The Ending of a Perfect Day it Ain't

During the Civil War, soldiers on both sides said of their first taste of real battle that they had "seen the elephant." It's one thing to have seen the brute and another thing to have been mauled by him and that's what happened Thursday night to a young Dodger closer in a city that Los Angeles fans have come to call "Death Valley."

The win gives San Diego a sweep of the series and a 2 1/2 game lead in the N.L. West. Arizona lost to the Giants and remain in second 1 1/2 in front of the struggling Dodgers.

The Dodgers and Padres tied for the N.L. West lead last season, with San Diego taking the title on the head-to-head comparison. An identical loss on April 30, 2006 saw them score five in the ninth to wipe out a 5-0 lead before winning in the 10th provided the pivotal loss.

Jonathan Broxton, who struggled to hold the Pirates Monday night for his first save, could only get a single out in the fateful ninth. The first seven Padres reached base in and he could only retire one of the nine who faced him.

San Diego parlayed a variety of lucky hits, solid hits, an error and a bases loaded walk to pull this important chestnut of the fire.

It all started when Geoff Blum beat out a little grounder to second base. Terrmel Sledge bounced to first but the ball slipped out of Nomar Garciaparra's hand when he attempted to throw to second for a force. Marcus Giles dropped a soft, looping single into left field to load the bases and an icy hand grabbed the Dodger fans collective stomaches.

Former Dodger Jose Cruz bounced to Garciaparra and either Broxton was a tad late covering or the first baseman just didn't get there in time, the play, ruled a hit, drove in the first run and left the bases jammed.

Adrian Gonzalez blistered a shot to center that would have cleared the bases had it not bounced over the wall for a ground rule double but it did score two. But the reprieve was only temporary.

After an intentional walk to Josh Bard, Mike Cameron lined a single to center -- only the second ball of the inning that was hit with any authority -- to tie the score and leave the bases loaded.

Then on a full count, Broxton went 1-2 but then walked Russell Branyan and the game ended not with a bang but a whimper.

Mixed into the implausible plot was the fact that Takashi Saito tested his tender hamstring before the game and determined it was good to go. But he and manager Grady Little agreed it might be best if they gave the leg one more day just to be certain.

They watched as Broxton imploded and the Dodgers slid further out of contention and the club will struggle to get the disaster out of their minds.

The game started like a fairy tale, young Hong-Chih Kuo, loser of his first N.L. start of the season, facing the odds-on National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavey and his 7-1 record.

It seemed as if this oriental David would slay Goliath when Kuo not only held his own, he limited the Padres to a single run and three hits over six innings. Peavy, with a 7-1 record against the Dodgers in 14 starts, pitched 6.2 innings, allowing four earned runs.

Rafael Furcal drove in three runs with a pair of two-out hits, and Luis Gonzalez's seventh home run of the season in the eighth inning put Los Angeles into what seemed like the driver's seat with a 5-1 lead.

The final meltdown saw Grady Little, with Saito sitting beside him, reluctant to warm up anyone in the bullpen as Broxton was dying on the mound.

"There was no thought to bringing anyone else into the game," Little said, without a hint of self doubt after the game. "Broxton was throwing the ball well at the start of the inning. Saito wasn't going to pitch. We have over 100 games to go, and to use him at this point wouldn't have made any sense at all."

The Dodgers, who dropped 13 of 18 to the Padres last year, had lost a game they simply couldn't afford to lose. And Saito had a front-row seat for all of it.

In the 1960s and 1970s Los Angeles had their way with the upstart Padres, ringing up a 121-77 margin, a lead that has dribbled away to almost nothing.

No matter the Padres have changed venues, no matter they have changed personnel over the seasons, through the Padres relatively short life they have tormented their relatives to the north, and have now having closed the won-lost gap to a 310-328.

The Dodgers limped home to host Toronto in the first Interleague series of the season. Right-hander Brad Penny (7-2, 2.37 ERA) will be on the mound for the Dodgers and Toronto will counter with righty Dustin McGowan (2-2, 5.50).
 Score by innings
Los Angeles	001 000 310-5
San Diego	000 100 005-6

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	5  1  2  3  .295
Abreu 3b	5  0  1  1  .327
Garciaparra 1b	4  0  1  0  .279
Kent 2b	        4  0  0  0  .260
Gonzalez lf	4  1  2  1  .289
 Pierre cf	0  0  0  0  .269
Martin c	4  0  1  0  .308
Ethier rf	3  2  1  0  .273
Clark cf-rf	3  2  1  1  .228
Kuo p	        3  0  0  0  .000
 Betemit ph	0  1  0  0  .187
 Billingsley p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Beimel p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Saenz ph	0  0  0  0  .000
 Broxton p	0  0  0  0  .000
   Totals	32 5 8 5 
   San Diego	36 6 9 6

 Errors- Kuo (1), Garciaparra (4). 2B- Furcal (13),
Abreu (8). HR- Gonzalez (7). RBI- Furcal 3 (23),
Abreu (5), Gonzalez (21). S- Kuo 2. CS- Martin (2).
LOB- Los Angeles 6, San Diego 112.

 Los Angeles	in  h  r-er bb so  era
Kuo	        6.0  3  1-1  4  8  4.85
Billingsley	1.2  1  0-0  1  3  3.38
Beimel	        0.1  0  0-0  0  0  3.46
Broxton (2-2)	0.1  5  5-4  2  1  4.15
 WP- Kuo. T- 3:00. Att- 40,631.
Dodger Blue Notes-- Slumping center fielder Juan Pierre was given the night off when manager Grady Little kept his word about shaking up his lineup. Pierre was replaced by Brady Clark in center. Rafael Furcal led off and third baseman Tony Abreu batted second. Pierre was 4-for-32 in his last eight games." Pierre has walked just nine times this season and his on-base percentage is below .300. ...Saito will return to the Dodgers bullpen tonight when the Dodgers host the Toronto Blue Jays.