Dodgers 6, Padres 5 … but what does it mean?

Tomorrow night’s game will go a long way toward answering that question. The Dodgers staged a dramatic, four-run rally in the ninth tonight against Trevor Hoffman, about as emotional a way as you can think of to end a four-game losing streak. The result was that instead of falling into a four-team logjam in the standings, where they would have been tied with the Giants and Pads for first and just a half-game ahead of the Snakes, the Dodgers reclaimed sole possession of first place. IF they win tomorrow, the Dodgers will have taken four of the first five from the Padres this year and guaranteed themselves of winning each of the first two series. Early as it is, that would seem to at least give them a major psychological boost against a team that won 13 of 18 from the Dodgers last year. And if the Dodgers then go on to win the division. tonight’s ninth inning could loom large at the end — especially if they win it by a narrow margin over the Friars. On the flip side, a loss tomorrow would completely negate tonight’s victory because it would mean that the Dodgers got NO momentum from it, and it also would give the Dodgers five losses in their past six games. So tonight’s triumph could be monumental. Then again, it could be fleeting. We shall see. … The Dodgers’ once-airtight bullpen is beginning to show cracks. It has now given up runs in five straight games. Chad Billingsley continued to struggle, giving up three runs (two earned) in what would have been a decisive sixth inning of Hoffman hadn’t imploded in the ninth. Rudy Seanez issued two walks to load the bases in the eighth and was saved from himself by a spectacular, inning-ending diving catch in right field by Andre Ethier. And even Takashi Saito got a little shaky with two outs in the ninth, giving up a no-doubt blast to Jose Cruz Jr. and hitting Brian Giles — putting the tying run on base — before Adrian Gonzalez flied to deep center to end the game on a ball that would have been a bit more frightening in another park that didn’t have such a big outfield. … Dodgers go to 14-9 and lead SF by a game, AZ by a game and a half and the Padres by 2

First-inning fundamentals … or lack thereof

A big reason why the Dodgers have struggled this week is that they are making far too many early-count outs. In the first inning tonight, San Diego’s Clay Hensley took exactly three pitches to record the first two outs, and he got through the inning on just nine — putting him briefly on pace to throw a complete game with just 81 pitches. Conversely, in the bottom of the inning, the Padres worked Mark Hendrickson half to death, making him throw 25. And although they didn’t score, they might have accomplished more by inflating Hendrickson’s pitch count right from the start, which could lead to an earlier exit for the big lefty. Grady said yesterday he could probably count on 90 pitches from Hendrickson in his second start since moving from the pen to the rotation, which is still at least 10 fewer pitches than the rest of the Dodgers’ starters are capable of delivering. The pitch counts evened out later in the game, but Hensley just got through a perfect fourth on EIGHT pitches — a four-pitch strikeout of Andre Ethier, a three-pitch K of Wilson Valdez and a first-pitch groundout by Hendrickson. Both teams have solid middle relief, so it might not matter anyway. But so far, the difference has been glaring. Dodgers 1, Padres 0, bottom 4

Tonight’s lineup: Valdez in, Betemit out

And Ethier is back in the seven hole. Betemit got a hit last night, and Grady says he’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow against Maddux

SS Furcal — 4-game hitting streak (6 for 19)
CF Pierre — 9-game hitting streak snapped last night
1B Nomar
2B Kent — batted .409 on the homestand
LF Gonzo
C Martin — 5 gm hitting streak (7 for 16)
RF Ethier
3B Valdez — went hitless in eight at-bats on the homestand
LH Hendrickson

Kemp activated, then optioned

The Dodgers activated OF Matt Kemp from the 15-day disabled list today and officially optioned him toTriple-A Las Vegas after he went 2 for 4 wtih a triple and a two-run homer, two runs and four RBI in the first game of his rehab resumption on Thursday night in the 51s’ 9-3 win over Tacoma. The move means Kemp is now earning his minor-league salary of $94,250, not his major-league salary of $383,000, although I’m not necessarily saying that’s why the move was made. … The drive down seemed to take FOREVER today, but that’s probably just because I hadn’t had anything to eat and was in a bad mood. As usual, the traffic came to a dead stop right around Del Mar, even though nothing was going on there today. But it is a beautiful day down here. Too bad they can’t start the game right now. … Not to make fun, but today’s official Dodgers game notes contain the following sentence: “Dodger third baseman Wilson Betemit showed signs of breaking out of a month-long slump, going 1 for 3 with a double and a run scored last night.” I also showed signs of becoming a millionaire the other day when I found a penny on the sidewalk.

