Padres blank Dodgers to pad NL West lead
Denorfia's inside-the-parker punctuates solid pitching
LOS ANGELES -- It's still August, and early August at that, which is why Kevin Correia was, understandably, a little reluctant on Thursday to declare the Padres' 5-0 victory over the Dodgers as the biggest victory of the season.
But he went ahead and did so anyway.
"So far this year, that was our most important game," Correia said. "When you're playing a four-game series with a team behind you ... looking to gain ground, you know you have to win a series or get a split.
"This is as big a game as you can have in August."
Big, though not simply because Correia and four relievers combined for the Padres' 13th shutout of the season or that they managed to defeat a pitcher, Chad Billingsley, who has 10 victories over San Diego and has essentially owned them in his career.
No, this victory was considered important because it allowed the first-place Padres a split of their four-game series against the Dodgers (56-53), a win that maybe felt like no other considering San Diego scored a combined one run in its previous two losses.
The Padres are two games ahead of the second-place Giants in the National League West as they head to Arizona for three games beginning Friday.
"We played a solid, all-around game," said San Diego manager Bud Black, refusing, as usual, to place any more importance on one game than another.
Correia (8-7) held the Dodgers to four hits over 5 2/3 innings before leaving in favor of left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher, who got James Loney to fly out to center field to end the sixth inning with two runners on base.
Correia walked one batter and got nine groundouts, the result of, he said, not really having much in the way of a strikeout pitch, a secondary pitch. Instead, he was able to bury his fastball down in the strike zone, something that's eluded him on occasion this season.
"Tonight was a game where his fastball was down in the zone ... that was the best I have seen all year," Black said. "We've seen the high fastball and him spinning off [in his delivery]. We didn't see that tonight."
Rookie Ernesto Frieri got three outs the hard way in the seventh inning, after he allowed singles to Matt Kemp and Casey Blake to start the inning. But Frieri struck out Jamey Carroll and got A.J. Ellis to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Black, like he was in going to get Correia in the sixth inning, was proactive again in the eighth inning, replacing Luke Gregerson with closer Heath Bell with two outs but only after Gregerson allowed two hits.
The moves all paid off: Thatcher and then Bell, as the bullpen, the strength of the team this season, continued to shine.
"I have high expectations of our players and I think we have some talent in the bullpen," Black said. "Each and every night, they do their job. There is a poise to them and a confidence that's fun to watch from my perspective."
When Bell got Loney to ground out to end the eighth, the Padres were leading, 3-0, but that lead increased in the top of the ninth inning when Chris Denorfia, with one runner on, chopped a ball over the head of Blake at third base.
And he just kept on running.
New Dodgers left fielder Scott Podsednik had trouble trying to corral the ball while avoiding the rolled-up tarp located down the third-base line and in foul territory. Seeing the ball squirt past Podsednik, Denorfia kept running, finally scoring on an improbable, two-run, inside-the-park home run.
"I saw it go over Blake's head and I put my head down and started running," said Tony Gwynn, who was on first base. "When I got to third, I started to slow down. But Hoffy [third base coach Glenn Hoffman] kept waving me. I still don't know what happened."
The Padres scored three runs in the fourth inning against Billingsley, who entered the game with a 10-4 record and a 2.36 ERA in 16 career starts against San Diego.
Chase Headley and Yorvit Torrealba had consecutive RBI singles to center field in the inning and Gwynn followed later with a sacrifice fly for a run. Those three runs broke a vexing spell of 20 innings without a run in the series.
"It's disappointing," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "It comes down to, we'll get what we earn."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.