LOS ANGELES -- There are great baseball games and there are epics -- great baseball games that will be retold in rich, vivid detail for years and years by people who were there and those who will claim they were. Soon after Nomar Garciaparra's walk-off two-run homer Monday night had handed the Dodgers an 11-10 triumph in 10 innings at Dodger Stadium, Padres right fielder Brian Giles already had grasped which category this one fit into. "We're gonna be sitting at home one of these nights watching this one on ESPN Classic," Giles said. "As frustrating as it is to end up on the short end of the stick, this was a great baseball game."
By splitting the four games, the Dodgers maintained the National League West lead by a half-game over the Padres, who have the Wild Card advantage by 1 1/2 games over Philadelphia. The Padres led, 4-0, out of the chute behind their ace, Jake Peavy, then held leads of 6-4 and 9-5. That's where it stood when the Dodgers did something in the bottom of the ninth that had been accomplished previously by only three teams in baseball history. Los Angeles homered in four consecutive at-bats, the third and fourth coming on successive deliveries by Trevor Hoffman, a man on the verge of breaking the all-time record for saves. After Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew had homered against Jon Adkins, making it 9-7, Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson -- homering for the second time on his fifth hit -- rocked Hoffman, who had produced 55 of his 475 saves against the Dodgers. In his career, he had blown just two saves against L.A. Pitching with shoulder soreness, and summoned abruptly after his customary warmup had been interrupted by the first two homers, Hoffman got through the inning -- barely. The last out off the bat of Rafael Furcal sent Giles to the track in right. With remarkable resilience of their own, the Padres jumped right back on top when Giles doubled against Aaron Sele and scored on Josh Bard's single. Yet, rarely has a one-run lead appeared so thin -- and the Dodgers quickly made it disappear against Rudy Seanez. The veteran right-hander walked Kenny Lofton on a full count, then served up a pitch that Garciaparra launched halfway up the left-field pavilion to touch off a wild celebration. "They acted like they won the division," the Padres' Josh Barfield said. "We split the series, and they're a half-game ahead. We can pick up that half-game, no problem." That is precisely the edge and confident attitude Barfield's manager, Bruce Bochy, wants from his troops as they return to PETCO Park for three games with Arizona starting Tuesday night, then three with Pittsburgh. "We'll be resilient and come back," Bochy said. "I know how important these games are. What's important is how they handle it. We'll find out." Peavy, who coughed up that 4-0 lead with single runs in the first and second and two in the fourth, said the Padres got what they needed -- a split -- even if "I never in a million years would have thought it would come like that." The Padres came out smoking against Brad Penny with four runs in the first, all scoring with two outs. Mike Piazza cracked an RBI double off the wall in center, and Mike Cameron smoked a two-run triple to right, scoring on Geoff Blum's single. The Dodgers struck back with Kent's RBI double in the first, Anderson's first homer in the second and Furcal's homer in the third, followed by doubles by Kent and Drew to tie it at 4.
Cla Meredith added another chapter to his growing legend when he got three outs with four pitches to clean up a bases-loaded, nobody-out mess in the sixth, starting the inning-ending double play himself on Lofton's tapper.
Josh Barfield's RBI double in the eighth, following Blum's walk, and Todd Walker's run-scoring single had the Friars in front, 6-4, in the eighth against Jonathan Broxton. The Dodgers got one back in the bottom half on Wilson Betemit's RBI single, before Scott Linebrink blew a fastball past Garciaparra to leave runners at second and third.
The Padres appeared to bust it wide open in the top of the ninth against Takashi Saito. Gonzalez's third hit was followed by Bard's double -- Lofton appeared to knock his potential home run back onto the field -- a sacrifice fly by Blum and and RBI single by Barfield.
Then the Dodgers erupted, and the reaction of Blum, at shortstop, seemed to capture the spirit of the whole crazy thing.
"Who isn't shocked?" Blum said. "Every baseball fan in the stadium is shocked. They came back, we came back ... they had the last shot. I don't know what's crazier than that."
It had been crazy in another way much earlier, as demonstrated when Peavy was walking off the mound after striking out Drew looking to end the first.
Dodgers first-base coach Mariano Duncan stepped in his path with a few choice expletives, Peavy said, and the pitcher had to be prevented by teammates from going after the former infielder.
Order was restored, but emotions remain charged, the Dodgers agitated by the Padres' season-long dominance and finally finding a productive way to vent -- with seven home runs.
"It was like a slow-pitch softball game," Barfield said. "I can't believe some of those balls that went out. Honest, in PETCO Park, that's a 5-3 game."
But this was Dodger Stadium, for decades baseball's premier pitcher's park. And on this epic occasion, the party was for hitters only.
|"It was like a slow-pitch softball game. I can't believe some of those balls that went out. Honest, in PETCO Park, that's a 5-3 game."|
|-- Josh Barfield|
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.