Maddux, Padres prevail in duel in LA

Maddux, Padres prevail in duel

LOS ANGELES -- It was difficult to discern what mattered most Sunday for the Padres: five nearly drama-free and efficient innings from Greg Maddux or four shutout innings from a bullpen that has been anything but drama-free this season.

Luckily for the Padres, they had both to kick around on the two-hour bus ride back home following their 1-0 victory over the Dodgers on a 95-degree afternoon at Dodger Stadium, where hitting didn't so much take a day off as much as it never had a chance.

"Today," Padres manager Bud Black said afterward, "... was all about pitching on both sides."

The difference was the Padres (7-6) had more, especially when it mattered most, such as after Maddux (2-0) departed the game after throwing 67 pitches in five innings, yielding just two hits.

Pitching coach Darren Balsley said Maddux, who had left the clubhouse before reporters arrived, was "a little drained physically," though he could have likely tossed at least one more inning.

When asked about the way Maddux methodically attacked the strike zone with such great efficiency, Balsley shrugged, only because he's said it over and over before.

"He threw strikes, kept the ball down," Balsley said. "There is not more that I can add."

But while Maddux's start on Sunday might have resembled nothing different than, say, any of his prior 348 victories, the way the Padres closed the game ranked substantially higher on the importance meter.

Toss out Jake Peavy's complete-game victory on April 5 against these same Dodgers, and the Padres' bullpen hasn't gone a game without allowing a run since the second game of the season on April 1 against the Astros.

But the bullpen showed the same kind of dependability Sunday that Black saw time and time again in 2007, when the Padres led the Major Leagues in bullpen ERA at 3.06.

"In this day and age, it's important to have a bullpen you can count on," Black said. "We feel as the season moves on, we're going to have that."

First out of the bullpen was Joe Thatcher, he of the 10.80 ERA. Thatcher allowed a hit to Juan Pierre in the sixth inning, but made Andre Ethier look bad on a slider away for a strikeout before getting Jeff Kent to pop up to catcher Josh Bard in foul territory.

In the seventh inning, Black handed the ball to Cla Meredith, who along with Heath Bell, has been reliable this season. Meredith buzzed through a 1-2-3 inning, getting the last out with a strikeout of Andruw Jones, who is now hitting .100.

Bell took over in the eighth inning and allowed a bloop single into center field by rookie Blake DeWitt before retiring the next three hitters he faced, maintaining the narrow lead as the bullpen bustled one last time.

In the ninth inning, naturally, the Padres gave the ball to Trevor Hoffman, who entered the game with an 11.57 ERA, one blown save and two losses. Hoffman got two quick outs before James Loney dumped an opposite-field double down into left field.

That brought up Russell Martin, who took a big cut at a Hoffman fastball, hitting it off the end of the bat as left fielder Scott Hairston, who appeared to be shading Martin to left-center, made a running grab to end the game.

In all fairness to the defense, Padres shortstop Khalil Greene made three nice plays, Black said, perhaps none finer than the smothering dive up the middle of Martin's ball to end the fourth inning with a runner on second base.

"It's fun to play behind him," Greene said of Maddux, who induced six groundouts. "He pitches to contact. There is so much action he generates by his style. The fact that he works quick plays into that as well."

The Padres got just one run off starter Chad Billingsley, who was 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA in six games against the Padres last season. That lone run came in the fourth inning as Jim Edmonds walked and moved to third base on Greene's double, only to score when Paul McAnulty got enough of a two-strike curveball to hit it to right field for a sacrifice fly.

Black wasn't discouraged by the Padres' recent lack of offense. They scored just twice in a 21-inning stretch starting in San Francisco and extending into Friday's 7-5 victory over the Dodgers. Now they've scored one run in their last 19 innings.

"We've faced some good pitching, but that's what this division is like," Black said, as he rattled off the names of pitchers the Padres have already faced like Brad Penny and Derek Lowe (twice each), Roy Oswalt, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum to name a few.

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