Matt Kemp's Triple Crown hopes take hit in Dodgers' loss

SAN DIEGO -- Matt Kemp had a feeling that this was not going to be his night. And he was right.

Kemp's quest for the NL Triple Crown took a step backward as he dropped further behind in the batting race in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 3-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.

Kemp finished 1 for 4 against Aaron Harang (14-7) and Heath Bell as his batting average fell to .325, six points behind Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.

Of the three Triple Crown categories, Kemp leads in RBIs (119) and is tied for first in home runs (37) with St. Louis' Albert Pujols. But after starting the night only three points behind Braun and New York's Jose Reyes, time is running out for Kemp to make up ground.

Kemp singled in his first at-bat to extend his hitting streak to eight games. He struck out looking in his second at-bat and flied out deep to center field in his third. Bell, who pitched the ninth inning, retired Kemp on a hard-hit, double-play grounder to end the game.

"The first two at-bats, I had a couple of really good swings, but fouled the pitches off," he said. "I knew taking BP (batting practice) that they weren't going anywhere. In this park, you really have to go against the wind and some heavy air out there."

With just four games remaining, Kemp is trying to become the majors' first player to achieve the Triple Crown since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and the first in the National League since Ducky Medwick of St. Louis in 1937.

Kemp also is trying to become the fifth player in major league history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season.

Braun raised his average two points to .331, while Reyes played in one of the two games of the Mets' doubleheader and lifted his average one point to .330.

"He isn't going to hit a home run every night," Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said. "People expect it to happen every night, but he is not a machine."

Harang (14-7) retired 21 of his final 22 batters and allowed just one runner to reach second base as he allowed just three hits in eight innings. He struck out five and walked none in possibly his final game with the Padres.

The right-hander, a San Diego native, signed a one-year contract in the offseason and has a mutual $5 million option with the club for the 2012 season.

"It feels good," Harang said. "I went out there and threw strikes early in the count. It felt like my mechanics were right on. It felt like everything was working."

Padres manager Bud Black struggled with the decision about whether to allow Harang to complete the shutout.

"I really battled with this," Black said. "A hometown guy, finishing his season with a complete-game, three-hit shutout looking him right in the face. There was a part of me, being in those shoes, that knows how it feels. That was really one of the toughest calls of the year for me."

Harang smiled when asked about the discussion in the dugout between him and Black.

"We talked about it the whole inning we were hitting," Harang said. "We were going back and forth. He understood I wanted to go back out."

But Black decided to go with Bell, who picked up his 42nd save in 47 chances, completing a four-hitter for the Padres' ninth shutout of the season.

Los Angeles rookies Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon extended their career-high hitting streaks to 12 and 11 games, respectively.

Rookie shortstop Andy Parrino made two consecutive stellar defensive plays behind Harang in the seventh inning, robbing the Dodgers of hits.

Chad Billingsley (11-11) allowed three runs and four hits in six innings for Los Angeles. The right-hander struck out four and walked three.

Will Venable put the Padres ahead with a two-out RBI single in the fifth inning. Orlando Hudson followed with another run-scoring single and San Diego also scored on catcher Tim Federowicz's error on an errant throw.

Game notes
The Dodgers lost for just the ninth time in 30 games. ... The Padres raised their record against Los Angeles to 5-12. ... Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw (20-5, 2.27 ERA) will make his final start of the season Sunday. LHP Corey Luebke (6-9, 3.23) will start for San Diego in the series finale.