Commentary

So close to perfection

Until he gave up his first hit, Vicente Padilla had no idea he was pitching a no-hitter.

Updated: July 12, 2010, 10:03 PM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla, who turned in his finest performance of the season in a 7-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs before 45,398 on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, said he didn't know he was flirting with a no-hitter until he wasn't flirting with one anymore.

The bid was broken up when Starlin Castro drove a double to the wall in right field leading off the sixth inning.

"I didn't realize it until I gave up a hit," Padilla said, with Kenji Nimura translating. "I looked up at the scoreboard, and only then did I realize it was their first hit."

Apparently, though, Padilla was very aware of the situation when Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd came to the plate in the seventh. With the no-hitter gone, the Dodgers comfortably ahead and Ryan Theriot on second following another leadoff double, Padilla plunked Byrd in the middle of the back with his second pitch. Byrd stood at home plate for a few seconds, staring out at Padilla with a smile that wasn't a happy smile, then walked slowly up the first-base line, staring holes through Padilla all the way there.

Vincent Padilla
AP Photo/Gus RuelasVicente Padilla was told after he gave up a hit that he had been close to pitching a no-hitter, otherwise he had no idea.

Byrd and Padilla were teammates for four years in Philadelphia and later three more years in Texas. And last year, when Padilla was released by the Rangers, Byrd was one of a handful of Texas players who publicly ripped Padilla, saying, in so many words, good riddance.

"It's about time," Byrd told the Dallas Morning News when Padilla was designated for assignment last August. "When a player disrupts a team, eventually there is going to come a time when management has enough. They have seen enough. We are fighting for a playoff spot. The last thing we need in the clubhouse is a distraction like that. There are 25 guys in this clubhouse who are behind management on this. They showed that they are serious. They did their job. That just serves as assurance that they are doing the right thing here."

More on that later.

Padilla (4-2) came back from plunking Byrd to retire the next six batters in a row, then took a seat, having limited the slumping Cubs to two hits over eight shutout innings and helped the Dodgers (49-38) move back into a second-place tie with Colorado in the National League West, two games behind San Diego.

In five starts since returning from the disabled list, where he spent two months with a nerve problem at the top of his right forearm, Padilla has a 2.38 ERA, has allowed just 22 hits in 34 innings and has struck out 31 batters while walking only four. He will make his second-half debut next Sunday, in the finale of a four-game series at St. Louis.

Padilla was to hit second in the bottom of the eighth, the first time his spot in the order came up after he hit Byrd. But with his work clearly done, Garret Anderson was immediately sent to the on-deck circle at the start of the inning to hit for Padilla as Blake DeWitt strode to the plate to lead off.

Cubs reliever Andrew Cashner, a hard-throwing rookie who had just entered the game, promptly hit DeWitt in the right thigh. DeWitt jogged to first without incident, but plate umpire Jerry Layne immediately warned both benches that any further chicanery would result in ejections.

"You know it's always a possibility," DeWitt said of being nailed in that situation. "Sometimes, that's the game, whether somebody gets hit on purpose or not."

And was this one on purpose?

"I know it was," DeWitt said. "But that's just part of it. It's baseball."

Cashner gave the usual, stock answer to reporters after the game.

"It just got away a little bit," he said.

Meanwhile, Padilla pleaded ignorance as to why Byrd reacted the way he did to being hit.

"I played with him three years in Texas," Padilla said. "I don't know why he reacted that way. I also played with him in Philadelphia."

Asked about the comments Byrd made when Padilla left Texas, Padilla pleaded more ignorance.

"I don't really read the papers," he said.

Byrd told reporters it was difficult to believe anything other than that Padilla was throwing at him.

"When a guy is throwing a two-hit shutout with pinpoint control all day long and you get hit with a four-seamer, you have to question that sometimes," Byrd said. "That was why I looked at him and smiled. Whether he did it [intentionally] or not, you have to ask him."

The actual reason some of Padilla's Texas teammates were so happy to see him go has never really come to light publicly. But since signing with the Dodgers within a week of his release by the Rangers, Padilla has, by all accounts, exhibited professional behavior and not caused any problems, either on the field or off it.

Although he did have a brief run-in with law enforcement during the team's visit to Denver in late May, that went away quickly, as a female acquaintance who was visiting Padilla in his hotel room quickly recanted her accusation that he had sexually assaulted her. And now, as his first full season with the club has reached its midpoint, Padilla has become an indispensable member of what has become a fairly solid starting rotation.

Meanwhile, one teammate Byrd doesn't seem to have a problem with is Cashner.

"He is a great teammate," Byrd said. "You got to love him. That rookie throws hard, and he has pinpoint accuracy, too."

