Dodgers, Padres battle it out
NL West, Wild Card sure to go down to the wire
LOS ANGELES -- If there's any question about the nature of the two pending races in the National League, Monday's night's slugfest at Dodger Stadium put any doubt to rest.The West title and Wild Card berth undoubtedly will be decided the final weekend of the season when the Padres play four games against the Diamondbacks at Phoenix; the Dodgers finish up with three against the arch-rival Giants in San Francisco, and the Phillies play their final trio against the Marlins in Miami. "Well, that's the way we thought it would be back in Spring Training," said Bruce Bochy before the Dodgers came from behind with five homers in the ninth and 10th innings to win, 11-10, thus flipping back over the Padres by a half game again into first place in the West. "So there's no reason to feel any differently now." Trailing by four runs, the Dodgers hit four homers in a row in the ninth on seven pitches, tying a Major League record accomplished now for the fourth time. Two of them came off the first two pitches from Trevor Hoffman. After the Padres took a one-run lead again in the top of the 10th, Nomar Garciaparra roped the two-run winner to end it. It was sizzling pennant-race baseball at its finest and sent a sellout crowd dancing into Chavez Ravine, horns honking deep into the night. The problem ahead is that the Dodgers still have 12 games to play and the Padres 13. The Dodgers must face the Pirates at home on Tuesday night and the Padres go home to take on Arizona. Monday's game may have resulted in a joyous epiphany, but it certainly allowed for no closure. That won't come until after the games of Oct. 1, even if by then. There are enough tie-breaking playoff scenarios in the West and Wild Card races to make anyone's head spin if two or three teams are locked with the same record when the regular season ends. The almost certain NL Central-winning Cardinals (79-69), the Dodgers (79-70) and the Padres (78-71) are so close at this point, the second best record in the league behind the Mets and home field advantage in an NL Division Series are still very much up for grabs. There's Sunday's rainout in St. Louis and a day-after-the-season logistical nightmare. The Giants, who are sinking quickly now in both races, would have to play a makeup game against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, certainly if a playoff spot is still be determined, and possibly even if home field advantage is in play. It's no wonder that even the most hail and hardy are having a hard time right now trying to digest the combinations. All we know is where the teams sit today: The Dodgers leading the West for the 39th time in the last 40 days. The Padres have a 1 1/2-game advantage in the Wild Card race over the Phillies, who were smashed at home, 11-6, by the Cubs. The Giants, sinking nearly to oblivion, were pounded, 20-8, at Colorado, dropping them 4 1/2 games out in the West and four games back in the Wild Card. It's just about time to play taps in San Francisco with less than two weeks to go, while the Padres and Dodgers battle it down to the wire. "The days are growing shorter," said Dodger manager Grady Little. "We've finally reached the point where there's some sense of urgency about each and every game. I like our team. When we left Spring Training we ultimately wanted to be in the position we're in right now -- with a chance to win." Little was tempered by the Yankees-Red Sox wars when he managed in Boston. Because the Yanks have won the American League East nine times in a row, the Red Sox always have been satisfied with second best as long as they made the postseason. Ditto it seems for his Dodgers. "We just want to get into the playoffs," he said. "It doesn't matter to me how we get there as long as we're playing past Oct. 1." The Padres? "We're kind of paying attention to what other teams are doing in the Wild Card, but I think you'd be shorting yourself if you weren't thinking division first," Hoffman said. "I imagine that's what both us and the Dodgers are counting on and we'll see what happens in the end." If either team has to settle for the Wild Card and a first-round date against the Mets in New York, they certainly will take it. But if Monday night's game of surges and comebacks served notice of anything, it's that this passion play probably will have a run of at least another two weeks.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.