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They succeed in first

Dodgers score six runs in the first inning and cruise to a 10-1 victory over the Padres. They could clinch a tie for the West title tonight.

September 24, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Suspense? What suspense?

By the end of the first inning, Manny Ramirez had hit a two-run double, Nomar Garciaparra a three-run home run and the Dodgers were ahead of the San Diego Padres by six runs.

By the end of the second, news of second-place Arizona's demise in St. Louis was reported on the video scoreboard to the paid crowd of 48,905 fans who packed Dodger Stadium.

And by the end of Tuesday night, the first-place Dodgers had sealed a 10-1 victory over the last-place Padres, extending their lead in the NL West to three games on a day that started with the threat of that margin being reduced to one. The magic number for them to win the division was cut to three, leaving open the possibility that they could secure their place in the postseason in their final home game of the season Thursday.

"As long as we win, we're going to be where we want to be," Garciaparra said. "They could watch our scoreboard instead of us watching theirs."

Removing whatever tension that existed with that six-run first inning was crucial for starting pitcher Chad Billingsley (16-10), who held the Padres to a run over six innings to improve his team-leading win total.

"Coming out and scoring six runs allowed me to relax a little more and work on things," Billingsley said.

That was particularly important because this might've been Billingsley's last start before the playoffs. Billingsley is scheduled to start the Dodgers' regular-season finale game in San Francisco on Sunday but could be skipped if the Dodgers have clinched the division title by then.

Billingsley labored again -- he threw 104 pitches and gave up nine hits -- but he said he was encouraged by the improved command of his fastball.

"I felt a lot more confident with my fastball," he said. "That was one thing I worked on between starts, getting my rhythm back. I obviously want to get that back. Without that, it's hard to pitch."

The open date on the Dodgers' schedule Monday had the effect that Manager Joe Torre and his players predicted. After their cross-country voyage from Pittsburgh last week, the Dodgers lost two of three games at home to the San Francisco Giants.

"Physically, we needed it," Torre said.

And in case a day of doing nothing wasn't enough of a remedy for an offense that scored a total of one run in the two losses to San Francisco, Torre shook up the lineup, penciling Matt Kemp into the leadoff spot for the first time in more than three weeks. Russell Martin hit second and Andre Ethier fourth, sandwiching Ramirez.

"We just wanted to do something a little different," Torre said.

For Padres starter Wade LeBlanc, it was more of the same.

LeBlanc made his major league debut here Sept. 3 and had a nightmare, as he was pounded for eight runs and five hits over four brutal innings.

Tuesday night was even worse.

Kemp drew a leadoff walk, becoming the first of the eight consecutive Dodgers to reach base. LeBlanc (1-2) lasted 2 2/3 innings and was charged with seven runs and seven hits. He walked four.

Billingsley had a squeeze bunt and a run-scoring single, and rookie Blake DeWitt launched a three-run home run in the fifth.

Torre called on his team to maintain the sense of urgency it displayed on this night.

"You want to win the next three games and put this thing to sleep," he said.

--

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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