Padres falter late in loss to Dodgers
LeBlanc pitches six strong innings but stuck with no-decision
SAN DIEGO -- It was bad enough, Heath Bell said Tuesday, that he was saddled with a blown save against the Dodgers, when the usually reliable Padres reliever allowed two runs in the eighth inning, an inning he typically owns.
But what caught Bell off-guard, what made his night especially miserable, was when he was informed that the Padres' 6-2 loss to Los Angeles meant the Padres were officially eliminated from postseason consideration.
"I feel a little worse right now," Bell said.
But Bell, amicable and occasionally bubbly, didn't pout or mope too long after loss No. 89, and not just because the Padres (56-89), as some can argue, were eliminated from being legitimate playoff contenders long before Tuesday.
Instead, Bell took a glass-half-full look at things and even went as far to offer a daring prediction of sorts for a team that was easily one of baseball's biggest disappointments.
"Personally, next year, we'll come out like gangbusters," Bell said. "I don't want to say it's been a bad year, even though it has. It has showed that we have a lot of young talent here."
And it's that talent that has been and will continue to be on display during these final weeks of the regular season, talent like rookie pitcher Wade LeBlanc, who didn't really look like a greenhorn on Tuesday.
LeBlanc, who lost to the Dodgers six days ago in his Major League debut, a start that he said "went too quickly," certainly had his pace down, as well as his command, for his six innings Tuesday against Los Angeles.
LeBlanc struck out Manny Ramirez in the first inning with a nasty 71-mph changeup -- easily his best pitch and one that wasn't always working for him six days ago.
"He was in the strike zone more consistently," Padres manager Bud Black said. " ... His change was better, he kept the ball down."
But it wasn't like the left-hander, who won 11 games with Triple-A Portland this season, leaned completely on that pitch, considered by scouts to be a plus-pitch. He mixed in his curveball and, maybe more important, commanded his fastball.
"I was able to command my two-seamer," LeBlanc said of his fastball. "There were some lucky breaks in there and the defense did a good job."
LeBlanc allowed three hits over the first five innings but left a curveball over the outside part of the plate on the first pitch he threw in the sixth inning that Ramirez quickly turned on, as he sent it on a line over the fence in left field.
"When a ball is hit that hard, you don't have time to get back there," said San Diego left fielder Chase Headley, who hardly had time to turn and look at the ball as it sailed over his head. "That's why he is such a special hitter."
LeBlanc would allow a single to Nomar Garciaparra but recovered to get out of the sixth. Mike Adams, the designated seventh-inning man out of the bullpen, did his job, working a scoreless seventh inning with two strikeouts before handing the ball to Bell.
In that fitful eighth inning, which would soon enough be replaced by an even more fitful ninth inning for the Padres, Bell allowed a leadoff double to Russell Martin followed by Andre Ethier's opposite-field triple into the left-field corner that snuck by Headley, who tried to trap the ball against the wall in foul territory.
"I definitely want to knock that down. By the time I got over there, I tried to play it safe and slide and knock it down," Headley said. "If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have been less aggressive."
Ramirez then put the Dodgers on top with a long sacrifice fly to center field, which gave Ethier plenty of time to jog home with the go-ahead run.
"Heath's been throwing the ball well," Black said. "It just got away from us there in the last two innings."
The Dodgers (74-71) tacked on three runs in the ninth inning off relievers Clay Hensley and Justin Hampson before rookie Dirk Hayhurst got the final out of the inning, but not after Los Angeles had widened its lead.
By then, the San Francisco Giants had defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, giving the Dodgers a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League West while the Padres were left to ponder another tough loss in a season filled with them.
"It does [stink]," Bell said. "We are dead last and we have no chance [for the playoffs]."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.