Luebke wins first as Padres pad West lead
Rookie's six shutout innings, small-ball offense finish sweep
SAN DIEGO -- If you're wondering how far two bunts and a bloop base hit can take you these days, ask the Padres, who certainly have a distinctive, albeit skewed, take on what constitutes an outpouring of offense.
Maybe it's not how far a ball travels but more so where it lands.
The Padres, getting back to a formula that served them well before a recent 10-game skid, parlayed those two bunts and a bloop into a big inning and, when coupled with the effort of rookie pitcher Cory Luebke, were able to defeat the Dodgers, 4-0 at PETCO Park.
The victory not only afforded the Padres (79-59) a three-game sweep of the Dodgers but, more important, gave them a two-game lead over San Francisco in the National League West.
The Padres play host to the Giants for a four-game series beginning Thursday at PETCO Park. They will do so looking and playing more like the team that as recently as Aug. 28 had a six-game advantage over the Giants.
During a 10-game losing streak, the Padres talked about getting their swagger back. They felt, nearly to a man, that taking three games from the Dodgers (69-71) was a good start in that direction.
This victory looked a lot like many of those that preceded the 10-game losing streak that ended on Monday, a victory that was built on strong pitching (their 17th shutout of the season), solid defense and just enough offense to make it all work.
First, there was the pitching.
Luebke (1-0), in his second Major League start, allowed two hits over six shutout innings with one walk and seven strikeouts. His reward, manager Bud Black said, is that he will get at least one more start moving forward.
"He threw a lot of strikes with his fastball and changeup. Both went away from right-handers," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He showed a lot of composure for me. He threw a lot of strikes, which is not easy to do this time of year."
Black credited Luebke, a left-hander, with a good mix of pitches, including command of his fastball to both sides of the plate, a slider buried down and in to right-handed batters and a good changeup, a pitch Luebke is still working to refine.
"My first start, I was just leaving some balls up in the zone," Luebke said. "Tonight, [San Diego catcher] Yorvit [Torrealba] had a good feel for these guys back there, and he was just putting fingers down and I was just trying to execute pitches.
"I was just locating my fastball a little better and getting ahead of guys a little better. Last time I had some deeper counts, and it just went a little better tonight."
Going back to Luebke's first start against the Rockies -- in which he allowed two two-run home runs -- he has now retired 27 of the last 30 Major League hitters he's faced.
"I wasn't too nervous, but the adrenaline got to me a little," said Luebke, who was asked by pitching coach Darren Balsley to take a little more time between pitches with runners on base.
"You want to have a good pace, but not go too quickly," Balsley said. "We talked about taking a step back."
The offense certainly took a step forward -- though not too many -- against Los Angeles pitcher Chad Billingsley (11-9), especially in that pivotal sixth inning when the Padres were able to turn a 1-0 lead into a 4-0 advantage.
The sixth inning saw the Padres score three runs with really only one ball hit hard as the fact that the Dodgers imploded in the inning certainly didn't hurt.
Billingsley allowed a bloop single to Will Venable on a ball that landed in short left field. Everth Cabrera, looking to advance the runner, reached on a bunt single.
With two runners on and no outs, Black recalled Luebke from the on-deck circle for pinch-hitter David Eckstein. Eckstein laid down a soft bunt in front of the plate that catcher Rod Barajas grabbed. But his throw to third base with hopes of getting the forceout was late.
Leadoff hitter Luis Durango then slapped an opposite-field single to left field that scored Venable and Cabrera for a 3-0 lead. Chase Headley reached on a fielder's choice, as first baseman Russ Mitchell's throw to second base hit Durango in the back.
Adrian Gonzalez then drove in a run with a sacrifice fly for a 4-0 lead.
"Nothing was hit ultra-hard, but hit in the right spot," Eckstein said, smiling. "That's one of the things we had been doing. That's how we go about it. We've gotten back to that in these last three games."
Durango, hitting leadoff, had two hits and stole a base. His speed set up the first run of the game in the third inning. With one out, he reached on an infield single, already the ninth of his young career, stole second base and scored on Miguel Tejada's two-out hit.
"If it wasn't something that happens to us all the time, it might have been a little out of the ordinary," Venable said. "But getting baserunners on and executing a bunt or whatever, good things can happen when you're able to do that. We were able to push a couple across playing small ball."