Richard, Padres blank LA on one-hitter

Richard, Padres one-hit Dodgers

SAN DIEGO -- It's meant as no slight at all when general manager Kevin Towers refers to his team as "his gutty little Padres," though for these past two days they've looked and played more like the one thing they truly aspire to be -- contenders.

It's the Dodgers and not the Padres who are headed to the postseason, make no mistake about that. But over a blissful two-game stretch at PETCO Park, it was the Friars who played like they had better things ahead of them.

That's because they feel like they do.

"I'm sure it means a little more to us than it does them, but their level, that's what we're trying to get to," San Diego second baseman David Eckstein said. "We came up to their level and beat them. And the last two months, we have played like that, played the game consistently well."

On Wednesday, the Padres again kept the Dodgers from claiming the National League West title with yet another nearly spotless effort, holding Los Angeles to one hit as San Diego ran away with a 5-0 victory before a crowd of 25,469.

This victory, fueled by seven scoreless innings by Clayton Richard and a three-run home run by Kevin Kouzmanoff, wasn't merely the second in as many nights where the Padres (74-85) parlayed strong starting pitching, solid relief work, tidy defense and enough big hits to make everything stand up.

Really, it's an extension of a how they've played the past two months, as the Padres are 36-23 since July 28 and have already won 11 more games than they did all of last year with three games remaining this weekend against the Giants.

"It's been reflective of how we've played in the second half. All phases have picked up," Padres manager Bud Black said. "When you add it all up, you can say all phases of our games have been fundamentally sound."

Oh, and then there was that little matter about not wanting the Dodgers (93-66) to clinch the NL West title at PETCO Park, something that was on the mind of many a player on Wednesday, especially Kouzmanoff, who drilled a three-run home run in the third inning.

"We're going out there and playing hard and don't want them celebrating on our field," said Kouzmanoff, who had a big RBI single in Tuesday's 3-1 victory, as well. "... It's tough. You would rather be on the other end, you would rather be the one celebrating.

"This sure makes life a lot easier."

So does having your starting pitcher go out and tie the opposing team in knots with a changeup and cut-fastball that darted down in the strike zone.

This was the first time since Richard (5-2) joined the Padres in the Jake Peavy deal on July 31 that he completed seven innings. He walked three and struck out two, and while his ball-strike ratio was not particularly good (44-59), he was successful in getting the Dodgers to pound the ball into the ground more often than not.

The lone L.A. hit came in the first inning by Matt Kemp.

Richard was able to get 13 groundouts, and he benefitted greatly when rallies ended with double-play balls in the third inning and again in the fourth after the pitcher walked leadoff hitter, Manny Ramirez.

"When you know you have a good defense behind you ... it gives you confidence to go after hitters," said Richard, who finished the season with 12 consecutive shutout innings.

Los Angeles pitcher Jon Garland (11-13), obtained this summer from Arizona to bolster the starting rotation, allowed three baserunners in the first inning and three more in the third inning, though Kouzmanoff, in his second game back after missing 17 games with injuries, cleared the bases with a three-run laser to left field, his 18th home run this year.

Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson, who have emerged as two of the top setup pitchers in the NL, took care of the rest, combining for the last six outs, five coming on strikeouts.

That the Padres did that against the Dodgers made it that much sweeter, although Black wasn't entirely buying into that.

"It's something everyone has talked about, but our focus is on playing good fundamental baseball," Black said. "We've talked the last two months about playing these contending teams tough. We have."

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