- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- There was a story behind what took place at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night -- a long story that has taken almost a year to play out.
While Vicente Padilla was flirting with a no-hitter, ultimately settling for a two-hit shutout and carrying the Dodgers to their second desperately needed victory in a row over the San Diego Padres 9-0 before 48,988, the veteran right-hander was also affording himself another dose of vindication less than 12 months after his unconditional release by the Texas Rangers was publicly cheered by at least a couple of his teammates there.
Since being picked up by the Dodgers just two days after he hit the open market last August, Padilla has mostly been a model citizen. There was an incident in Denver earlier this year involving accusations by a female companion of Padilla's, but police found no evidence to support the charges. Other than that, there has been no sign of controversy, no indication of whatever it was that had so sullied Padilla's reputation before he came to town.
Perhaps more than anyone could have envisioned, there has been superb pitching. A strong case could be made that if you take the 2010 season as a whole, Padilla has been the Dodgers' most dominating starter, even if he hasn't been their best starter. That has been especially true since he returned in mid-June from a two-month stint on the disabled list with a nerve problem at the top of his right forearm.
In nine subsequent starts, Padilla has a 1.80 ERA, is barely averaging a hit every two innings and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4-1.
And really, it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise. The decision not only to pluck Padilla off the scrap heap a year ago but to sign him over the winter to a one-year, $5.025 million contract with a lot more money in incentives, which Padilla probably won't reach now because of the time he missed, had a lot more to do with his track record than his reputation.
Padilla is, after all, a 12-year major league veteran with a career mark of 103-88, a guy who has reached double figures in wins five different times in his career. The fact he probably won't get there this year (he is 5-3) has more to do with an injury, bad luck and bad run support than anything else.
It isn't clear what the Dodgers will do regarding Padilla this winter, but given that Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent who might choose to return to Japan and Ted Lilly is a free agent who might choose to go elsewhere, the club might be well served to hold onto him. With whatever happened in Texas now buried in his distant past, Padilla might command more than a one-year deal this winter, but the Dodgers will need somebody to put in their rotation with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley next year. Holding onto Padilla probably will be easier and less costly than retaining either Kuroda or Lilly.
At any rate, Padilla showed against the Padres what he is capable of, and he couldn't have picked a more important game in which to do it. Through six innings, he had retired 18 of 20 batters, issuing one walk that was intentional and one that wasn't. He lost his no-hit bid when he gave up back-to-back, one-out singles to Ryan Ludwick and Chase Headley in the seventh, but Yorvit Torrealba ended that mini-threat by grounding into a double play. Padilla went right back to work, retiring the final six batters of the game in order.
In the meantime, the Dodgers (56-52) exploded on Padres reliever Edward Mujica for five runs in the bottom of the eighth, turning a semi-blowout into a full-blown one. When Padilla had taken care of business in the ninth, getting Adrian Gonzalez to hit the ball directly to a Dodgers infielder in an exaggerated shift for the fourth time in four at-bats to end the game, he had pitched the fourth-place Dodgers to within seven games of the division-leading Padres in the National League West.
Padilla needed 105 pitches to record his fourth career shutout.
"I was very happy because I didn't throw many pitches," Padilla said, with Kenji Nimura translating. "The last few games, I threw a lot of pitches. But tonight, I threw a lot of strikes, and I was able to minimize by pitch count."
Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier, who entered the day hitting .148 since the All-Star break, broke out in a way the club desperately needed him to. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run homer in the eighth inning to cap off the Dodgers' biggest offensive output since July 9, when they also scored nine runs in a win over the Chicago Cubs. Of Ethier's other two at-bats, one was a productive out, a ground ball to the right side that advanced Ryan Theriot from second to third with one out.
Newly acquired second baseman Theriot was the defensive star of the game, making one highlight-reel play to preserve Padilla's no-hitter and another one after the no-hitter had been lost. First, with one out and Ludwick on first after drawing a leadoff walk in the top of the second, Theriot scrambled as far as he could to his left before diving and smothering a grounder hit by Torrealba. He then threw Torrealba out from his knees, robbing him of a hit and probably taking away a first-and-third, one-out situation. With one out in the eighth, Theriot sprinted into short center field to snare a looping line drive hit by Chris Denorfia.
Quote of the Day
"If it's something where you know it's not going to lead to further injury, as long as you can do what you normally do just by enduring discomfort, that's one thing. But if it changes how you do something, that is a concern for me because that can cause longer-term problems. There is really no game or season that is worth jeopardizing a guy's career." -- Torre on the initial decisions by Rafael Furcal on Monday night and Russell Martin on Tuesday night to remain in those games after suffering injuries that eventually resulted in their being removed from those games.
Dodgers right-hander Billingsley (9-5, 3.78) has pitched 21 2/3 scoreless innings over his past three starts, including a five-hit shutout of the San Francisco Giants on July 21. That is the longest current shutout streak in the majors. Right-hander Kevin Correia (7-7, 5.06) has made two starts against the Dodgers this season, six days apart in May, and lost both of them, giving up a total of eight runs on 12 hits over 11 1/3 innings.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.