Padres win late to take first in NL West

Padres win late to take first in West

LOS ANGELES -- The Padres have emerged as a collection of thrill-seekers, living for suspense.

They lead baseball in extra-inning games and rarely make it easy on themselves, which made their head-first vault back into first place in the National League West on Sunday par for the sometimes agonizing course.

After Chris Young had engaged Derek Lowe in a spirited duel, and Cla Meredith had shown himself to be human by finally surrendering a run after 34 scoreless innings, the Padres used a game-deciding single by Terrmel Sledge to subdue the Dodgers, 2-1, in front of 54,601 at Dodger Stadium.

Having taken 13 of 17 from Los Angeles, the Friars reclaimed the division lead for the first time since Aug. 9. The Dodgers will try to rip it back on Monday night when a pair of heat-dispensing aces, L.A.'s Brad Penny and San Diego's Jake Peavy, go at it in the season finale between the two clubs.

"That's a pivotal game," said third baseman Russell Branyan, whose sixth-inning homer was all the Padres could manage against Lowe. "[Monday night's] game is what separates the men from the boys."

On Sunday, in what could be remembered as a pivotal moment, there was Trevor Hoffman -- the franchise's face, heart and soul -- wrapping it up for his league-leading 39th save and No. 475 of his career.

The all-time saves record -- held by Lee Smith, with 478 -- isn't what's in the front of Hoffman's active mind at the moment.

"The last thing on my mind is the record," said Hoffman, who has converted 12 saves in a row. "It's all about propelling this team to the playoffs."

It was his fastball, up and in, that Hoffman propelled past pinch-hitter Nomar Garciaparra on a full count for the second out after retiring Russell Martin on a popup. Trevor kept putting it on the black to Lofton, who flied to Mike Cameron in center to leave Rafael Furcal, who'd walked, stranded.

"Funny how things work out," said Scott Linebrink (7-3), who picked up the win by striking out a pair of hitters in the eighth before Sledge's pinch-hit single gave San Diego its lead.

"My changeup was my best pitch today, and Trevor's was his fastball. Usually it's the other way around. Hey, whatever it takes."

Rob Bowen was behind the plate for the 19th time on a Hoffman save, calling more heaters than usual for the ninth-inning master.

"His changeup was off," Bowen said, "but his fastball was good. He got everybody out with the fastball today. He was putting it right on the corner. He's made his living with that changeup, but he showed he can still get it done with the fastball."

Sledge's pinch-hit single, scoring pinch-runner Khalil Greene, followed a Josh Bard single and Geoff Blum walk against losing pitcher Jonathan Broxton (3-1).

With one out and two on against Broxton, Padres manager Bruce Bochy bypassed future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, who has been known to do some damage at Dodger Stadium, for Sledge, the sweet-swinging southpaw from the nearby San Fernando Valley.

"I grew up watching the Dodgers, that '81 [World Series] championship team they honored [Saturday night]," Sledge said. "This was my hometown team, and I've been coming here since I was about 8 years old.

"I'm just trying to stay in the moment. I feel [Bochy] has confidence in me, and it is flattering that he trusts me enough to put me in there."

"The last thing on my mind is the record. It's all about propelling this team to the playoffs."
-- Trevor Hoffman

Broxton struck out Sledge with sliders on Friday night, but Sledge found another slider in his hitting zone on a 1-1 count and laced it to right field for what he described as one of the biggest moments in his career.

"It couldn't have been much sweeter than this," said Sledge, who missed most of last season with a hamstring tear and came along with Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez from Texas in a six-player swap over the winter.

Branyan's homer to left-center had provided Young with a 1-0 lead. It was Branyan's fourth homer since coming to San Diego from Tampa Bay, and his 16th of the season.

Young made it through six innings unscathed, but his one-hit effort was not without a few bumps. He walked five hitters while striking out four, and twice dropped the ball in his delivery, once for a balk.

"My hands were extremely dry today," Young said. "I hold the ball loosely, and it just popped out. I kept trying to step off the mound and apply moisture."

The 6-foot-10 Texan was tough when it counted, pitching out of trouble to maintain his remarkable road record. This was his 23rd consecutive road start without a loss, surpassing by one a streak Greg Maddux put together in 1997 and '98.

Another impressive streak ended when Meredith, the sidewinding right-hander from Richmond, Va., finally gave up a run. Martin slammed a 2-2 pitch over the wall in center field with one out in the seventh for his ninth homer.

"I threw a 1-2 slider, a [lousy] pitch, and I kind of rushed the next one -- a sinker that didn't sink," Meredith said, regarding the first homer he's allowed in 41 innings as a Padre.

Showing his resilience, Meredith left runners at second and third by striking out Julio Lugo.

"He's just phenomenal," Young observed. "He'll look back on that someday and appreciate what it is he's done. Our bullpen's fantastic. It's been our backbone all year and continues to be.

"We've played close games all year and have been pretty good at scoring in the late innings. I don't think anybody panicked."

As thrill-seekers go, they're pretty cool, all right.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.