No, that’s not somebody’s personalized license plate. Derek Lowe actually recorded his 1,000th career strikeout when he got Mike Cameron looking to start the bottom of the fourth. Since giving up those three straight hits to begin the third, he has given up just one and has now retired 10 of 11 batters. But the Dodgers are doing little to take the pressure off. Doug Brocail relieved David Wells to start the sixth and retired the side on four pitches — the last one a badly place bunt by Lowe that Adrian Gonzalez turned into a 3-6-4 DP to end the inning. Brocail already has thrown nine pitches to ONE BATTER in the seventh. Dodgers 4, Padres 3, top 7

Franken-friar is alive and well, but I’m not so sure about the Dodgers

Franken-friar and regular Friar were dancing up a storm along the first-base line during the last between-innings break, so cancel the missing mascot report. Meanwhile, Derek Lowe apparently isn’t comfortable pitching with anything more than a one-run lead. Dodgers score two in the top of the first, Padres get one back in the bottom half and leave the tying run on third. Dodgers score two in the top of the third — back to back homers by Jeff Kent (it’s about time) and Gonzo — and the Padres come back with two in their half, this time leaving the tying run on second when Lowe, who had missed the strike zone with eight of his previous nine pitches, got Josh Bard to ground back to the mound for an inning-ending DP. Dodgers 4, Padres 3, top 4

I know more about NASCAR than I did an hour ago

Grady, who is a huge fan, was watching today’s race in his office during his pregame media session. I now know what DRAFTING is. I tell you what, for all the elitist snobs who think this a sport for unsophisticated rednecks, there is A LOT of science involved in it. A buddy of mine — and he will recognize himself when he reads this — whenever he sees NASCAR on a television, always stops and starts yelling at the TV, “TURN LEFT! TURN LEFT!” But there is way, way more that goes into this than turning left. Bill Center, another car racin’ fan who covers the Pods for the San Diego Union-Tribune, has it on his press box monitor now. He just informed me that today is the first race where SEVEN pit crew members are allowed over the wall instead of the previous max. of SIX. I asked him how that affects the dynamics of the race, and he laughed and said, “Probably not at all.” But only a true son of the South like myself can appreciate this line by the color commentator that I heard earlier today, which was delivered with a deep Southern drawl: “It’s like a big ol’ rubber bay-und. You just pull ‘er back and let it flyyyyyyyyy.” … Fifty minutes to game time, and STILL no sign of Franken-friar. I’m getting a little concerned.

Today’s lineup: Ethier sits against David Wells

Ethier still has started just once against a lefty this year. Betemit is feeling better, but Grady wants to give him one more day. Grady DID say Betemit will play tomorrow night, for some reason. And Russell Martin is in there even though it’s a day game after a night game.

SS Furcal
CF Pierre
1B Nomar
2B Kent 7 for 15, but 0 HR against Wells
LF Gonzo 12 for 27 with 3 HR and 8 RBI against Wells
C Martin
RF Clark
3B Martinez 3 for 8 with a homer against Wells
RH Lowe

Hong-Chih Kuo makes his first rehab start at Vegas today. Yhency Brazoban, also rehabbing, will come in behind Kuo. … Larry Bigbie, who isn’t playing much because of all the younger OFs at Vegas, went 3 for 3 in last night’s loss to Tacoma and is hitting .436.

One not-so-perfect day in San Diego

It’s cloudy and chilly right now, although it’s expected to warm up considerably by game time. Dodgers aren’t taking batting practice, and the team bus hasn’t even left the hotel yet. Brady Clark, whose early arrivals rival those of Juan Pierre, is already on the field in his BP top and uniform pants running sprints and doing lunges in short left field, parallel to the base line between second and third. The grounds crew is preparing the infield for the game, and the security team as walking into the park along the warning track. … Kudos as always to the staff at the Westin Horton Plaza, who took great care of me this weekend. The hotel itself is a tad antiseptic, but the staff there makes up for that with INCREDIBLE service, which is why I almost always stay there. Those valet guys are amazing. After calling down for my car, I have never once made it from my room to the front door without my car sitting there waiting for me instead of me having to wait for it. … You’ll find this hard to believe, but it’s 2 1/2 hours from game time, and there is NO SIGN of Franken-friar. Hope he hasn’t been kidnapped.

