- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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SAN DIEGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers finally caught a break on Monday night when San Diego Padres ace Mat Latos had to be scratched from his scheduled start against them because of a stomach illness. But as usually happens these days when opportunity comes knocking, the Dodgers simply turned out the lights and pretended they weren't home.
The result was an all-too-familiar, 4-2 loss to the Padres before 23,574 at Petco Park, a game in which the Dodgers went their standard 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and were once again left to wonder what if?
"A base hit could have made a difference," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said, and although he was speaking about this game in particular, it is worth noting that a few base hits here or there also could have made a difference in this ever-deteriorating season.
But as usual, the Dodgers simply couldn't get it done in key situations, which is why they became the perfect cure for the Padres' 10-game losing streak and kept them alone atop the National League West for at least one more day.
The Dodgers stranded nine baserunners, five of them in scoring position.
Facing a demoralized team and an emergency starter who hadn't started a game since May 9 -- that would be right-hander Tim Stauffer -- the Dodgers simply couldn't take advantage, and even on the two occasions when they managed to scratch out a run, the Padres quickly answered.
With two outs in the fourth, the slumping Andre Ethier lined a single up the gap in left-center, bringing James Loney home from second to tie the score at 1-1. But in the bottom of the inning, Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla (6-5) got into a jam and gave up two runs, putting the Padres back in front 3-1.
With one out in the seventh, Scott Podsednik hit his first home run since being traded to the Dodgers (69-69) on July 28, pulling the Dodgers to within 3-2, and things got even more interesting when Rafael Furcal followed with a base hit and stole second after Loney flied out. But after Casey Blake came back from a 1-and-2 count to work Padres reliever Mike Adams for a walk, Ethier struck out to end the inning.
The Padres got that run back, too, scoring against Jonathan Broxton in the bottom half.
Other than that, the Dodgers' biggest, best threat came in the sixth, when Blake and Ethier began the inning with back-to-back singles, putting runners on first and second. That brought up the ever-predictable Matt Kemp, who ever-predictably struck out, which is exactly what he has now done 32 times in 82 at-bats this season with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, an average of once every 2.6 at-bats in such situations. His batting average in those 82 at-bats is .183.
Ryan Theriot then advanced the runners with a grounder to the right side, but Brad Ausmus grounded back to the mound. Ausmus, by the way, is now 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position in his final season before retiring.
For the season, the fourth-place Dodgers are now hitting a pedestrian .263 with runners in scoring position, a major reason why they now find themselves nine games behind the Padres in the division standings. That glaring lack of opportunism is indicative of a team that has failed repeatedly to rise to whatever occasion has presented itself, whether it be a prime scoring chance within a game or a key series on the schedule that provides a chance to make a big jump in the standings.
And so, here the Dodgers are, 24 games from a bitter end and a long winter to wonder what would have happened if only they could have answered the door on those occasions when opportunity came knocking.
"We let some opportunities get away," Torre said. "There isn't much I can add to that. We got nine hits, but we had some situations in which we didn't deliver. That's about it."
In more ways than one, apparently.
By the numbers
117 -- days since the Dodgers' record was last at an even .500 until Monday night's loss to the Padres dropped the Dodgers to 69-69 for the season. The Dodgers hadn't been at the break-even mark since they were 17-17 on May 12 following a three-game sweep at Arizona in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and a perfect, six-game trip that also included a sweep of the Padres at Petco. The Dodgers' high-water mark came on June 9, when they were 12 games above .500 (36-24) following a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers last finished a season with a losing record in 2005, when they went 71-91.
With Broxton continuing to struggle, Torre was looking for a spot earlier in a game to get Broxton in and give him a chance to perhaps get himself right. Well, Torre apparently thought the seventh inning provided him with just such an opportunity, so in came Broxton with the Dodgers trailing 3-2.
But all too predictably, Padres left fielder Aaron Cunningham, who had just entered the game as part of a double switch in the top of the inning, led off with a double into the right-field corner and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by David Eckstein. That gave the Padres a 4-2 lead right after the Dodgers had gotten a solo homer from Podsednik to pull to within a run in the top half of the inning and stranded the tying run on second base.
Broxton's ERA for the second half is now 7.23.
Padilla, who had been awful in his final two starts before going onto the disabled list Aug. 20 because of a bulging disc in his neck, wasn't quite as bad in his return. But he wasn't exactly good, either.
Padilla sailed through the early innings, retiring 10 of the first 12 batters he faced while giving up only an infield single to Ryan Ludwick and a solo homer to Nick Hundley. But with one out in the fourth and the score tied 1-1, Padilla gave up back-to-back singles to Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Tejada, then suddenly lost the strike zone.
He walked Chase Headley on five pitches, two of which were in the dirt. After he fell behind 2-0 to Will Venable, earning a visit from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, he fell behind 3-0, then came back to get Venable to hit what might have been a double-play grounder to first baseman Loney's right. But Padilla was a split second late covering first, allowing Venable to beat the relay by a half-step and Gonzalez to score the go-ahead run.
Hundley then drove in one more run with a chopper that bounced as high as some popups, giving Furcal no chance to get him at first, and the Padres led 3-1.
Padilla got pinch hitter Mike Baxter, making his major league debut, to pop up on the first pitch, then gave way to a pinch hitter himself in the top of the fifth. Padilla went four innings, giving up three earned runs and five hits with five strikeouts.
Over his past three starts, Padilla's ERA has risen almost a full run, from 3.09 to 4.07.
Quote of the Day
"There is an energy. I think we're in a good place mentally when we go out and play. But when we get in a situation with a couple of men on base, there is a sense of 'This is it, this is it.' I can sense it. It doesn't take much to throw you off timing-wise. Once you go outside yourself, it's tough to sort of reel it back in." -- Torre on his team's frustrating inability to come through in clutch situations.
Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (11-9, 3.01) has already pitched a career-high 176 1/3 innings this season, surpassing last year's 171 innings, with probably five starts remaining in the season. He has beaten the Padres in both of his starts against them this season. Padres right-hander Mat Latos (13-5, 2.25), who was supposed to pitch Monday, was instead pushed back to Tuesday, when Kevin Correia had been scheduled to start. Correia is no longer scheduled to start a game in the series.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
9hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com