LOS ANGELES -- So how do you explain a game in which the Padres struck out 18 times, made a critical error that led to four unearned runs and allowed nine runs overall -- yet still had a chance to walk away from Dodger Stadium feeling good about themselves on Friday?
San Diego manager Bud Black had a pretty good idea where to start.
"A strange game," Black said.
There's no disputing that, as the Dodgers walked away -- literally -- with a 9-8 victory when Padres relief pitcher Joe Thatcher walked Andre Ethier on four pitches with the bases loaded to force in the winning run, much to the delight of a crowd of 31,601.
The Padres (2-6) looked buried early, falling behind 4-0 and 8-3 before getting back into the game even after former San Diego pitcher Aaron Harang -- whom the Padres beat five days ago -- turned their bats to mush by striking out a club-record nine consecutive batters.
"He came right at us," Padres third baseman Chase Headley said. "He was really good. He had life on his fastball, and it really took off at the end. He pitched with a purpose."
Harang, who struck out a career-high 13 batters in 6 1/3 innings, was relieved in the seventh inning as the Padres started a frantic comeback from five runs down. San Diego scored three times in the seventh inning to make the score 8-6.
"[Harang] went out on the attack in the fourth inning, but with that long layover, the Padres made some adjustments and found some pitches to hit," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Then the ninth inning rolled around.
"The game got crazy," Black said.
Los Angeles reliever Kenley Jansen (2-0) walked Chris Denorfia to start the inning before striking out the next two hitters he faced -- Andy Parrino and Kyle Blanks. That brought up Headley, who was hitless up to that point, with two strikeouts.
But Headley, a switch-hitter who was hitting left-handed, got deep into a Jansen fastball, sending it over the wall in right field as the Padres' dugout -- mostly quiet for eight innings -- erupted as San Diego tied a game that, only a few innings earlier, looked like it had no chance winning.
"It was a great comeback, with big hits all the way down the lineup," Black said. "Great to see Chase go deep. That was a great swing with a great result."
The feeling of euphoria didn't last long, though.
In the bottom of the inning, Padres reliever Andrew Cashner (0-1) struck out Dee Gordon and retired leadoff hitter Tony Gwynn on a ground ball. But Cashner then walked Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp and James Loney to load the bases.
"I was throwing the ball fine ... and then I just sort of lost it," Cashner said.
Black went to his bullpen for lefty Thatcher to face the left-handed Ethier. Ethier never got a pitch to hit, as Thatcher missed with four consecutive pitches. That forced in the winning run from third base as the Dodgers (7-1) extended their blissful run to start the season.
From Headley's perspective, the game wasn't lost in the ninth inning. It was lost much earlier as, once again, the Padres found themselves buried early -- and not just by what the Dodgers did.
"We've got to put together a complete game," he said. "We're killing ourselves early [in games] by making mistakes. We've got to do things cleaner and better."
In the third inning, with a runner at first base, shortstop Jason Bartlett booted a routine grounder that could have been a double-play ball. With the inning extended, the Dodgers scored four runs off starter Clayton Richard, two on a ball that never left the infield.
Mark Ellis hit a ground ball slightly to the right of Orlando Hudson at second base. Hudson's throw to first baseman Yonder Alonso was late as one run scored. But A.J. Ellis, who was on second base when the play started, just kept running and beat Alonso's relay throw home.
"He gambled, and it didn't work out," Black said.
Kemp later hit a two-run home run off Richard in the fourth inning, his third home run of the season, all of which have come against the Padres. Richard, who allowed no earned runs against the Dodgers five days ago, surrendered eight runs (four earned) on six hits in six innings.
A lot can change in five days. The Dodgers are soaring while the Padres are sinking, now five games back in the National League West. No other team in the Major Leagues is as far out of first place as the Padres.
Bartlett's error gave the Padres a Major League-leading 11 errors. The 18 strikeouts gave San Diego 82 for the season, also tops in the Major Leagues. When Headley takes about playing a complete game, this is what he means.
"We're going to give ourselves a chance to win," said Padres left fielder Will Venable, who hit a home run off Harang in the fourth inning.
"We have to do the little things better to not put ourselves in a hole."