Pods 3, Dodgers 2

Franken-friar will be dancin’ ’til dawn after this one. Hey, I know I have been on this soapbox lately about the Dodgers not working counts, and I know Maddux throws so many strikes that it’s especially tough to work counts against him. But NINETY-FOUR PITCHES? FOR THE WHOLE GAME? BY THREE PITCHERS COMBINED? Please. And besides, when they finally got Maddux out of the game after seven innings, what did the Dodgers do against Scott Linebrink in the eighth? Why, they made three consecutive outs on a TOTAL OF SIX PITCHES, of course. Granted, one of them was that single by Juan Pierre that he foolishly tried to stretch into a double, but the result was the same. I don’t care who the pitcher is, any team that is trailing by one run in the eighth inning lets an opposing pitcher get through that eighth inning on six pitches simply doesn’t have a good collective approach at the plate. I will never forget the press conference at Dodger Stadium back in January of 2006 when the new coaching staff was formally introduced, and I asked new hitting coach Eddie Murray (yes, he HAD to talk to the media that day) the following question: “Your predecessor (Tim Wallach) constantly preached the gospel of working counts and making opposing pitchers work. Do you subscribe to that theory?” Well, first he looked at me like I had suddenly sprouted horns, then he gave me some explanation about how opposing pitchers are always trying to get ahead with the first pitch, so a hitter should always be ready to jump on that pitch. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have Nomar and Kent in the middle of the order, two guys who have made very nice careers for themselves out of almost NEVER working counts. But still, it isn’t always about an individual hitter and an individual at-bat. It’s about the whole lineup making the opposing pitcher throw a lot of pitches early in the game and getting the other team’s middle relievers — normally the weakest pitchers on any staff — into the game by the sixth inning. Again, that approach wouldn’t necessarily work against a strike-throwing machine like Maddux. But as a general rule, it might be something the Dodgers should try once in a while. … Dodgers fall to 14-10, and their lead shrinks to a half-game over Arizona and one game over the Padres and, as one reader called them in a posted response on this blog yesterday, the Geritols. Day game tomorrow so, as Jack McKeon used to say when I was covering the Reds, sleep fast.

Tomko collapses

Not to brag, but after the bottom of the third, I turned to the guy next to me in the press box and said, “You know, I really hate to see Brett Tomko throwing a perfect game, because he is the kind of guy who, the minute he DOES give up a hit, will completely lose focus and fall apart.” Well, with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Brian Giles broke up the perfecto with a single to center. Before he got out of the inning, Tomko would give up four consecutive hits and three runs. He finally did get out of it by getting .115-hitting Kevin Kouzmanoff to fly out on the first pitch. Tomko just completed a perfect fifth, but the three outs came on three balls that were absolutely tattooed — including one that none other than Greg Maddux drove to a spot just short of the warning track in straightaway center. Padres 3, Dodgers 2, top 6

Tomko perfect through three

Padres haven’t even come close to getting a hit, and the closest they have come to getting a man on was in the third, when catcher Rob Bowen did what those of us on the Dodgers beat the past couple of years came to call the “J.D. Drew walkaway,” which is when a hitter (Drew used to do it CONSTANTLY) takes a 3-2 pitch, then, assuming the pitch is ball four, takes three steps up the first-base line as the umpire is calling it strike three. Tomko has five groundballs outs, one strikeout and three flyball outs, and he has thrown just 37 pitches. Maddux appears to be settling in now, but he was shaky the first three innings. Juan Pierre has a single and a double, running his career avg. against Maddux to .393 (11 for 28), and has scored both runs. Jeff Kent also has a single and a double, each of which drove in Pierre. Dodgers 2, Pads 0, bottom 4

Tonight’s lineup: Betemit too sick to start

He was supposed to play, but he has been battling a stomach illness since late last night. Grady said Betemit is available to come off the bench.

SS Furcal — 5-game hitting streak, 7 for 23
CF Pierre — career .346 against Maddux
1B Nomar
2B Kent
LF Gonzo — .317 lifetime with 10 HR, 21 RBI against Maddux
C Martin — 6 gm hit streak 8 for 19
RF Ethier
3B Valdez
RH Tomko

1B coach Mariano Duncan went home to the Dominican after learning that his father had died after a long illness Bench coach Dave Jauss will coach 1B until Duncan returns. … Matt Kemp homered again in his first official game with Las Vegas, going 2 for 4 and stealing a base in Friday’s 6-4 loss to Tacoma. Yhency Brazoban began the Vegas portion of the rehab assignment with a scoreless inning.

One perfect day in San Diego …

… but if you’re thinking about driving down for the game tonight, don’t. First of all, it’s sold out. Second of all, the traffic around Del Mar is horrible, or at least it was yesterday, and one of my colleagues who is staying up there told me it was even worse today. A few of the Dodgers came out for early BP — Juan Pierre, Ramon Martinez, Wilson Valdez, Mike Lieberthal and Olmedo Saenz. The Padres have a new mascot this year, called Franken-friar. It’s a takeoff on the old standard Friar mascot, except this one has a green head that vaguely resembles Frankestein’s monster. It even has bolts sticking out of the sides of the neck. Right now, they’re testing the sound system by playing hiphop music — loudly — with the stadium empty, and Franken-friar and regular Friar on the field dancing to it, with the ballpark completely empty. You never know what you’re going to see when you go to a ballgame. Heading downstairs. Will check back later.