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12/27/10 10:00 AM EST

Padres defy the odds during memorable season

SAN DIEGO -- If you're looking for the ultimate testimony on what kind of season 2010 was for the Padres, consider the words of manager Bud Black after the final game of the regular season.

"I've been in this game for 32 seasons, and this was one of the most rewarding," Black said. "It was a great year."

The Padres, pegged by many to finish last in the National League West, led the division for nearly the entire season before fading late and being passed in September by the eventual World Series winning Giants.

San Diego, which started the season with the second-lowest payroll in the Majors, led the division for much of the summer until staggering down the stretch. The Padres led the NL West by 6 1/2 games on Aug. 25.

The Padres dropped 10 consecutive games from late August into early September and the Giants passed them, taking a three-game lead into the final weekend. The Padres won the first two games of their final regular-season series against the Giants before falling on the final day of the season and missing the playoffs.

"We've got a lot a heart, never say no," said Padres reliever Heath Bell, who saved 47 games. "People can push us down, but we did a bunch of things that nobody thought we could do.

"Even though we didn't get to our main goal, we proved some people wrong and we learned what a lot of our young guys are made of, and they're made of winners. We've got a lot of winners in this clubhouse. We just didn't come out on top."

Year in Review
Looking back at 2010
MLB Year in Review
Game prospering
Final standings
Statistical leaders

The Padres reached the 90-win mark for the fourth time in the history of the franchise. The 90 victories also represented a 15-game improvement from the 2009 season.

"It's been great to watch these guys play, even going back to Spring Training. The energy level was so high," said Black, who was named the NL Manager of the Year. "I don't like to make predictions, but I felt good about our team.

Granted, that team will look quite a bit different in 2011, as players like pitcher Jon Garland and catcher Yorvit Torrealba have found new teams. The influx of new players for 2011 will be significant.

General manager Jed Hoyer traded three-time All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox in December for four players once it became apparent the Padres wouldn't be able to afford Gonzalez once he became a free agent after the season.

The roster overhaul continued with trades that landed shortstop Jason Bartlett from the Rays, center fielder Cameron Maybin from the Marlins as well as the signing of free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson to a two-year contract. Hoyer also signed pitchers Aaron Harang and Dustin Moseley to shore-up the rotation.

5. So about that home opener ...

The Padres opened the 2010 season on the road, going 2-4 against Arizona and Colorado. But they certainly opened the home portion of their schedule in style against the Braves, winning, 17-2, thanks in large part to a 10-run fourth inning. The 17 runs were a record for PETCO Park, which opened in 2004. Kyle Blanks and Will Venable each hit home runs as the Padres won big before a sold-out crowd of 42,843.

4. Follow the revolving roster Hoyer certainly isn't afraid of making a big trade as he acquired Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick before the trade deadline and then dealt Gonzalez to Boston in December for four players, including the Red Sox top prospect at the time pitcher, Casey Kelly. Hoyer continued his roster rebuilding with the additions of Maybin and Bartlett by trades ensuring the 2011 Padres will look different than the 2010 edition.

3. Two wins in October and oh-so-close to playoffs

The Padres went into their final regular-season series of the season against the Giants in second place in the NL West and trailing San Francisco by three games. Needing three victories at AT&T Park to force at least a tiebreaker, the Padres won the first two games, getting three home runs Oct. 1 in a 6-4 win and a strong start from pitcher Tim Stauffer on Oct. 2 in a 4-2 victory. A 3-0 loss on Oct. 3, however, ended the Padres' season.

2. Gregerson, Adams and Bell: A lockdown bullpen

Looking for one reason why the Padres were the darlings of baseball in 2010? Look no further than their bullpen, which produced the best bullpen ERA (2.79) in baseball and the lowest opponents' batting average (.220) among other notable firsts. Closer Heath Bell had a career-high 47 saves, the second-most in franchise history. Relievers Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams were a big reason why the Padres set the Major League holds record (111).

1. Latos comes close to first franchise no-hitter

The Padres have never had a no-hitter in their history, but came awfully close on May 13 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Mat Latos, in his 17th Major League start, took a perfect game into the sixth inning against the Giants before allowing an infield single to Eli Whiteside, a ball Latos nearly caught. That was the only hit Latos allowed in a 106-pitch shutout. He also knocked in the only run of the game with an RBI single.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.