Trends

First baseman James Loney gave the Dodgers all the runs they would need with a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw from Cubs ace Carlos Silva in the first inning. It was only the sixth home run of the season for Loney, but he drove in four runs in the game and goes into the break as the Dodgers' runaway RBI leader with 63. He also leads the club with 32 multiple-hit games, four of which have come in the past five games.

Loney's first-inning blast began Silva's misery. Loney's at-bat in the second inning ended it. On a slow roller to the first baseman with the bases loaded, Loney raced up the line as Silva ran to cover. Silva took the flip from Xavier Nady and appeared to touch the bag with his foot just as Loney did the same, and first-base umpire Brian Runge called Loney safe as Padilla crossed the plate to give the Dodgers a 5-0 lead.

It was the second controversial call by Runge that inning -- he had called Padilla safe on a sacrifice attempt when Silva thought he tagged Padilla on the back side as he ran by -- and that was more than enough for Silva, who lit into Runge and almost immediately got the boot.

Loney also drew a walk from Mitch Atkins in the fourth and now has a .361 on-base percentage to go with his .309 batting average.

Lost in the shuffle

On a weekend when both Rafael Furcal and Hong-Chih Kuo were added to the NL All-Star team after other players had to bow out with injuries, the impact of the Dodgers' medical staff -- trainer Stan Conte, assistant Todd Tomczyk, physical therapist Sue Falsone and a host of doctors led by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache -- shouldn't be ignored.

Furcal missed 125 games in 2008 with a back injury that eventually resulted in a major surgical procedure, and although he had a down year offensively last season, the fact he was healthy enough to play in his most games (150) since 2006 was a testament to a medical staff that patiently nursed him back to health and kept him there. And now, despite missing a month with a hamstring injury and an additional week when his father died, Furcal appears to be having a career year. His .333 batting average would be the best in the NL if he had enough plate appearances to qualify -- he is seven one-hundredths of a plate appearance short -- and he has a .383 on-base percentage.

Kuo, meanwhile, is one of the true medical miracles playing in the majors today. He underwent two Tommy John reconstructions on his left elbow before he ever got to the major leagues and an additional procedure on his left shoulder after he got to the big leagues. He has been on the disabled list four times in his five major league seasons, including the 60-day DL twice. And he still undergoes a daily treatment regimen of about six hours just to get himself ready to pitch, which manager Joe Torre and the medical staff still won't allow him to do on consecutive days.

To hear certain members of the Dodgers' front office tell it, Conte and crew are as much All-Stars as any of the four players the team is sending to Anaheim this week.

By the numbers

31--hitless at-bats for left-handed hitters against Kuo this season after Kosuke Fukudome popped up to begin the ninth inning. That ties the major league record for consecutive left-handed hitters retired to start a season, which was set by Mike Matthews of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001. (Source: ESPN Stats & Information).

Minor matters

Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez, who is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain and expected to be activated in time for Thursday night's second-half opener at St. Louis, went hitless in three at-bats for the second consecutive night for high Single-A Inland Empire against Lancaster. Ramirez was the 66ers' designated hitter in both games. He is scheduled to play a third and final game there on Monday night, possibly in left field.

Meanwhile, right-hander James McDonald, who appears to be the favorite to claim the fifth spot in the Dodgers' starting rotation after John Ely was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque on Sunday, had another good start for the Isotopes on Sunday night at Omaha, giving up a run on four hits over 6 1/3 innings. In three starts since returning from the disabled list after missing a month with a hamstring injury, McDonald is 2-0 with a 2.65 ERA and has allowed just 11 hits over 17 innings.

Scene and heard

In a tribute to longtime New York Yankees public-address announcer Bob Sheppard, who died Sunday at age 99, Dodger Stadium PA man Eric Smith announced each batter the first time through each team's lineup by repeating that batter's jersey number both before and after announcing the player's name, which was a Sheppard trademark. For example, Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal was announced by Smith as "No. 15, shortstop Rafael Furcal, No. 15."

Quote of the day

"You definitely miss your teammates. But you don't miss the pain." -- former Dodgers infielder Nomar Garciaparra, who was at the ballpark as part of the ESPN "Baseball Tonight" crew, when asked if he missed being a big league player in his first year of retirement after 14 seasons in the majors.

Looking ahead

The Dodgers will begin the second half with a four-game series at St. Louis starting on Thursday night. Discounting last year's Division Series, when they won the only game played there to complete a three-game sweep, the Dodgers haven't fared well in recent years at Busch Stadium old or new, going 4-17 in regular-season games in the Gateway City beginning in 2004. Lefty Clayton Kershaw (9-4, 2.96) will start for the Dodgers. The Cardinals will counter with either Chris Carpenter (9-3, 3.29) or Adam Wainwright (13-5, 2.11), depending on how each is used in Tuesday night's All-Star Game.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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