Padres stifle Dodgers
Big Last Push: The Padres showed they have a little kick left in their step as they won three of four games from the Dodgers, the last of which came in a 3-0 victory Thursday. Adam Eaton pitched brilliantly for seven innings, allowing just five hits, and Akinori Otsuka and Trevor Hoffman pitched a scoreless inning apiece to close out the game. Otsuka was especially impressive in the eighth inning as he retired all three batters he faced while throwing only seven pitches -- all strikes. San Diego, ravaged by injuries lately, remains three games out in the wild-card standings, but the Padres do stay ahead of Florida in the five-team pack of wild-card contenders; that's one less team they have to jump over, for now.
Big Thumper: Brian Giles provided all the offense the Padres needed Thursday as he hit a solo homer in the first inning to account for the game's first run. Giles hit a double in his next at-bat and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Ramon Hernandez.
Big Question: The Dodgers' lead in the NL West dropped to 2½ games over the Giants -- three games in the loss column, but they must play three more games against the Padres and six against San Francisco. Can L.A. defend its lead in head-to-head matchups down the stretch? Time will tell.
Big Absences: The Padres keep losing players to injury. They learned that standout rookie shortstop Khalil Greene will likely miss the rest of the regular season because of a broken bone in his throwing hand, and they are without setup man Scott Linebrink at least into this weekend's games. And late in Wednesday's game, the Padres lost third baseman Sean Burroughs, who sprained a knee sliding. Burroughs did not play Thursday. Also on Thursday, the Padres attempted to shore up their hole at shortstop by acquiring Alex Gonzalez from the Expos for a player to be named or cash.
Big Lima: Jose Lima's career has swerved through success and into failure and back again, a wild and crazy ride. A few weeks ago, a visitor to the Dodgers' clubhouse offered a simple greeting -- "How's it going?" -- and Lima stopped and grinned, and talked about how much he was enjoying baseball now. There are no more worries, only fun, and he is pitching well. Lima (13-5) threw 6 2/3 solid innings Tuesday, walking none and striking out three, as the Dodgers beat the Padres, 6-3.
Big Turning Point: Nevin's 0-fer was unusual, considering how he has hit lately. After the Padres lost another frustrating home game on Aug. 8, San Diego GM Kevin Towers confronted Phil Nevin and told him to stop complaining about the spacious dimensions of Petco Park and start being a leader. Nevin has been a powerhouse since then. In the first 33 games after the argument with Towers, Nevin drove in 36 runs, with 10 homers and a .323 batting average.
Big Boomer: There is a simple reason why managers and pitching coaches have put up with David Wells' loud music and scant attention to rules and regulations and conditioning over the course of his career -- the man thrives under pressure. Give him a big moment, and most of the time he'll give you a big game. Throwing the first game of the series against the Dodgers on Monday, Wells struck out nine, walked none and allowed three earned runs in six innings, arguing along with the way with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale over the interpretation of the strike zone. The Dodgers' Odalis Perez didn't last long, surrendering six runs in four innings.
Big Payoff: Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta made a calculated gamble in trading top setup man Guillermo Mota before the trade deadline, and so far, his decision has been vindicated. Darren Dreifort blew out a knee after he was supposed to take over for Mota, but hard-throwing Yhency Brazoban has been terrific in relief, striking out 23 and walking only five in 23 innings. Going into the series, left-handed batters had an OPS of only .396 against Brazoban, who might be this year's version of K-Rod if the Dodgers advance in the postseason. The Dodgers were 60-42 at the trade deadline, and they're 24-18 since.
Big Candidate: Barry Bonds would be the NL MVP for this writer, and right now, a second-place vote would go to Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is hitting .336 with 45 homers and 107 RBI. Beltre did not play Wednesday, sitting out with a sore foot and back.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is on the New York Times Best-Seller List and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.
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