Hensley, Hoffman hurl Friars into first

Hensley, Hoffman hurl Friars into first

SAN DIEGO - Clay Hensley, having left Dodger Stadium in the fourth inning, was motoring home in a rental car on Monday night when the heavens crashed on his Padres in the form of four consecutive home runs in the ninth inning and another in the 10th for an improbable Dodgers conquest.

"I was listening on the radio," Hensley said, "and I think I almost got in a wreck twice. I was beating the console in that Lincoln. I'm lucky I didn't get pulled over."

Hensley was much cooler and poised on the mound on Tuesday night, steering the Padres toward a 5-2 win over Arizona in front of 29,067 at PETCO Park.

Rebounding from their stunning loss to the Dodgers, the Padres jumped back into first place in the National League West by a half-game over the Dodgers, who were subdued by Pittsburgh and the slugging of former Padre Xavier Nady.

"It was an important step in the right direction," said Trevor Hoffman, who bounced back from yielding two of the four straight homers on Monday night with a perfect ninth inning for his 40th save.

Moving to within two of Lee Smith's all-time career saves record with No. 476, Hoffman was more interested in talking about the effort of Hensley and fellow relievers Alan Embree and Scott Linebrink, who set him up in the seventh and eighth innings with flawless efforts.

"Clay was ready," Hoffman said. "He attacked them, was aggressive in the strike zone, and it was great for him to have a cushion. That enabled him to relax."

In support of Hensley, Mike Cameron crushed a three-run homer, his 21st, during a four-run first inning against losing pitcher Livan Hernandez (12-13).

Dave Roberts' leadoff single and walks to Todd Walker and Mike Piazza in the first were followed by Adrian Gonzalez's sacrifice fly and Cameron's first-pitch blast to dead center.

"That was big -- getting a lead like that," Hensley said.

Gonzalez took over the club lead with his 23rd homer, a solo blast to right in the fifth.

Hensley (10-11) continued his two-month run of solid starts. Throwing by his estimation about 80 percent fastballs, and getting expert guidance from Piazza behind the plate, Hensley went six innings, giving up two earned runs on seven hits and three walks, striking out three.

The sinkerball specialist has yielded two or fewer runs in 10 of his past 12 starts, shaving his ERA from 4.70 to 3.81.

The Diamondbacks were frustrated even when they produced their first run in the fourth, with Luis Gonzalez doubling and scoring on Chad Tracy's single. But they left the bases loaded when Hensley struck out Carlos Quentin and got Chris Snyder to tap into a double play.

Piazza visited Hensley at the mound during the disturbance, trying to calm the young pitcher whose emotions have been known to escape him for a moment or two.

"He said, 'Relax. Take a deep breath -- you're one pitch away from getting out of this,'" Hensley said. "He told me to try not to get overwhelmed by the situation. You know those things, but when you get caught up in the game, you lose perspective sometimes."

Piazza also reminded Hensley to rely on his best pitch, that darting sinker, in big moments. It's the same advice Piazza and fellow catchers Josh Bard and Rob Bowen routinely offer to Cla Meredith, the Padres' other young sinkerball sensation.

Snyder's two-out double in the sixth scored Conor Jackson after Jackson's second single, and manager Bruce Bochy determined that 105 pitches were enough for Hensley.

"I was a little disappointed in the fact that I wanted to go deeper in the game," Hensley said. "But the big thing is we won.

"I tried not to think about how important it was. I didn't want to get out of my game. I learned that in the playoffs last year. If you think about other things, like what [the Dodgers are] doing, it can take you out of your game."

Hensley thought the experience of veterans such as Piazza, Hoffman, Cameron and Brian Giles -- pillars of the club -- was invaluable after the setback at Dodger Stadium.

"You can't think about it or dwell on it," Hensley said. "If it takes you three games to get over what we did in [Dodger Stadium], you're in trouble."

It didn't take the Padres an inning to get over it. They came out smoking, and here they are, back on top in their division, the nightmare having passed.

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