Showdown at-bat proves critical in Padres' win over Dodgers

Showdown at-bat proves critical in Padres' win over Dodgers

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

I love long battles between pitchers and hitters -- single at-bats that become showdowns.

We had one of those Sunday at Petco Park, and it turned out to be a critical point in the Padres' 3-1 victory over the Dodgers -- a win that prevented the Padres' rivals from the National League West from completing a three-game sweep.

The game was scoreless in the third inning when left-handed-hitting Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista stepped into the batter's box to face Scott Baker.

A right-hander, Baker had been promoted from Triple-A Oklahoma City to make Sunday's start because the Dodgers didn't want to use scheduled left-hander Brett Anderson against a Padres' team that was hitting a Major League-leading .357 against left-handed pitching.

What ensued was a 10-pitch battle between Amarista and Baker that ended with the shortstop hitting his first homer of the season to give the Padres a 1-0 lead.

Fan catches Amarista home run

The count was 2-and-2 when Amarista fould off two pitches. After Baker loaded the count, Amarista fouled off two more pitches -- bringing the pair to the 10th pitch.

Baker threw a sinker, which was also the pitch he threw for the third pitch (a strike). This one, however, didn't sink enough.

"It was in the middle of the plate," Amarista said later through interpreter Jose Valentin, the Padres' first-base coach. "I was just trying to put the ball in play."

Amarista drove the pitch 398 feet into the right-field seats -- far enough back that it would have been a home run before the fences were moved in 11 feet two years ago.

It was the first time a Padre homered in an at-bat of 10 or more pitches since shortstop Miguel Tejada connected in 2010. It has happened only five times since the 2000 season.

"That loosened up the dugout," said Padres manager Bud Black of Amarista's blast. "That was a really good at-bat by someone who fights every day. Even though it was one run, it built momentum."

From the scorebook

• Catcher Derek Norris had another good game at the plate and behind it Sunday. Norris was 2-for-3 with a double, his first homer as a Padre and two of the club's three RBIs. He also threw out Dodgers leadoff man Jimmy Rollins at second on a first-inning steal attempt. The home run was his first since last Aug. 9. But the double was Norris' ninth. He has hit safely in seven of his last eight starts, going 13-for-30 (.433) with six doubles, a homer, seven RBIs and seven runs scored. Norris has reached base in 15 of his 18 games with a plate appearance this season. The caught stealing was his eighth of the season, tying the career high he set in 114 games for Oakland last season.

Norris' solo dinger

• Good news and bad news from the three-game series with over the weekend with the Dodgers. The attendance for the three games was 130,765 -- the third-highest paid attendance in Petco Park history for a three-game series. But the Dodgers won two of the three games, ending the Padres' streak of not losing a home series to 12 straight (11 won, none lost, one split) dating back to last July 4-6.

• After six games this season, right fielder Matt Kemp is hitting .417 (10-for-24) with three doubles, three steals, three RBIs and five runs scored against the Dodgers (his former team). Kemp has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games and 13 of his last 15, hitting .390 (23-for-59) with five doubles, a triple, a home run, 11 RBIs, three steals and 14 runs scored.

Kemp's sliding catch

• Right-handed starter Brandon Morrow allowed one run on five hits and a walk with four strikeouts Sunday while picking up his first win as a Padre in his first career start against the Dodgers. Morrow has worked at least six innings in each of his first four starts, the first time he has done that since the start of the 2012 season (and only the second time in his injury-interrupted career).