Homer-happy Dodgers show anything's possible

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse is typically as animated as one of those wooden local radio ads that manager Grady Little does for Jiffy Lube. It's a businesslike place after victories, and so quiet after defeats you can hear the dirty laundry hit the floor.

This is the type of demeanor you come to expect when a team takes its cue from veterans such as Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and J.D. Drew, who prefer to do their talking on the field.

The madness that enveloped the Dodgers' dressing quarters late Monday night -- so out of character for this club -- sprang directly from the bizarre sequence of events that had just unfolded. Let's put it this way: The last time Chavez Ravine got this funky, Kirk Gibson was pumping his fist as he limped around the bases after going deep against Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

The Dodgers have played themselves into the thick of the National League West race this season despite a nagging lack of power. Through the team's first 149 games, the Dodgers ranked last in the league with 131 home runs.

That all changed in a span of two innings Monday night, when they decided to go all Ryan Howard on the San Diego Padres.

Try four homers in a span of seven pitches in the ninth inning to turn a 9-5 deficit into a 9-9 tie. Three of those homers came in a span of three pitches -- two of them in two pitches thrown by San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman.

As it turns out, the long balls by Kent, Drew, Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson were just the appetizer for the main course. In the bottom of the 10th inning, Garciaparra hit a two-run homer off Rudy Seanez, and the Dodgers beat the Padres 11-10 to move back into first place in the NL West.

Considering that Randy Johnson once killed a dove with a fastball and a fly ball bounced off Jose Canseco's head and over the fence for a home run when he was a Texas Ranger, anything is possible on a baseball field. But the conclusion of this series was so stunning, so flat-out strange, the Los Angeles players had difficulty putting the impact into words.

"A lot of guys are running around, and they can't talk from screaming so hard," Drew said.

Here's the impact in a nutshell: If the Padres had won, they would have taken three of four against Los Angeles this weekend, captured the season series 14-4, carried a 1½-game lead into the final two weeks, and left behind a bunch of demoralized and tired Dodgers.

Instead, the Dodgers wake up today reinvigorated with a half-game lead in the West, and the Padres are 1½ games ahead of the Phillies in the race for the wild-card berth.

Little acknowledged before the game that Garciaparra's sore quadriceps muscle is so dicey it's a "bit of a gamble" for him to be in the lineup at all. That hardly mattered when Garciaparra hit a Seanez fastball into the left-field bleachers to send the crowd into a frenzy.

While Garciaparra savored the trip around the bases, he couldn't wait to step on home plate and share the celebration with his teammates.

"It's hard for me to really run, so I couldn't go too hard," Garciaparra said. "I just told myself, 'Make sure you hit every bag. Then touch home plate and hug the guys.'"

Seanez's presence in such a tight spot in a game of this magnitude seems puzzling on the surface, given his struggles in Boston earlier this season. After Seanez posted a 4.76 ERA in 47 appearances with the Red Sox, he was designated for assignment on Aug. 19.

But Padres manager Bruce Bochy was essentially out of options. After Kent and Drew homered off Jon Adkins to cut a 9-5 San Diego lead to 9-7 in the ninth, Hoffman came on to try to notch career save No. 476 and pull within two of Lee Smith's all-time record. The bid lasted two pitches -- as long as it took Martin and Anderson to reach the seats and tie the game.

When the Padres regained the lead 10-9 on a Josh Bard single, it seemed logical that Hoffman would work the 10th -- particularly since he had thrown only 10 pitches the previous inning. But Bochy told writers in his office after the game that Hoffman has a tender shoulder, and the Padres didn't want to push it.

If Hoffman does, indeed, have arm problems, it could be a significant concern for the Padres in the final two weeks. But he downplayed concerns about his shoulder, in part because he didn't want it to be used as an excuse for his performance against the Dodgers.

"It's nothing different than anyone else is dealing with in September," Hoffman said. "I'll be ready to go out there tomorrow, and hopefully go out and do a better job than I did tonight. Whether it's tenderness or soreness, I don't think it should really be discussed in regards to how things went tonight."

The Padres begin a six-game home stand against Arizona and Pittsburgh starting Tuesday. Next week they will conclude the season with a seven-game trip to St. Louis and Arizona. The bad news: The Padres are 20-50 lifetime in Phoenix, and they'll most likely have to face Brandon Webb twice in a 10-day span as he tries to make a late Cy Young Award push.

As for the Dodgers, they'll play Pittsburgh and Arizona at home, then finish the season with a six-game trip to Colorado and San Francisco. They're 22-10 against the Rockies and Giants this season.

No one knows if the two teams will experience a carryover from Monday's bizarre finish. Several Dodgers players said they'd never seen anything like it, and Drew had to harken back to the 1997 Northern League season to come up with anything close. During his holdout as a Philadelphia Phillies' draft pick, Drew was part of a strange comeback by the St. Paul Saints.

"The funny thing is, Bill Murray was one of our owners, and he was coaching the bases," Drew said. "We were down 12-3 or something like that, and Bill was yelling at everybody in the stands, 'This is going to be the greatest comeback of all time.'

"We started coming back in the seventh inning, and the next thing you know Bill sends a runner home that he never should be sending, and the guy scores and we win the game."

Of course, St. Paul is not Los Angeles, and the Northern League is not the NL West. The Dodgers shouted themselves hoarse while celebrating their win over the Padres. But they'll be talking about this one for an awfully long time in L.A.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider.

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