey.

Home runs by Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson had electrified the crowd and tied the score, 9-9, in the ninth inning, but the Padres got to Aaron Sele for a run in the 10th. Not to worry. Kenny Lofton walked and Garciaparra followed with a towering drive into the left-field seats, allowing the Dodgers to salvage a split from the four-game series and sending the fans happily into the night.

"You talk about timely hitting. That's pretty timely," Drew said. "I don't think I've ever seen anything like that....In the middle of a pennant chase, a crucial situation in a big game, a chance to be in first place or go 1 1/2 down, that's as big as it gets."

Dodgers Manager Grady Little had said before the game that his team had to compile a 9-4 record in its last 13 games to get the 87 victories he believes will be necessary to get into the playoffs.

Is that all?

"That's a lot of winning," Little acknowledged.

"We want to get into postseason play, that's our No. 1 objective. Right now, we're in good position to do that. We want to be playing after Oct. 1.

"When we left spring training, we wanted to be in the position with a chance to win, which is where we are right now. And the days are growing shorter."

The Dodgers will complete their final homestand with three games against Pittsburgh and three against Arizona. After a day off, they'll end the season with three games at Colorado and three at Arizona. The Dodgers are 5-2 against the Pirates, 8-7 against the Diamondbacks and 12-4 against the Rockies.

The Padres, who have no more open days on their schedule, return home for three games against Arizona and three against Pittsburgh before traveling to St. Louis for three games and to Arizona for four.

They're 5-7 against the Diamondbacks, 2-1 against the Pirates and 2-1 against the Cardinals.

The Dodgers appear to have an easier schedule than the Padres, but nothing has been easy for this team this season. It's remarkable that they've lasted this long despite a lack of power, a starting rotation that has been far from stable, and a shortage of the self-assurance that a successful team exudes.

"We've been through periods of time this year when we had it and periods didn't have it," Little said. "We've got to get that swagger back.

"We haven't had a lot of swagger any time we've played San Diego this year. We need to have swagger against whoever we play from here on."

If not swagger, at least some consistency and confidence.

"I like our team," Little said. "I like our team."

He said it twice, though it wasn't clear if he was trying to persuade himself or his listeners that the Dodgers are playoff-worthy.

They showed many of the contradictions Monday that have marked their season.

Brad Penny, erratic since he won eight of nine decisions from mid-May through early July, was tattooed for four runs in the first inning but gave up only three hits over the next four innings and struck out six.

The Dodgers chipped away for single runs in the first and second innings and scored twice in the third to pull even. Their bullpen betrayed them in the Padres' two-run eighth, a familiar sight.

But Kent, Drew, Martin and Anderson -- the latter with his fifth hit of the game -- pulled off a feat that hadn't been accomplished in the major leagues since 1964.

In a series book-ended by Greg Maddux's seven-inning, one-hit shutout effort Friday and Monday's rare display of power by the Dodgers, there were opportunities for each team to discover something about itself for future reference.

Padres Manager Bruce Bochy said he always welcomes the opportunity to pick up something about an opposing pitcher or hitter, but he said the series didn't teach him anything new. Rather, it affirmed what he knew about his team's boundless resilience and heart.

"We've been through a lot this season," he said.

Dodgers infielder Julio Lugo said it can only help to have experienced a series in which every pitch and every play was so crucial.

"You can learn from this series because this is how the playoffs are going to be," he said. "These games are going to teach us how to play the next games."

What he learned, he said, "is that good teams know how to come back in tough situations."

Little said the Dodgers "watch and we learned everyday," though he declined to specify in what areas he'd been most enlightened. "I don't think I could do that," he said. "It might apply more pressure in the places where it might be applied."

The Padres applied the heat in this series, and the Dodgers did their best to avoid getting singed.

Because after all, you can't start swaggering until you stop staggering.

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