Giants 5, Dodgers 4

Here’s the story — or at least as much of the story as we were able to glean after the game — on the missed suicide squeeze by Juan Pierre in the second inning, the one that resulted in Andre Ethier getting caught in a rundown between third and home. OK, first of all, Pierre admitted that he missed the sign. His half-bunt, half-swing at the pitch appeared to be a panic move when he saw Ethier barreling down the line. But here’s the rub: because the suicide is such a high-risk, low-percentage play — Grady says there is one thing that can go right and 10 things that can go wrong — teams generally employ a sign system that involves not only the sign being given to the runner and the batter, but the sign being acknowledged by all parties so everyone knows they have the signs. 3B coach Rich Donnelly was understandably vague after the game, because obviously you can’t tell reporters how your sign system works. But Donnelly DID say the acknowledgement mechanism is something that happens BEFORE the sign is given. (I’m guessing that would make a lot more sense if we knew what the signs were, but we never will, so just go along with it). Grady implied that Pierre had acknowledged the sign. But Pierre said he wasn’t aware of any such acknowledgement mechanism. At any rate, the play would loom large on a night when the Dodgers left five runners in scoring position and lost by a run. They fell to 13-9, and the Giants, by winning their eighth game in a row, pulled even with the Dodgers atop the NL West. Dodgers begin a three-gamer tonight at Petco, where the Padres are just a game back. … For the fifth game in a row, the Dodgers went to the bottom of the ninth trailing. For the third game in a row, they DIDN’T play We’re Not Going to Take It by Twisted Sister. … Grady said there won’t be MAJOR changes to the lineup tomorrow night. But the key word is MAJOR. Stay tuned.

What to do with Betemit

That guy is really becoming a black hole. Grady moved him up to seventh tonight to try to get him started. He got hit by a pitch in the second, eventually leading to a run. But in the third, he came up with the bases loaded and none out, and control-plagued Russ Ortiz started him 3-0 after walking Russell Martin on four pitches. Ortiz came back with a strike, Betemit fouled one off for strike two, and then Betemit took a mighty hack and got nothing but air. Ethier flied out to leave the bases loaded. Dodgers lead by two, but they should be in front by four or five at this point. They have stranded five runners already, four of them in scoring position. Penny is adequate so far, but not dominating. Bonds is 1 for 2 with a single. And, we’re on pace to easily exceed three hours. Dodgers 3, Giants 1, top 4

Tonight’s lineup: Ethier, Betemit flipped

Grady said it’s just something he is trying to hopefully (finally) get Betemit started. At the very least, Betemit figures to see better pitches with Ethier hitting behind him instead of the pitcher, but Grady says Betemit has been getting pitches to hit anyway, that he just isn’t hitting them. Everybody else is the same as usual.

SS Furcal — 4 for 22 on the homestand
CF Pierre — 9-gm hitting streak (16 for 40)
1B Nomar
2B Kent
LF Gonzo — 13 for 37 with 7 bb against Russ Ortiz
C Martin — 4-gm hitting streak (6 for 13)
3B Betemit
RF Ethier — 1 for 14 on the homestand
RH Penny

Also, Kuo’s simulated game was cut to 30 pitches to avoid aggravating the blisters on his left index and middle fingers, but he’s ready to go. He’ll pitch for Vegas on Sunday against Tacoma, probably one or two innings. Matt Kemp and Yhency Brazoban start their rehab assignments with Vegas tonight.

The game is simulated, but the boredom is real

Hong-Chih Kuo is warming up for his second simulated game as we speak. It’s expected to be 60 pitches and the equivalent of four innings (after each 15 pitches, he’ll sit for a few minutes). It appears the only hitters facing him will be Ramon Martinez and Olmedo Saenz, or at least they’re the only ones that seem to be waiting to step in against him. Jonathan Broxton is down there, but I can’t imagine he’ll be batting. The stands are empty except for a TV camera crew behind the first-base dugout, not sure what they’re getting ready to do, and a few stadium workers sitting in the upper deck. No news to report so far, but the day is young. I’m heading downstairs.

Los Gigantes 6, Los Dodgers 4

First three-game losing streak of the season for the boys, whose one-game lead in the division stayed intact when Trevor Hoffman blew a ninth-inning lead at Arizona. Still, the pressure is on the Dodgers tomorrow night to avoid a three-game sweep, which would completely neutralize their three-game sweep of the Giants earlier this month and make those six games a wash in the standings. Tomorrow night’s game is sold out — it’s Nomar bobblehead night, you know. … One thing I failed to get into my game story tonight was that Randy Wolf fanned his 1,000th strikeout victim tonight. Derek Lowe is two shy of that same plateau. … Andre Ethier went 0 for 3 against Noah Lowry in his first start this season against a lefty. Grady sent Olmedo Saenz to pinch hit for him in the eighth inning against lefty reliever Jack Taschner. Ethier now is 1 for 9 for the season against LH’ers. … It has now been two days since I mentioned in this blog how much I liked the fact they were playing Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It whenever the Dodgers went to the bottom of the ninth inning trailing. Well, since that entry, the Dodgers have twice gone to the bottom of the ninth inning trailing, and they HAVEN’T PLAYED THE SONG. … Although the team is bussing to San Diego for this weekend’s series, those busses will leave after the game tomorrow night to meet MLB’s requirement that teams arrive in the city of each road series the night before the first game. They should arrive at the hotel around 1:30 a.m., by my rough estimation. I myself am going to do the sensible thing and wait until about noon Friday to drive down, go straight to the park when I get there and wait to check into my hotel until after the game. I will check OUT of my hotel Sunday morning, cover that day’s game, then immediately jump in my car and drive back home. No 3 a.m. wakeup calls, and best of all, NO AIRPLANES. Why can’t every trip be this easy? … Dodgers fall to 13-8.

Rough start for Randy Wolf

The first four batters he faced all hit safely, including a three-run homer by Barry Bonds (No. 741). Since then, he has settled in, giving up just one hit. That was a leadoff double by Bengie Molina in the second that Wolf was able to pitch around with no further damage. The Dodgers came right back with a pair in the bottom of the first off Noah Lowry, who already has walked three in three innings. Giants 4, Dodgers 2, top 4